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Lupus and DHEA: A New Approach

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of the body. As with all autoimmune conditions, there is no “cure” necessarily, but it stems from imbalances in the body that can be adjusted, so remission from this condition is possible.

Autoimmunity is when the body attacks its own tissue and organs. In lupus, any bodily system can be attacked, so there are a wide range of possible symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Rashes (malar “butterfly” type)
  • Chest pain  
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Sun or light sensitivity
  • Kidney problems
  • Mouth sores 
  • Prolonged or extreme fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Blood clotting
  • Eye disease
  • Anxiety

One natural method for relieving lupus symptoms that has been showing a lot of positive results is DHEA. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a mild male hormone. It can be helpful for reducing lupus symptoms such as hair loss, joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog.

In blood tests, DHEA levels tend to be lower in people who have inflammatory diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel disease. The more severe a person’s symptoms are, the lower their DHEA levels are. So, the hypothesis is that the higher we can get the DHEA levels, the less symptoms that person will experience! Experiments with mice and clinical trials with humans have both shown that DHEA supplementation can, in fact, reduce symptoms of lupus.

How Does it Work?

While it theoretically makes sense that if low DHEA = more symptoms, then high DHEA = less symptoms, we need to know how this works in order to be sure that it isn’t just a random connection. 

You may have heard of a “cytokine storm” in relation to the recent pandemic. It is basically a state of systemic inflammation. Cytokines are proteins that are important for communication between cells. Some cytokines are actually anti-inflammatory, but many are pro-inflammatory, meaning that they cause inflammation, as they do in a cytokine storm.

Studies have shown that DHEA may help regulate cytokine production and reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are created, therefore reducing overall inflammation. The relationship between cytokines and DHEA may also explain why DHEA levels are lower in people that have chronic inflammatory conditions, such as lupus and RA. Pro-inflammatory cytokines actually suppress the enzymes that are needed to make DHEA. So there is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation here, since it is not exactly clear which comes first. But we know that there is a vicious cycle:

DHEA can reduce autoimmunity, but it also increases resistance to infection. How can it both amp up and calm down your immune system? The answer is in its ability to regulate. The key to resolving autoimmunity is not to suppress the entire immune system, which leaves your body vulnerable to infection, but to regulate the immune system so that it works properly. DHEA seems to be an important factor for immune system regulation. The biggest factor though, of course, is T-regulatory cell function- literally named for their job of ‘policing’ the immune system.

Side effects of DHEA can include acne, facial hair growth, oily skin, and excessive sweating. In one study, even though every patient who continued to take the DHEA for 12 months showed significant improvement, 16% of the participants dropped out of the study early due to side effects. This goes to show that this medication may not be the best option for everyone (doses tended to be high so this may have led to side effects).

DHEA can also lower good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in women and raise estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. (Learn more about the importance of healthy cholesterol levels here and the issues with estrogen dominance here.) There have been concerns raised about the long-term effects due to lowered HDL cholesterol, so it is important to talk with a doctor about DHEA rather than attempting to use it by yourself.

At Dr. Autoimmune, we use a functional medicine approach to identify the root cause of your condition and develop a custom plan using diet, supplementation, and lifestyle change to help you reach your health goals. We are unique because we also address the brain through functional neurology, which is especially helpful for lupus patients struggling with brain fog and memory loss. With an 85% success rate, we are confident that we can get you the results you are looking for. If you’re ready to be brave to change, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page.

Can You Brush and Floss Your Way to Relieved RA?

It may be hard to believe, but brushing your teeth can help your joints. All dentists will tell you that your dental health is tied to your physical health, but how seriously do we really take that? Your mouth has its own microbiome, which is the mini ecosystem made up of bacteria and other small life forms, just like your gut and your skin. When any of your microbiomes are out of balance, there will be consequences. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, which is a type of disease where someone’s body attacks itself. In the case of RA, the body is attacking the joints, causing painful inflammation that limits range of motion and affects daily activities. Many people with RA find themselves unable to run, walk, lift things, or even use their hands without severe pain.

How Does RA Start?

In functional medicine, our goal is to discover the root cause of disease. What we’ve learned is that all autoimmune diseases require three things in order to develop:

  1. Genes: Without the genes for an autoimmune condition, the disease cannot manifest. Genes are not a life sentence, though. We have some control over whether our genes are actually expressed or “stay asleep”. Just because you have the genes, doesn’t mean you’ll have the condition!
  2. Leaky gut: The cells that make up our intestine lining are held together by tight junctions, which are important for keeping our partially-digested food from seeping out. Many factors, including gluten and NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen, cause these tight junctions to loosen and allow material to leak out, which causes inflammation in the body. Read more about the gut’s connection to RA here.
  3. Last but not least, a trigger: Many things can trigger an autoimmune response, including viral or bacterial infections.

One specific type of bacterial infection has been tied to RA as a trigger. The bacteria is called Porphyromonas gingivalis and is also a common culprit behind periodontal disease, a common gum disease. In periodontal disease, an infection causes inflammation in the gums and can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Swollen, red, and tender gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • In more serious cases, tooth loss (periodontitis)

Gum Disease and RA

Have you ever wondered what plaque on your teeth actually is? Bacteria such as P. gingivalis produce a sticky film that can build up- and that becomes plaque! The bacteria in plaque create acids, which slowly break down tooth enamel. Not only does the yellowish film not look pretty, but it can lead to gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. P. gingivalis causes nasty inflammation in the gums, as you can see in the picture above, so just imagine the inflammation it can cause in your joints!

It has become clear that periodontal disease and periodontitis are linked to RA, but recent research has been able to narrow down the link to P. gingivalis bacteria specifically.

In this study, mice that were infected with P. gingivalis bacteria either developed arthritis, or their already existing arthritis got worse. Another study found that the correlation between the antibody to P. gingivalis and RA was even stronger- in fact, two times stronger-  than the correlation between smoking and RA. Smoking has been a known major risk factor for RA for many years, but now we know that periodontal disease caused by P. gingivalis bacteria is more than twice as likely to lead to RA. Do you believe the dentists now?

Your RA Might Have a “Friend”

For the most part, good dental hygiene can keep bad bacteria from running rampant. Brushing and flossing twice a day as well as regular visits to a dentist are important steps to take. One way that P. gingivalis can grow is if your mouth is too dry. Unfortunately, another autoimmune condition, Sjögren’s syndrome, specifically attacks the salivary glands and leaves the mouth very dry. Sjögren’s is therefore a risk factor for plaque buildup and periodontal disease. Given what we just learned about the connection between periodontal disease and RA, it should be no surprise that 21% of Sjögren’s patients have also been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

This is a common theme in our office: Many people who have been diagnosed with one autoimmune disease also develop another one or more. In fact, at the time someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, there is a 50% chance that another one already exists. If the genes are there and the environment allows one disease to develop, then it is very likely that other autoimmune genes will be triggered.

At Dr. Autoimmune, we use a functional medicine approach to get to the root cause of complex conditions. Our structured program removes the guesswork and uses science-backed lab testing, diet change, and supplementation to get your body back on track. Using this method, we have an 85% success rate. If you’re interested in finding real solutions for your conditions, fill out the form below to get started!

Meet the Master Manipulator: Your Thyroid

Your thyroid is a gland located behind your Adam’s apple. Its job is to produce thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which are the hormones that control your metabolism. This process of transforming the food you eat into energy can result in (T)erminator-like symptoms where you begin to feel inhuman. 

Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is under-producing these hormones and can lead to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hyperthyroidism occurs when too many hormones are being produced and can lead to Graves’ disease. Balance is the key to keeping your body running well.

If you are a woman, you know how much our hormones can take over and drive us either straight and narrow, or straight into a truck depending on stress, menstruation, food or environmental triggers. Men are not immune from thyroid disorders. Women tend to have higher instances with thyroid disorders, generally after menopause. Regardless of gender, autoimmune-related thyroid conditions are on the rise. 

10 most common symptoms that your thyroid is under attack or needs support:

  1. Weight gain or loss

An early sign of thyroid irregularity is weight gain or loss. Since your thyroid can control your energy, it’s no wonder your weight can be affected. Rapid weight gain can be an indicator of low thyroid hormone function, while weight loss can be triggered by an overactive thyroid gland. 

  1. Fatigue

Just like weight gain, fatigue or excessive tiredness can be a sign of hypothyroidism or low thyroid function.

  1. Brain fog

Thyroid hormones are directly related to the health of your brain neurons. There are only two things that every single cell in the body has a receptor for: thyroid hormones and vitamin D. It’s no wonder that vitamin D status influences thyroid function and your immune system.

  1. Intolerance to heat or cold

Your circulation is affected if your thyroid is not functioning properly. This could present as feeling chilled or cold. If you notice that your hands and feet are particularly cold, this could be a symptom or sign of hypothyroidism. Alternatively, you might always run warm or experience hot flashes.

  1. Poor quality hair skin nail

A slow thyroid can cause dry skin, hair loss,and  brittle or ridged nails caused by follicle cycling. Sometimes slow and steady does not always win the race.

  1. Digestive problems

Leaky gut and gastrointestinal discomfort are most often connected to thyroid dysfunction. Constipation is caused by a sluggish metabolism (lower thyroid hormone), while loose stools could be a symptom or a hyperactive thyroid.

  1. Insomnia

When your hormones are out of whack, everything seems to follow suit. Whether your thyroid is over- or under-producing, you can have disrupted sleep from nervousness, be up with frequent urination, or experience night sweats.

  1. Anxiety/depression

Hormones are the major players in mood regulation. They influence the neurotransmitters which cause imbalances in serotonin and dopamine. Thyroid imbalances cause inflammation, and when the hormone production is interrupted, it can affect proper blood flow to the brain.

  1. Changes in your voice

An underactive thyroid can cause thickening of the vocal cords or swelling from the inflammatory changes.

  1. Hormonal fluctuations

Your thyroid can directly affect your sexual function. From irregular periods to difficulty with sexual performance or enjoyment, your thyroid dysfunction may be a contributor.

The Thyroid-Autoimmune Connection

Are you aware that more than 90% of thyroid conditions are autoimmune? Unfortunately, most conventional doctors do not have the education or information about this connection. This can be incredibly frustrating!  

What if you are taking thyroid medication but still experiencing these symptoms? Commonly, providers are not taught how to look at chemistry and physiology, but do prescribe medication for your symptoms. We at Dr. Autoimmune addresses the systems that run the symptoms, diagnose your particular imbalances with comprehensive blood chemistry, and create a customized care plan for you! 

If you suspect your thyroid is the culprit of any of these symptoms, Dr. Autoimmune can help. We test specifically for all 8 thyroid markers. We have worked with close to 3,000 thyroid clients and have an 85% success rate! Call us at 303-882-8447 or fill out the form below today to see if your thyroid needs support.

Why Do I Feel So Good (Or Bad) During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy and Autoimmunity

Many women with autoimmune diseases experience a lessening of symptoms during their pregnancy, only to relapse after the baby is born. Or, the opposite may happen, where autoimmune disease symptoms worsen during pregnancy. Maybe you have heard of this phenomenon or even experienced it yourself. As we continue to celebrate Mothers’ Day, let’s dive into the ways pregnancy can affect an autoimmune disease.

One of the most amazing things about pregnancy is how a woman’s body doesn’t reject a fetus, which is basically foreign tissue because it shares DNA with the father. Very frequently during organ transplants, the body attacks foreign tissue because it thinks it is a threat. How do female bodies know not to attack a fetus?

The Tea on T Cells

Research has found that different types of T cells lead to either a tolerant immune response (the fetus lives), or an active immune response against the foreign tissue (miscarriage). The main two types of cells that make this decision are known as “Th1” and “Th2”. Th1 cells will reject a fetus, while Th2 cells are responsible for a successful pregnancy by creating baby-protecting antibodies.

Th1 and Th2 cells work dynamically creating balance, but are each linked to autoimmune diseases. So during pregnancy, when Th2 cell counts are higher, this can cause Th1-type autoimmune diseases to go into remission. This is why women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Graves’ disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS) usually feel much better while they are pregnant.

On the other hand, Th2-type autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), generally known as just “lupus”, can get much worse during pregnancy while there are more Th2 cells trying to protect the fetus. Lupus flares can cause pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia (blood pressure problems).

Then, once the baby is born, the balance between those two types of T cells switches and causes the opposite effect: Th1-type diseases such as MS get worse, and Th2-type diseases such as lupus get better.

But is there just one simple answer to our question about why some women with autoimmune disease feel better during pregnancy? Our bodies are more complicated than that, of course. We know that Th1 can end a pregnancy while Th2 protects against miscarriages, but what decides which type of T cell is produced? 

Maybe the better question is, “What system can we influence that will regulate both in harmony?” If we could influence said system, wouldn’t we be less likely to experience these swings and problems during and after the pregnancy? After 13 years work with chronic autoimmune conditions, I can say there is an unequivocal “YES” to that question! T-regulatory cells influence Th17, the immune cells that control Th1/Th2 balance. Nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and K, as well as fiber, probiotics, alpha lipoic acid, green tea, and essential fatty acids are all potent stimulators for T-reg cell creation and ultimately help our immune system find balance! Are you getting enough of these in your diet or through supplementation? (Check out the bottom of this blog for one supplement that contains all of these nutrients!)

Hormones Have a Hand

Hormones are also tied strongly to autoimmune diseases, which often begin or change around pregnancy and menopause when a woman’s hormones are fluctuating. This is one of the reasons why most autoimmune diseases are much more common in women. For example, women are 3 times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than men are. This is even stronger for thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.  

Androgens and estrogens, groups of sex hormones, are able to regulate Th1/Th2 balance. Androgens are generally male hormones and are responsible for pubic/underarm hair growth and help to build muscle. Estrogens help regulate menstrual cycles in females and fertility in males. Androgens such as testosterone promote Th1-type autoimmune diseases like RA, while estrogens promote Th2-type diseases such as SLE. Women with higher androgen levels (ex. polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS) are therefore more likely to experience miscarriages because androgens promote Th1 cells. As we covered above, Th1 cells attack fetuses as if they are a foreign invader. 

Don’t forget that Th1 and Th2 basically work against each other. So when Th2-promoting estrogen is high during pregnancy, Th1-type diseases are suppressed and Th2-type diseases are fueled. When the baby is born, a woman’s estrogen levels decrease, allowing Th1-type diseases to flare up again.

All in all, hormones from pregnancy influence T cells, which influence autoimmune disease. Critical nutrients from diet and supplementation can help stimulate the regulation of the immune system and thereby smooth the transition.

Yours in Health,

Dr. Ian Hollaman

The Ultimate Supplement to Support Your T-reg Cells

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To order:

  • Start here
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  • Use the coupon code: IAN10 at checkout for 10% off!

What is Sjögren’s Syndrome?

April is Sjögren’s awareness month, so we thought it would be a great time to shed some light on it. Sjögren’s (pronounced show-grens) syndrome is a common autoimmune condition where moisture-secreting glands are attacked. This usually happens first in the eyes and mouth, so dry eyes and mouth are the most common symptoms.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry nose, recurrent sinusitis, nosebleeds
  • Dry or peeling lips
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Inability to focus or ‘brain fog’
  • Respiratory issues like shortness of breath, dry cough, or recurrent bronchitis
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory loss
  • Dysautonomia 
  • Headaches (most commonly tension-type or migraines)
  • Mouth sores and dental problems
  • Swollen or painful salivary glands
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Acid reflux
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • IBS

Sjögren’s syndrome can develop at any age and in any sex, but it is most common in women (9 out of 10 patients are women) and people over 40. It is considered a widely underdiagnosed condition, with the Sjögren’s Foundation estimating that over 2.5 million patients are currently undiagnosed.

Sjögren’s can occur on its own, but it often shows up alongside other autoimmune conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon, fibromyalgia, pernicious anemia, and thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s and Graves’. This useful graphic below (by the Sjögren’s Foundation) uses percentages to show the overlap of each of these conditions with Sjögren’s.

How Does Sjögren’s Start?

Like all autoimmune conditions, Sjögren’s requires 3 things to develop:

  1. A genetic predisposition
  2. Leaky gut (intestinal permeability)
  3. Environmental trigger

The genes associated with Sjögren’s aren’t known yet, but we can’t control those anyway. What we can have some control over, though, is whether those genes are expressed. Our genes basically can be turned on and off with the right environmental factors. This is why gut health and removing triggers are more important than our genes.

In functional medicine, we use diet change and supplementation to heal the gut while working with you to find out possible triggers in your life. Common triggers include stress, viral or bacterial infections, and mold or toxin exposure.

Dry Eyes

One of the first things to occur in Sjögren’s is the glands that produce tears, the lacrimal glands, are attacked by the immune system. You might think that we only produce tears when we cry, but our lacrimal glands are actually always working to keep our eyes moistened.

Have you ever wondered why we blink? Our eyelids keep moisture trapped beneath, so when the part of our eye that is exposed to air starts to dry out, blinking spreads a new film of moisture over them. This method only works, however, when our lacrimal glands are producing moisture.

Dry eyes can lead to burning, itching, a feeling like sand is in the eyes, blurred vision, and difficulty tolerating bright lights. Think back to the last time you were challenged to a “blinking contest”. After some time of forcing your eyes to remain open, your vision starts to become affected and you start to feel a burning sensation. This is what chronic dry eyes associated with Sjögren’s syndrome can feel like.

Dry Mouth

One of the 2 most prominent symptoms, dry mouth is uncomfortable and can lead to dental problems. Along with the lacrimal glands, the salivary glands are the first to be affected. Salivary glands produce saliva, which keeps our mouths and gums moist and also helps with digesting food.

People with Sjögren’s are more likely to develop cavities and gum disease due to lack of moisture, so recommendations include stimulating saliva production with sugar-free (xylitol or maltitol if sugar alcohols are tolerated) lozenges and brushing teeth after every meal. These types of recommendations are only good for managing symptoms without actually addressing the root cause.

What Can You Do?

At Dr. Autoimmune, we are experts at getting to the root cause of your condition and working with you to develop a personalized plan to reach your health goals. Most of our clients notice huge changes within only 30 days. Fill out the form below to get started on your health journey!

The Many Faces of Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition that can occur on its own (known as primary Raynaud’s), or it can be a sign of an underlying autoimmune condition (known as secondary Raynaud’s). It is estimated to affect an average of 6.5% of all people (8-10% of women and 3-5% of men) and tends to start showing up between the ages of 15 and 25.

Raynaud’s affects the arteries and blood vessels, causing vascular ‘spasms’ that restrict blood flow to ears, toes, nipples, knees, and nose. The result is uncomfortable and usually causes discoloration. These spasms can be triggered by mild cold, sudden vibrations, or even emotional distress. 

Raynaud’s phenomenon is often associated with Sjögren’s Syndrome, though it can also be a sign of other underlying conditions. It is not in itself known to be of autoimmune in nature, but its exact cause is unknown. Other diseases linked to Raynaud’s include lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis, and thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

What Does Raynaud’s Look Like?

This condition can manifest itself in different ways. Most commonly, affected areas will turn white in color, then blue, and then red as blood returns to the area. When blood flow is returning, this can cause a throbbing sensation that may feel uncomfortable.

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Areas of the body that are affected by Raynaud’s vary. Besides the hands and feet, it can also cause discomfort and discoloration in other places where blood is restricted easily.

In the nose and face:

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In the ears:

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In the knees: 

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Risk Factors

Risk for Raynaud’s increases with connective tissue or autoimmune disorders, smoking, and trauma/injury. Symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to cold in ears, toes, nipples, knees, or nose
  • Fingers that turn pale or white then blue when exposed to cold, or during stress or emotional upset, then red when the hands are warmed
  • Hands that may become swollen and painful when warmed

Thermography

In extreme cases, Raynaud’s can cause sores on the finger pads and even lead to gangrene and amputation. Those with this condition are more susceptible to frostbite when spending time in colder climates. Thermographic tools may be used to assess the severity of this condition by revealing blood flow through infrared technology. Here is an example of what that looks like:

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This image shows two peoples’ hands after being exposed to cold water for 2 minutes. The hand on the left belongs to the person who is not affected by Raynaud’s. You can see that heat is returning to their hand by the yellow and red colors. On the other hand (literally), you can see that the fingers are having a hard time heating back up after the cold exposure. They are still black and purple on the infrared spectrum, which represents a lower temperature. This hand belongs to a person affected by Raynaud’s syndrome.

Solutions

People with Raynaud’s cope by wearing gloves and hats, using hand and toe warmers, generally avoiding exposure to cold, and even taking blood pressure medications to increase blood flow during the winter months. Because this condition may be a sign of an underlying, more serious condition, we recommend consulting a doctor trained in autoimmunity if you experience the symptoms discussed in this blog. Commonly when we develop and execute care for our clients they notice significant improvements as their immune system heals.

Our passion at Dr. Autoimmune is to get to the root cause of your condition(s). For autoimmune patients especially, this means healing the gut and identifying and removing triggers. We use natural methods to give your body the tools it needs to heal itself. If you suspect you may have Raynaud’s, our comprehensive assessment process will help you get the answers, and solutions, you are looking for. Use the form below to find out more information about our New Patient Special.

Top 7 Foods For Immune Support

Food is medicine. By providing your body with the correct tools, it has the ability to heal itself. Whether you have a diagnosed autoimmune or thyroid condition, or just want to boost your immune system during these trying times, follow this guide to learn how to use food to your advantage!

Autoimmunity and the Earth

The idea that humans are separate from the natural world is a new one. Humans and nature evolved together, developing and perfecting symbiotic (mutually-beneficial) relationships over 6 million years. Has our recent separation led to an increase in health issues, particularly autoimmunity?

The environment around us affects the environment within us, including our microbiome (the little organisms- bacteria, viruses, and other microbes- that live in and on us). The microbial diversity in our gut can have a major effect on our overall health, especially immune health.

Densely populated areas tend to have more concrete and less plant life, more chemicals and less clean air or water, and provide little opportunity for communing with the natural environment we were meant to live in. In fact, as we get less natural light exposure, our gut microbiome becomes less healthy!

How does being away from nature increase our chances of developing autoimmunity?

The Gut Microbiome

Have you seen the hit Pixar movie “Finding Nemo”? I bring this up because it demonstrates a great example of a symbiotic (harmonious, or mutually-beneficial) relationship between different organisms. Clownfish secrete a substance onto the surface of their skin that protects them from the sting of the sea anemone. This allows them to live and hide among the sea anemone’s tentacles. In return, the clownfish attracts other fish for the sea anemone to eat.

Over the course of millions of years, clownfish developed this special protective mucus that makes this mutually beneficial relationship possible. This is an example of coevolution!

Similarly to the clownfish and sea anemone, humans and microbes have coevolved to help each other. Human bodies provide a perfect environment for many types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which in turn help us digest, make nutrients, and provide a backbone for our immune system.

Keeping the balance between microbes in our gut is very important for our overall health. These little life forms help to regulate infection, digest foods, and even make some vitamins.  Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, the “father of autoimmunity”, has been quoted as saying infections and microbiome diversity may be the key player in preventing and supporting autoimmunity.  

Playing in the dirt allows our bodies to meet more microbes and build a stronger immune system. The hygiene hypothesis is the theory that our society’s obsession with sterility and killing germs has kept our immune systems from learning diverse microbes and building a strong backbone. If our immune system is not well-educated, it can become confused and start to mistake our own cells for pathogens that need to be destroyed, setting the stage for autoimmunity.

Air Pollution

Rising pollution levels are not only directly affecting the quality of air we breathe, but they are contributing to climate change and the increase in wildfires (more smoke in the air = even more pollution). 

9 out of 10 people in this world breathe highly polluted air, which contributes to 7 million deaths per year. Breathing in polluted air irritates the lungs and mucosal lining, increases permeability of the mucus membranes (which allows for more irritants to enter the bloodstream), and causes both acute and chronic diseases as a result. It can aggravate and increase the risk of developing chronic conditions like asthma and emphysema (a type of lung disease).

Children’s lungs are in a state of development, with more than 80% of their air sacs developing after birth, so they are among the most highly affected populations. Children who grow up breathing polluted air are at a much higher risk for developing asthma, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. When air quality improves, children’s lung function shows clinically and statistically significant positive change, according to this large California study.

Air pollution can trigger autoimmune disease in genetically susceptible individuals by increasing inflammation. For example, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is strongly associated with air pollution as a risk factor. In a 5-year Polish study, the prevalence of type 1 diabetes (another autoimmune disease) increased by 1.5 times as the air quality depleted.

Can We Use the Environment to Heal? 

The average American spends 93% of their time indoors. Besides teaching our bodies new microbes and giving our lungs a break, are there other health benefits to be gained from spending time outside?

The ancient Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and increase immune system balancing. This practice just refers to walking among trees and focusing on your senses- what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. It can be done in an actual forest, or simply at a park.

Similarly to shinrin-yoku, a growing trend in earthing, or grounding, simply means having skin contact with the Earth and absorbing it’s abundance of electrons. Our cells operate using electrons, but the frequencies we are exposed to throughout every day can deplete them. The Earth consistently gives off a frequency of 7.83 hz (the same as our alpha brain waves), which we can actually tune into!

Here in Boulder, Colorado, we are lucky enough to live within minutes of lush pine forests and incredible peaks. Wherever you are, find a safe spot among trees where you can go periodically, especially when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, just to play in the dirt, walk barefoot, and breathe.

Routinely incorporating this practice is not the newest fad.  We have evolved around nature and as we digress from it we increase dis-ease, and as we move towards it we plant the seeds of healing and optimal health!

Yours in health,

Ian Hollaman, DC, MSC, IFMCP

Autoimmunity Is Rising- Have You Been Tested?

What are Antinuclear Antibodies?

Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) are antibodies (proteins that our body creates to fight infections) that are made to attack our own body, or “autoantibodies”. The prefix ‘auto-’ means ‘self’. So, autoantibodies are antibodies against the self, and an autoimmune disease occurs when someone’s immune system is attacking their body using autoantibodies. Examples of autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus, and many more. Antinuclear antibodies attack the nucleus of our cells, hence their name.

A positive ANA usually suggests a vascular condition, or a condition that affects blood flow. Some autoimmune vasculitis conditions include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, mixed connective tissue disease, and Wegener’s granulomatosis.

Implications

The presence of ANAs in your blood could mean that you might develop an autoimmune disease in the future, if you don’t already have one. Note that typical autoimmune disorders take 5-9 years to develop and symptoms may or may not be present.

In other words, testing for ANAs may provide a chance to stop a disease before it really starts. This is why it is included in our initial and every follow-up blood panel!

The prevalence of autoimmune disease and ANAs has been rising over the last few decades. While the western medical model deems the presence of ANAs a nonconcern without the presence of symptoms, we are now seeing that it can progress into an autoimmune condition over the course of a few years if left unchecked.

Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) studied the prevalence of positive ANA markers over a 25 year period. Here is what they found:

  • From 1988–1991, 11% (~22 million people) had a positive ANA
  • From 1999–2004, 11.5% (~27 million people) had a positive ANA
  • Here’s the kicker: From 2011–2012, 15.9% (~41 million people) had a positive ANA

From 22 to 41 million people in 25 years is a huge jump! Among the age subgroups, adolescents (ages 12-19) had the highest rate of change, with their prevalence nearly tripling over the time period from 5% to 13%.  Another way to grasp this is that from 88’-04’ ANA Abs jumped 23% and from 04’-12 ANA Abs exploded another 52%!!!

Understanding Test Results

So, you got a positive ANA result on your blood test. There are a couple of other pieces of information next to that result that may seem a bit confusing. Let us break it down for you.

Titer

Your titer is the measure of how many antibodies were found in your blood. You may have a titer of <1:40, 1:40, 1:80, 1:160, or 1:320. The ‘1’ before the colon represents a certain volume of blood, and the number after the colon represents the amount of ANA’s found in that amount of blood. 

A negative test would be a level, or ‘titer’, of less than (<) 1:40 (a.k.a. 40 antibodies per measure). A low titer is between 1:40 and 1:80 (40-80 antibodies per measure), while a high result would be 1:80 or above. It can be confusing because the number presents as a ratio, so one might think that 1:160 is smaller than 1:80, but the reality is a 1:160 titer is double that of a 1:80. 

Pattern

If you have a positive ANA result on your labs, next to your titer there will be a pattern. This just describes how the ANAs look under a microscope. Here are the types of ANA patterns and their associated conditions:

  • Speckled (most common in females)
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
    • Sjogren’s syndrome
    • Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
    • Polymyositis
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Homogenous (most common in males)
    • Can be seen in any autoimmune disease, higher levels associated with Lupus
  • Nucleolar
  • Mitochondrial
    • Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC)
    • Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
  • Cytoplasmic
    • Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC)
    • Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
    • Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH)
  • Speckled + Cytoplasmic
    • Antisynthetase syndrome
  • Centromere
    • Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
    • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Homogenous + Nucleolar
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
    • Chronic autoimmune hepatitis
    • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

What Can We Do?

All autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome, require three things to develop:

  1. Genetic predisposition
  2. Intestinal permeability (a.k.a “leaky gut”)
  3. An environmental trigger (can be inflammation, toxin exposure, food sensitivities, infections, or even stress)

Two of these things can be controlled. With proper nutrition and supplementation, we can heal leaky gut, reduce inflammation, and remove food triggers. Interventions can be taken to remove other triggers also, such as testing your house for mold and treating infected sinuses.

When we see a positive ANA marker, we want to get those antibody levels down to slow down or stop disease progress. One of the first things to do is remove gluten from the diet because gluten is a common food trigger that causes inflammation and worsens leaky gut.

What may be most important to realize is that this one marker is a wake up call.  You need to become very serious about your health if this is positive, and your level of dedication to daily habits and lifestyles that promote inflammation need to change!  That may be hard to swallow, but your body is infinitely wise and it is trying to tell you that what you are doing is not working and we need to change direction to get back into harmony!  Our program has shown an 85% success rate with autoimmune disorders, but it requires your participation – the pill to fix the ill is not our approach!

If you’re interested in getting a comprehensive blood test that includes the ANA marker, and then developing a plan for reaching optimal wellness, contact us below!

Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP

A Rude Awakening

As a child, were you covered in pink calamine lotion after proclaiming “it itches?” Did your mom soak you in a bath with oatmeal to soften and dissolve those scabs that came after a bout of chickenpox? Mine did. 

Professor Ronald Goldsteinm, a member of the BIU’s Mina and Everand Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences calls this a ‘souvenir’ from childhood. What does this mean for you as an adult? Goldstein states that in one-third of people over 50, or in those with weakened immune systems (our clients), chickenpox reactivates in the form of shingles. That is a lot of people!

In one-third of those cases, shingle symptoms are far more serious than the itching you experienced as a child. The pain can be debilitating and last for months or years. Should you or should you not get the anti-shingle vaccine? That is a hot topic for many! He explains that it provides effective protection in only 50% of cases and can not be given to immune- compromised patients.

Chickenpox/shingles is only 1 of the 8 different Herpes viruses that affect humans.

Understanding Herpes 1 through 8

The Herpes (HSV) family:

Herpes 1 is generally transmitted orally or to the genitals through oral transmission. Think cold sores in the corner or inside of your mouth.

Herpes 2 causes genital infection and is usually passed through sexual transmission and can not live very long outside of the body. There’s not much to think about except ‘no thank you’.

Herpes 3 is our itchy enemy which causes chickenpox or shingles. Like its friend, HHV1, herpes zoster likes to infect skin cells and nerve cells and often forms in a band or belt-like pattern. Most everyone knows someone who has had chicken pox or shingles.

Herpes 4 is also called Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) also known as the kissing disease, mononucleosis. A very popular virus that has made it through the majority of the population.

Herpes 5 is the official name of cytomegalovirus (CMV). It can also be a cause of mononucleosis. In people with healthy immune systems, the virus may not even cause any symptoms. If you do not have a healthy immune system, it can cause problems passed onto newborns, and can cause hepatitis. CMV can be transmitted through sexual contact, breast-feeding, blood transfusions, and organ transplants. CMV infection is one of the most difficult complications of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). 

Herpes 6 gives rise to roseola (a viral disease causing high fever and a skin rash in small children) and a variety of other illnesses associated with fever in that age group. This infection accounts for many of the cases of seizures associated with fever in infancy. 

Herpes 7 is even more recently observed and is closely related to 6. Like other human herpes viruses, 6 and 7 are so common that most of humankind has been infected at some point, usually early in life. HHV7 can also cause roseola, but it is not clear what other clinical effects this virus causes.

Herpes 8 was recently discovered in tumors called Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). These tumors are found in people with AIDS and are otherwise very rare. KS forms purplish tumors in the skin and other tissues of some people with AIDS. It is very difficult to treat with medication. HHV8 may also cause other cancers, including certain lymphomas (lymph node cancers) associated with AIDS. The fact that these cancers are caused by a virus may explain why they tend to occur in people with AIDS when their immune systems begin to fail. 

Dormant vs Active Viral Infections

What wakes herpetic infections from their cozy little rest? Many factors that include stress, sex, temperature fluctuations, weakened immune systems and even certain foods (lysine/arginine ratio) can trigger an outbreak. There is no formula to determine when you can experience an outbreak once contracting HSV. It can show its ugly head of symptoms as early as a week, up to years after infection. Each person’s immune response to environmental and emotional stress is different, so your biggest defense for any viral overload is to nurture your superhero–the immune system! You can experience an outbreak at first contact or during a stressful time, and it could be a one-time event for you. A revisit from any strain of a herpetic virus can overload your immune system and create the cytokine storm we have all heard so much about in the past year. No thank you!

Like many viruses, Herpes (HSV) is a sneaky devil and can lay dormant and hide out in the ganglia nerve. Keep HSV dormant by actively lowering your stress levels, because stress can raise your cortisol levels and hormones play a huge role in one’s stress response. Try adding exercise, switch to eating clean and unprocessed foods, and consciously participate in suppressing any immune overload. You can also try meditating, practicing yoga, mindfulness, or other ways to cope and manage stress. Some sources tout that a lysine-rich diet may suppress the herpes virus. All these factors can contribute to less frequent flare-ups.

Herpetic Infections Relationship with Autoimmunity

More and more evidence is linking herpes viruses to the development of multiple autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and central nervous system neurological illness. Studies have suggested that vulnerability to multiple sclerosis is gained in early childhood, with viral infections acting as a trigger. If a herpes infection is activated, it can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.

“’It’s important to note that EBV is triggering exhaustion and flu-like symptoms for millions of women. EBV is super common: 95 percent of people have it. It will lie dormant in the body as long as the immune system is strong. But stress — like that caused by COVID- 19 (from any source) — can weaken immunity, allowing EBV to reactivate. In a study conducted by Ohio State University, subjects under increased stress were twice as likely to have EBV reactivation.

Jill Carnahan, M.D

Let’s just say, herpes sucks! It’s surprising how many people do not know that their herpetic infection can awaken under a stressful circumstance. To confirm whether or not yours may have resurfaced and may be a trigger for your health challenges, a test of EBV virus nuclear antigen, capsid, IGM and early antigen markers can be performed through a blood draw to confirm this suspicion. Ask your doctor.

To summarize, there are multiple ways herpes viruses trigger autoimmunity. Both molecular mimicry and bystander activation were reported in EBV- and HSV- induced autoimmunity. In addition, as ‘neurotropic’ viruses, herpes viruses can infect and kill central nervous system cells directly, leading to several autoimmune diseases.

The cause of any virus story? Who really knows. Today we are facing new viruses and strains that are running through the population at rapid rates. Viruses and bacteria will always be on this planet, and will always challenge our immune health. It’s their job. We can defend ourselves from these pesky little buggers by ramping up our immunity with proper diet, stress management, and supplementation. 

Want my quick and basic protocol for anti-viral support?  Here it is:

1) Vitamin D – 10,000 IU daily (monitor with labs to 60 ng/dl)

2) Selenium – 200mcg twice daily (no more than 3 months!)

3) Zinc – 100mg, divided doses and mind you it may cause nausea (copper required if long term)

Come see us and Dr. Autoimmune and get a baseline of your health, so you can win the war on virus overload and create a flexible, super-human immune system!