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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.

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

Interested in taking one product, instead of 6 to help your immune balance? Our proprietary supplement ImmunoXym contains everything your body needs to create thriving T-reg cells. T-reg cells are the ‘police’ of our immune system and help keep it from overreacting, which makes it the #1 product we recommend for autoimmune patients. Are you autoimmune and planning to becoming pregnant? Supporting your T-reg cells will help ease the transitions your immune system is about to undergo.

To order:

  • Start here
  • Enter the one-time access code: USE777
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  • You may then begin shopping. Click here to jump to the product. Otherwise ImmunoXym can be found by clicking “view all” under “products”
  • 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!

A Hair-Owing Dilemma


Baldness is the name given to the most common type of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia, genetically caused hair loss. Male pattern baldness typically occurs on the top and front of the head. Female pattern baldness occurs on the top, usually widening at the part. Genetics and stress can exacerbate hair loss, but too often our immune system gets involved, and can be the culprit in the alopecia mystery.

Alopecia is the medical term for bald, and “areata” means patchy. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that attacks the skin follicles creating non-scarring hair loss, generally on the head and face. This condition affects millions of people, which often drives both women and men to shave their hair in order to minimize or hide this patchy disorder. One study showed that among the 71 patients with alopecia areata, males outnumbered females with a ratio of 2.5:1. The maximum incidence of alopecia areata was in the age group of 20-40 years (50.4%).

Alopecia has different shapes and sizes

  • Alopecia areata totalis means you’ve lost all the hair on your head.
  • Alopecia areata universalis is the loss of hair over your entire body.
  • Diffuse alopecia areata is a sudden thinning of your hair rather than lost patches.
  • Ophiasis alopecia areata causes hair loss in a band shape around the sides and back of your head.

The loss amount and shapes can be categorized 3 severity classifications:

  • Mild symptoms would typically have 3 or less patches with no larger than 3 cm, or the loss is limited to the eyelashes.
  • Moderate symptoms have more than 3 patches or a patch larger than 3 cm without total hair loss on your head and/or body.
  • Severe symptoms would be classified as total hair loss on head or body, or a snake-shaped loss on the scalp or head.

Any type of alopecia can affect emotional health through shame and trauma. Highlighted during a recent awards show that went viral, hiding or lack of awareness about this disorder can be humiliating, and many are uneducated about its cause or existence. Awareness of any imbalance that affects millions of people should be shared and education of how to support your immune system is key in getting ahead of our health epidemic.

Thyroid/Hashimoto’s dysfunction

Many Dr. Autoimmune clients with thyroid disease report hair loss In fact, 74% of all thyroid patients report hair thinning or loss. When hormone production of T3 and T4 is disrupted, it affects the health and development of hair loss and growth. With proper diet, supplement and lifestyle shifts, your endocrine system can rebalance and your symptoms can dissipate or disappear altogether.

Lupus

Like all autoimmunity, lupus causes widespread panic of inflammation which can include your skin. Inflammation creates stress which can manifest in many different organs. With proper diagnosis and support, you can get this inflammation under control, and your hair can grow back.

Other autoimmune diseases that could cause hair loss

There is hope!

Don’t pull the rest of your hair out in frustration; there is hope! Dr. Autoimmune can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms and get your health to soar again. Rather than utilizing a symptom based approach, maybe looking deeper into the physiology and mechanisms can create lasting changes. It can take longer and requires diet and supplementation but functional medicine is “root cause medicine”, and investing in your health may be the spark you need to feel confident and radiate from the inside-out.

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.

source 

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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:

source 

In the ears:

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In the knees: 

source

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.

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

In with Black Cumin Seed Oil, Out with Inflammation

Also known as black caraway and referenced in many scriptural texts, black cumin is a flowering plant found throughout Southwest Asia, parts of the Mediterranean and Africa. This magical oil has a long history of use in diverse culinary and medicinal traditions. Black seed oil is extracted from N. sativa seeds, and has been used in medicine for over 2,000 years due to its many therapeutic benefits. The uses for this natural remedy are all-encompassing. It would be a compliment to your arsenal of supplements, ointments, and aides.

Black seed oil has been used for a wide variety of health conditions across the continents. As a result, it has sometimes been referred to as a panacea, meaning ‘universal healer’. That is a big claim, but black cumin seeds have been used by traditional Arab, Asian, and African practitioners to support conditions such as digestive and respiratory problems, headaches, and bacterial infections. In addition to ingesting this oil that brandishes a pungent herbaceous flavor, it can be rubbed into joints and skin as an anti-inflammatory aid… and YES, it really works!

Black Cumin Seed Oil and Autoimmunity

Black cumin seed oil is known to help regulate overactive immune system responses that can cause things like allergies and inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. These conditions can include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few. The most abundant and active component in black cumin seed oil is thymoquinone* (a phytochemical compound found in the plant), which attributes to these benefits: 

  • Enhancement of the immune response (T regulatory cells)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Liver support
  • Anti-tumor
  • Anti-cancer
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-parasitic
  • Hypoglycemic
  • Antihypertensive
  • Anti-asthmatic

*Contraindications for Thymoquinone: Pregnancy, bleeding disorders: might increase the risk of bleeding by slowing blood clotting and 15 days before and after surgery.

Black cumin seed oil has been shown to beneficially affect the immune system by increasing the count and stimulating activity of some T-regulatory immune cells and, most notably, lowering levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. You may be familiar with the recent news of triggering cytokine storms and the havoc it can wreak on our immune systems.

Suppress the Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your throat below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s functions. Black cumin oil may support Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This study found that the group given black seed oil saw reductions in body weight and BMI, as well as improvements in thyroid-related measures such as T3 and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The researchers concluded that, “Considering the observed health-promoting effect of this medicinal plant in improving the disease severity, it can be regarded as a useful therapeutic approach in management of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.”

Massage out Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels. Black seed oil has the potential to alter disease signaling pathways and provide protection against RA-induced symptoms, and also prevent liver and kidney damage in patients with RA. In 2011, The Journal of Cellular Biochemistry published a report on laboratory tests which showed the effectiveness of thymoquinone on RA-affected isolated human cell samples. Furthermore, 40 female patients with rheumatoid arthritis took 500 mg black seed oil capsule twice daily for one month and they reported suppression of disease progression with reduction of joint inflammation and improved morning stiffness.

Move more with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is most commonly described as an incurable inflammatory neurodegenerative chronic disease that has life altering effects. Black seed oil consumption by MS patients can be therapeutic by suppressing inflammation, enhancing re-myelination (coating the outside of the nerves), and reducing the expression of TGF β1 in rats. Research shows that TGF B-1 has a role in activation of autoimmunity as well as suppressing autoimmunity. 

Re-myelination is a process of making cells that create new myelin sheaths on the central nervous system (CNS). The brain, optic nerves, and spine (CNS) communicate with each other, and then the brain tells the body how to move, think, and talk. It’s no wonder those who suffer with multiple sclerosis symptoms struggle with movement. So  go ahead and take a swig, or rub some black cumin oil on those aches and pains.

What we recommend   

Andreas Black Seed Cumin Oil touts their product is the world’s most effective and powerful superfood on the planet. It is 100% cold-pressed and sealed in glass bottles. USDA Organic. Dr. Autoimmune is offering 15% off Andreas Black Seed Cumin Oil during the month of August 2021. Regularly $55.00 retail, On sale for $46.75 does not include shipping or tax. Local pickups are available. Give us a call for more information 303-882-8447, or fill out the form below and one of our staff will be in touch with you shortly.

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    HORMONES 101 Part 2: Estrogen Dominance

    In Part 1 of this series we covered cortisol, progesterone, and their relationship. Though the vast majority of hormones are made of protein, both of these are steroid hormones made of cholesterol. Estrogen is another steroid hormone. It is the main female sex hormone, but it also plays an important role in male bodies.

    Estrogen: The Breakdown

    Estrogen is responsible for most of the physical changes in the female body related to reproduction. It stores fat in certain areas leading to ‘curviness’, plumps skin, and grows the breasts and pubic hair in females. It also has other important functions such as improving immunity and memory, strengthening bones, controlling cholesterol levels, and maintaining a balanced mood. 

    The body makes three different types of estrogen:

    1. Estrone (E1) = the only estrogen produced after menopause
    2. Estradiol (E2) = main estrogen in females of reproductive age
    3. Estriol (E3) = produced during pregnancy

    The two main sex hormones (hormones involved in reproduction) in females are progesterone and estrogen. As we discussed before, progesterone dominates the second half of the menstrual cycle, maintaining the thick uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy. That thick uterine lining exists thanks to estrogen, who dominates the first half of the cycle. Here is that visual again to refresh your memory:

    A Finicky Relationship

    One of the most common hormonal imbalances seen in females is between progesterone and estrogen. This imbalance is known as estrogen dominance. In males, this presents as an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen. Even though estrogen does important things like keeping bones strong, the key to balanced health is balanced hormones! One of progesterone’s most important roles is to balance out estrogen after it gets ramped up during the first half of the menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels in the body are too high, you risk developing estrogen-related cancers and experience a range of symptoms.

    Because estrogen dominance describes the relationship between estrogen and progesterone, there are a few ways it can present. Estrogen levels could be normal, but if progesterone levels are low, you have estrogen dominance. The opposite can result in the same: If progesterone levels are normal, but estrogen levels are high, you have estrogen dominance.

    Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

    If you menstruate, you may have experienced some (or all) of these symptoms. Though they are common in our society, they are likely the result of a hormone imbalance that you can get under control with proper nutrition and supplementation and the help of a functional medicine practitioner.

    Females:

    • Heavy or irregular periods
    • Water retention and swelling
    • Breast tenderness and breast changes
    • Headaches or migraines
    • Weight gain
    • Mood swings  
    • Painful periods
    • PMS symptoms
    • Fertility challenges
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Sugar cravings
    • Uterine fibroids (benign growths around or in the uterus)
    • Changes in memory and brain function
    • Cold hands and feet

    Males:

    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Infertility
    • Enlarged breasts
    • Depression

    Estrogen is created in the ovaries/testes, adrenal glands, and fat tissue. In normal amounts, it keeps our bodies well balanced. However, high amounts of fat tissue can result in extra production of estrogen, which in turn encourages more fat storage. This cycle can lead to unwanted weight gain. On top of that, estrogen has been shown to discourage the breakdown of fat cells, especially in the midsection (hips and waist).

    Estrogen dominance over time can lead to more serious health issues, such as heart attacks, breast or ovarian cancer, blood clots, and stroke.

    Estrogen and autoimmunity

    Estrogen is known to be an immune-enhancer, whereas androgens and progesterone are immune-suppressors. This is an important piece of information for people living with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune diseases manifest when one’s immune system is overactive and starts to attack the body’s own tissue. In this case, having estrogen continue to ramp up your immune system is going to cause further damage. This is the reason that about 78% of people with autoimmune diseases are women.

    What causes estrogen dominance?

    High estrogen levels can be partially hereditary, but it can also be caused (or triggered) by external sources such as hormonal contraceptives, some antibiotics, and other medications, including the popular hormone replacement therapy used to ‘treat’ menopause symptoms. Other factors that contribute are gut dysbiosis, a low fiber diet, and alcohol consumption.  The most common mechanism we see in clinical practice is estrogen dominance due to insulin resistance.  When insulin is spiking to control blood sugar this creates fat cells and fat cells secrete more estrogen.  This in turn alters the ratios of hormones and can increase inflammation which impacts all areas of the body.  As this continues it’s almost like a train gaining steam without brakes.  The estrogen dominance then facilitates inflammation which in turn causes more insulin resistance (and on and on…).

    Another cause of estrogen dominance can be polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which we mentioned in Part 1 as a cause of low progesterone levels. PCOS can be caused by high levels of androgens (male hormones). Symptoms can include acne, facial hair or male pattern baldness in females. PCOS may be manageable through proper nutrition. One group of researchers studied women with PCOS and found that by decreasing the amount of refined carbohydrates in their diets, insulin sensitivity could be induced. Insulin sensitivity, being the opposite of insulin resistance, can help increase levels of progesterone and therefore decrease levels of estrogen.

    Insulin resistance promotes the enzyme aromatase, which converts androgens to estrogen. It also inhibits sex-hormone-binding globulin, resulting in more free estrogen. We’ll talk more extensively about insulin resistance in part 3 of this series.

    Excess fat, stress, impaired digestion and detoxification pathways, and external estrogen copy-cats such as xeno- and phytoestrogens can also lead to increased levels of estrogen. The body metabolizes hormones and gets rid of them through detoxification pathways. When these processes aren’t functioning properly (or genetic alterations are present), estrogen will remain in the body for long periods of time.

    Xenoestrogens are synthetic, man-made chemicals that resemble estrogen and act on estrogen receptors in the body. They are found in things like plastics, cosmetics (we absorb up to 60% of what we put on our skin!), and birth control pills. Phytoestrogens on the other hand, come from plants and have less of an impact (though still an impact!) on the body’s natural estrogen levels. Soy is the most common culprit in this family of estrogen disruptors.

    What’s next?

    The functional medicine approach to all hormone imbalances is represented in the pneumonic “PTSD”. Let’s apply it to estrogen!

    1. Production: 
      1. Estrogen is made in multiple places, but we can have the most control over our fat tissue. This does not mean that you need to eat less. Our bodies need to be nourished! Exercise and proper nutrition will help us control excess fat buildup.
      2. We can limit our exposure to external estrogen-like chemicals. Choosing clean cosmetics and organic foods is one way to reduce our intake of xenoestrogens. Avoiding foods like soy can reduce our intake of phytoestrogens.
    2. Transport
      1. More available estrogen as a result of dysregulated transportation pathways can lead to estrogen dominance.
    3. Sensitivity
      1. A cell’s sensitivity to a hormone may have an impact. For instance, a cell with a rigid membrane may not allow for estrogen to enter. When estrogen receptors are defective, it can result in an estrogen resistance condition and therefore more free estrogen.
    4. Detoxification
      1. If detoxification pathways are not functioning optimally and estrogen isn’t being excreted at a normal rate, that leaves more of it to cause an imbalance. We can provide our bodies with nutrients that support healthy digestion and a healthy liver for detoxing.

    If you suspect you may have estrogen dominance, you should consider meeting with a practitioner who understands how to identify root causes and will work with you to create a personalized plan for balancing your hormones. Contact us using the form below to get started!

    Stay tuned for Part 3 of our hormone series, where we will dive deeper into another very common hormone imbalance: insulin resistance.

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      Can Olive Oil Help Multiple Sclerosis Patients?

      T-Regulatory Cells

      T-regulatory (Treg) cells are the police force of our immune system. As their name suggests, Treg cells regulate our body’s immune response by suppressing it when it isn’t needed. They are extremely important in preventing autoimmunity, which occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.

      FOXP3 is a protein of the FOX protein family. It plays a role in the differentiation of Tregs during their production. Some Tregs use other protein markers, but FOXP3+ Tregs are the most studied, so these are the ones we will be referring to in these blogs when we say “Tregs.”

      We know that the body deploys Tregs to deal with inflammation and disease, but we are increasingly learning the importance of “tissue-resident Tregs” for maintaining overall balance, even if there is no immediate need for an immune response. Tissue-resident Tregs live in our tissues and keep those environments stable. We are still learning about the mechanisms these resident Tregs use, but there is a strong possibility that specific types of fat play a vital role.

      What does oil have to do with it?

      All Treg cells require fatty acids to be produced and function effectively. The process they use is called ‘fatty acid β-oxidation–driven (FAO-driven) oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS)’. The important part to remember is that FAO (fatty acids and oxygen) are needed. Fatty acids = lipids = fats = oils. Recent data shows that the types of fatty acids Tregs use for this process greatly impact their suppressive function.

      Our tissues have a lot of fat cells mixed into them, so Tregs that live in tissue have easy access to lipids. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation compared the concentrations of different types of fatty acids in healthy tissue versus tissue from a person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). 

      MS is an autoimmune disease that results when someone’s Tregs are not policing the immune system correctly, causing them to attack the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves. You can visualize the myelin sheath if you think about the coating surrounding a wire. Imagine your own Treg cells eating away at that protective coating, exposing the nerve (or wire) to damage.

       

      Because of the nerve damage, MS patients can experience a gradual loss of feeling and function in their limbs, pain, weakness/fatigue, muscle spasms and eventually serious problems with inner organ function.

      In the study, researchers found that tissue from healthy individuals contained much higher concentrations of oleic acid than tissue from MS patients. Oleic acid promotes the Treg FAO-driven metabolic process and consequently increases FOXP3 production, which of course promotes more Treg production. This positive feedback loop is responsible for maintaining balance.

      While healthy tissue had a lot of oleic acids, tissue affected by MS had much higher concentrations of proinflammatory arachidonic acid. The Tregs in MS tissue used primarily arachidonic acid, instead of oleic acid, for their FAO-driven metabolism. These Tregs had defects in their suppressive function (ability to suppress the immune system when it is overreacting).

      The most interesting thing is, when researchers exposed the defected Tregs to oleic acid, their suppressive function was partially restored. This same trend proved true when the oleic acid exposure treatment was applied to patients with MS.

      Sources of oleic acid:

      While walnuts and fish count as sources for oleic acid, at Dr. Autoimmune, we make sure everyone is getting a good dose through high-quality olive oil. The oil we provide our patients with is organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain pressed from Picual olives. When Picual olives are out of season, we switch to an organic Italian oil of equal quality. Dr. Autoimmune has done his due diligence and chosen the absolute best oil at the best price for you.

      If you are looking for help getting your MS symptoms under control, contact us using the form below. Dr. Autoimmune’s team is eager to empower you with the tools and support you need in order to tackle your health goals. Mention this blog and receive 15% off our premium olive oil!