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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

What Can Your Poo Tell You?

Every human body is different in so many ways, but one thing we all have in common is poop! Pooping is something every living creature on this planet must do in order to stay alive and healthy. The process of defecation means the discharge of feces from the body. Poop is the left-over waste in our system after all of the nutrients of our food have been absorbed (or so we hope). It’s vital for our health that we are properly eliminating these toxins, otherwise they get reabsorbed into our system. There’s a delicate balance that happens in our body based on fiber consumption, hydration, and muscle motility (determined by healthy brain function) that deter-mines how our bowel movements might appear and how often you’ll pass them.

What is a normal poo?

There are many sizes, shapes, and colors your stool can be and all of them tell us different things about our health. Consistency is key: whether you’re having one or two bowel movements every day, you still want to make sure they are healthy! The Bristol Stool Chart is a helpful reference point to guarantee your bowel movements are where they should be.

According to The Bristol Stool Chart, the seven types of stool are:

•Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass

•Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy

•Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface

•Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft

•Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (passed easily)

•Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool

•Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid

Types 1–2 indicate constipation, types 3–5 are considered to be ideal, normal poops (especially 4), and types 6–7 are considered abnormal and indicate diarrhea.

The color (and even smell!) of your stool can tell you things about it as well. Colors can range from a medium brown, black, green, red, or even yellow/gray. Here’s a list of what some of these might say about what’s going on inside your body:

  • Medium to dark brown: Normal!
  • Black: Can mean there is upper GI bleeding going on. If this continues for 2-3 poops, consult with your doctor.
  • Green: Can be a sign that your stool is moving too quickly through your digestive tract. Vegetables like spinach, kale, blueberries, or green supplement powders can show up in your stool without enough fiber to slow down the digestive process.
  • Red/Purple: Can be a result of eating deeply colored vegetables like beets, but if you haven’t eaten anything of this color, you should reach out to your doctor (could be as simple as a hemorrhoid or something else).
  • Yellow/Gray: Typically a sign of mucous, or bile, in the stool which can mean an issue with the liver or gallbladder.

What might be causing problems?

There are many reasons why you might not be eliminating properly! Constipation and diarrhea can result from stress, dehydration, lack of fiber, too much alcohol or caffeine, inflammation, or autoimmune disease. Dysbiosis is an “imbalance” in the gut microbial community and can mean that the bad bacteria in your digestive system has overgrown the good. This can cause bacterial over-growth, like SIBO, resulting in constipation, gas, bloating, food intolerances, and nutritional deficiencies.

Food sensitivities may be one of the most common, yet overlooked reasons for change in bowel movements. If you find your pattern flip flopping this could be IBS, but in reality there may be a chronic food sensitivity that you are unaware of! Foods like gluten and dairy are potentially inflammatory to your body and this may be causing either constipation (from bacterial overgrowth) or diarrhea (body needs to get it out fast!). At Dr. Autoimmune, we will help you determine any food sensitivities you may have so you can drop that inflammation and get this common leaky gut trigger removed. Without fully getting your diet dialed in to what you need, it may be impossible to have normal gut function.

Consistent bowel movements are a way to avoid dysbiosis and potential disease. Keep a look out for changes in your stool to help you stay aware of what’s going on inside your body. Fiber (vegetables, people!) and hydration might be two easy additions to your routine that could help you stay regular AND stay healthy! If you have tried all of the tricks and are still suffering, this is where functional medicine shines! Dr. Ian and our nutritionist are trained to pick up on these abnormal patterns and help you find the root cause of abnormal poo!

If you’d like to get started, fill out the form below and we’ll reach out shortly. We look forward to working with you to help you reach your health goals. We have a very comprehensive stool analysis that all of our clients complete because of just how important gut health is.

May the (good) poo be with you,

Ian Hollaman DC, MSc, IFMCP

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    where functional medicine shines! Dr. Ian and our nutritionist are trained to pick up on these ab-normal patterns and help you find the root cause of abnormal poo!May the (good) poo be with you,

    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!