Auto-immune Problems

Conversations on Wellness

Autoimmune Diseases

White blood cell attacking healthy cells

Like all diseases, autoimmune disease is a result of an induced state of imbalance as a consequence of problems of diet, life-style, toxicity, and stress.  Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the body directing immune response against its own tissues or bones, causing prolonged inflammation and subsequent tissue destruction or bone loss. Autoimmune disorders can cause immune-responsive cells to attack the linings of the joints–resulting in rheumatoid arthritis–or trigger immune cells to attack the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas leading to insulin-dependent diabetes.

A healthy immune system recognizes, identifies, remembers, attacks, and destroys foreign proteins, viruses, fungi, parasites, and cancer cells or any health-damaging agents not normally present in the body. A defective immune system, on the other hand, wreaks havoc throughout the host by directing antibodies against its own tissues. Any disease in which cytotoxic cells are directed against self-antigens in the body’s tissues is considered autoimmune in nature. Some such diseases are called celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and other endocrinopathies. Allergies and multiple sclerosis are also the result of disordered immune functioning.


Age is recognized as an important factor in the appearance of autoimmune disease. Measurements of healthy centenarians and unhealthy 60-70-year-olds show the difference in physiological chemistry between the two groups. Healthy centenarians have very low levels of autoantibodies in their thyroid, adrenal, pituitary, and hypothalamus.

Autoimmunity is partly the result of environmental exposure to foreign substances. The immune system may also be suppressed or weakened as a result of factors not associated with a degenerative disease, but due to the intake of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, refined sugar, poor diet, pasteurized dairy products, meats, and lack of sleep. These lifestyle factors can have a substantial effect on the trends of autoimmune diseases. As we age, our autoimmune system declines in its effectiveness due to oxidative damage caused by the recurrent presence of significant amounts of acidic free radicals (refer to topic: “Alkalize or Die”).

In addition, proteins can become glycated, that is, a sugar molecule is attached to the protein. The accumulation of these glycated proteins in the body affects the immune system because the immune system sees them as altered proteins that have different structure and function. Regarding these substances as foreign, the immune system develops antibodies against them.

The possibility of becoming allergic to oneself, with the associated autoimmunity and inflammation, increases as one accumulates these damaged glycated proteins. For this reason, it is critical to increase antioxidant intake with age and maintain alkalinity in your bodily fluids.  Acids are oxidants.  Alkalis are antioxidants.

The body is made up largely of proteins, so its health depends upon its freedom from damage (as through oxidation or glycation) and upon its timely removal as part of normal protein turnover. The body’s antioxidant system and other lines of defense cannot completely protect proteins. Nature’s second line of defense is the body’s system for repairing or removing damaged proteins. While some protein repair mechanisms exist, it is difficult for the body to repair most protein damage. Yet, it is essential to efficiently remove aberrant and unneeded proteins to fully protect against autoimmune diseases. Methods to protect against excessive protein glycation will be discussed later in this protocol.

Basic Pathways of Autoimmune Dysfunction

Systemic lupus-erythematosus

Autoimmune diseases are called by hundreds of different names by allopathic medicine. A holistic perspective views these as a single set of diseases resulting from immune system failure or overload due to consumption of corrupt and degenerate food, polluted air, chemical-laced drinking water, excessive or chronic worry, and failure to correct spiritual, emotional and energy imbalances.

One consideration is the continued exposure to heavy metals and environmental pollution that overload the immune system. On a daily basis, we battle with pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modification, industrial wastes, cigarette smoke, and automobile exhaust. Our air, water, and food in particular are full of toxic substances. Vaccines are loaded with heavy metals and toxins. There is no doubt that these toxins play a role in immune dysfunction. But junk/fast foods, considered by many people as safe, actually impair immune function. Refined and artificial sugar consumption in all forms will impair the ability of leukocytes cells to destroy pathogenic biological agents.

Oxidative stress is a major factor in autoimmune diseases. It can be compared to rusting and corrosion of metals from the action of damaging acid molecules known as free radicals that are a natural byproduct of the body’s metabolism as well as bad foods. The electrically charged free radicals (acids) attack healthy cells, causing them to lose their structure and function and eventually destroying them. Free radicals are not only produced by our bodies, but they are also ingested from toxins and pollution in the air we breathe.


Chronic systemic inflammation is related to several autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s disease. Inflammation can be traced to destructive cell-signaling chemicals known as cytokines that contribute to many degenerative diseases. In rheumatoid arthritis, excess levels of proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1(b) (IL-1b), and/or leukotriene B4 (LTB4), are known to cause or contribute to the inflammatory syndrome that ultimately destroys joint cartilage and synovial fluid. Alkalyzing foods will often lower cytokine levels and control the inflammatory state.

Nutrition to Improve Autoimmune Health

The autoimmune system needs a good nutritional foundation over a long period of time to alleviate or reverse lifestyle autoimmune dysfunction and to assist with combating fully developed autoimmune diseases. Sufferers of autoimmune dysfunction will benefit from foods containing vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene and omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA).

Slowing the Damage to Healthy Protein:

L-Carnosine is a dipeptide amino acid found naturally in the body that helps to slow the formation of glycated protein end products. Recall that glycated protein may be unrecognizable to the immune system, thereby triggering an autoimmune attack. Since the normal removal of damaged protein declines with aging, slowing the development of protein crosslinking (glycation) may help to reduce an autoimmune reaction. In addition to its antiglycation effects, carnosine has been found to modulate immune system neutrophils, thus suppressing an autoimmune response. L-Carnosine is available in turkey and chicken breast.

Reducing Inflammation:

Foods containing vitamin E delay or prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases. Obtain omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) from cold-water fish oils, flax, or perilla oils–along with borage oil, evening primrose oil, or black currant seed oil, which contain the essential omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). These can alleviate many symptoms of autoimmune disease through their anti-inflammatory activity.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a prosteroidal hormone that decreases with aging. Decreases in DHEA levels have been linked to a number of chronic and degenerative diseases including cancer, coronary artery disease, depression, stress disorders, and neurological functioning. Tuna and egg yolks are good sources as well as vitamin D from sun exposure.

As a result of aging, immunity becomes compromised due to dysregulation of cellular hormones (cytokines and growth factors) that govern the immune response. Too much or too little of various cytokines produce disease states or compromised responses to various autoimmune challenges.

Inflammatory bowel

Lessening Free-Radical Damage:

Antioxidants are a broad group of alkaline compounds that destroy or neutralize free radicals (acids)  in the body, thereby protecting against oxidative damage to cells caused by the normal aging process or daily exposure to pollutants and toxic substances. Antioxidants are found naturally in healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables.

The most effective of the antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea extract, beta-carotene, grape seed-skin extract, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and selenium.

Vitamin C may be the most important water-soluble antioxidant, having an ability to scavenge both reactive oxygen and nitrogen radicals. In controlled studies, vitamin C has demonstrated antiatherogenic, anticarcinogenic, antihistaminic, and immunomodulatory benefits. Sources are fresh fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble, essential nutrient for humans. Increased risk for coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer has been reported in regard to vitamin E deficiency. Sources include peanuts, almonds, avocados, whole grains.

Green tea belongs to the flavonoid family. Green tea catechins are potent free radical scavengers and have also demonstrated anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antiatherogenic (arterial hardening), and antimicrobial activity.

Beta-carotene is a dietary precursor to vitamin A. Beta-carotene has demonstrated immunomodulatory effects in male nonsmokers and has demonstrated increased lymphocyte counts in healthy male smokers. Beta-carotene’s antioxidant activity may prevent oxidative damage to DNA and inhibit lipid peroxidation.  Foods high in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, cantaloupe, lettuce, red bell peppers, apricots, broccoli, and peas

Grapeseed-skin proanthocyanadins have demonstrated several antioxidant activities, including inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Other research has shown tumor-protective, cardio-protective, and liver-protective benefits. Grapeseed oil is available in most groceries.

CoQ10 has shown antioxidant activity within the mitochondria and cellular membrane. CoQ10 levels decline with aging and are strongly related to increased cardiovascular disease, especially congestive heart failure. CoQ10 has shown usefulness in treating periodontal disease and boosting energy levels.  Sources include organ meats, spinach, broccoli, calliflower, legumes, peanuts, and soybeans.

Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for healthy immune function, providing protection to immune cells from stress-induced oxidative damage and neutralizing the effects of some toxic metals. Low dietary intake of selenium is associated with cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Sources include seafoods, organ meats, cereals and grains.

Modulating the Immune System:

The immune system functions because of adequate amounts of circulating antibodies. Antibodies are proteins with a unique concave region (combining site) in which they can combine with foreign proteins (antigens). Antigens are most often surface molecules found on the membrane of invading or diseased cells. After the antigen and antibody combine, the new complex produces a number of changes that inactivate or kill the invading cell. This function is known as humoral or antibody-mediated immunity.

Lymphocytes are the most numerous cells of the immune system and are responsible for antibody production. B-cells are lymphocytes that produce humoral immunity. T-cells are lymphocytes formed in the thymus shortly before and after birth. When T-cells come into contact with foreign antigens, the antigen binds to protein on the surface of the T-cell, making it sensitized. Sensitized T-cells destroy invading pathogens by releasing a specific and toxic poison to the cells of bound antigens. T-cells can also indirectly destroy toxic invaders by releasing a substance that attracts macrophages to the area that will ingest and destroy (phagocytose) the pathogen. This function is known as cell-mediated immunity. T-cells regulate natural killer cell activity and the body’s inflammatory response to disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis

In a healthy body, circulating antibodies attack and destroy pathogenic invaders by means of humoral or cell-mediated immunity. In autoimmune disease, circulating antibodies seek, attack, and destroy self-antigens found in healthy tissue. T-cells can further divide into helper lymphocytes (Th) and cytotoxic (Tc) or suppressor cells. In response to a foreign pathogen, T-cells secrete communication molecules known as lymphokines, cytokines, interleukins, and interferons. T-helper cells assist B-cells and further divide into two special lines of defense. These are Th1 and Th2. When one of these lines (Th1 or Th2) overexpresses, an opportunity for immune dysregulation occurs, resulting in either a hyperimmune response causing autoimmune disease or a hypoimmune response leading to uncontrollable infection.

Sterinol, a combination of natural plant sterols and sterolins, modulates the function of the body’s T-cells by enhancing their ability to divide. They further promote interleukin-2 and gamma-interferon without enhancing Th2 helper cells that promote inflammation and produce more antibodies. Conventional drug treatment inhibits the entire immune response. Sterolins, however, modulate immune response and are able to reverse immune abnormality at the disease site .

Alkylglycerols are derived from shark liver oil. Studies indicate that the activation of protein kinase C, an essential step in cell proliferation, can be inhibited by alkylglycerols. Although the mechanism of antiproliferative and immunomodulatory action is unknown, hormonal action of both the autocrine and paracrine systems has been suggested. Alkylglycerols have been promoted for use in immune system stimulation. However, benefits have been reported in those suffering from asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.

L-carnitine (see above) is an amino acid that is known to improve conditions associated with low cellular energy. L-carnitine has been shown to reduce the impairment of immune function caused by the consumption of dangerous fats. This beneficial action is attributed to L-carnitine’s ability to lower serum lipids (fats) by enhancing the transport of beneficial fatty acids into the cell’s mitochondria, where they are used to produce energy. Acetyl-L-carnitine is the form of carnitine that is utilized more efficiently in the mitochondria. Dangerous fat sources are plentiful in modern diets and include canola and other hydrogenated plastic oils.

Crohn’s disease

Supporting the GI Tract: Intestinal permeability is often disrupted by health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, pancreatic dysfunction, and food allergies from GMOs and other non-foods.  Events such as aging, stress, medications, and alcohol consumption also alter permeability, compromising the barrier that separates food and intestinal bacteria from the rest of the body.

Poor intestinal motility and peristalsis can change beneficial bacterial flora by altering the natural flow of nutrients that are available to them. These same factors can add to the overgrowth of abnormal bacteria and the byproducts they produce, leading to the absorption of antigenic substances into the bloodstream. Immune-related disease is associated with antigenic substances produced by intestinal flora. To correct the problem, bacterial balance must be restored through the consumption of probiotics and prebiotics that feed the underproduced bacteria. Species of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli will help restore microfloral balance and stabilize permeability. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are simple sugars that are the preferred nutrient for lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (with the exception of the bifidum species).

Food sources can assist intestinal cells for growth and function. They include:

* L-glutamine, a nonessential amino acid that increases the number of cells in the small intestine along with the number and height of villi on those cells
*Drinking kombucha, keifer and eating real yogurt.

* Butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that enhances function and integrity in the large intestine and is an anticancer agent.  Sources are whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

* The fatty acids DHA (from fish oil) and GLA (from borage oil), which decrease inflammation and improve intestinal functioning.

Appendix A of this protocol provides specific information relating to dietary and intestinal factors involved in autoimmune disease.

Reducing Stress: Stress is a major risk factor in developing disease. Prolonged low-level stress stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which, in excess, impairs immune function. Lack of proper rest and sleep, depression, and emotional disturbance contribute to immune dysfunction. In addition, there is a connection between the limbic system, the part of the brain that gives rise to emotion, and immune function. Therefore, to balance the immune system, one must balance the mind and emotions. Biofeedback, guided imagery, yoga, deep breathing, musical participation, positive affirmations, meditation, and prayer all help maintain balance.

An exercise program will produce endorphins and other neurotransmitters. These polypeptides exert a regulatory effect on the nervous system enabling an individual to adapt to mentally and physically stressful conditions.

Another antidote to stress is an amino acid found in green tea called theanine. Although theanine creates a tranquilizing effect on the brain, it appears to increase concentration and focus thought. DHEA supplementation is the most effective way of blocking the effects of excess cortisol secretion.

Chronic worry, stress, anxiety and depression all lead to extended suspension of immune system function due to an internal program known as “fight or flight” response. Essentially, when you are confronted by a threatening condition, your body will suspend most non-essential system functions to facilitate your ability to fight the threat or to flee from it. Becoming aware of your own realities will facilitate a better approach to dealing with them. This can be achieved by study and meditation.

Improving Liver Health:

The liver plays a critical role in all aspects of metabolism and health. It is important in the synthesis and secretion of albumin (a blood clotting protein), in the storage of glucose, and in the synthesis of vitamins and minerals. Because the liver has a major role in the purification and clearance of waste products, drugs, and toxins, disease states may be improved by supporting liver function.

The herb milk thistle and its components silymarin and silibinin have two therapeutic mechanisms. First, they alter the structure of the outer cell membrane of the hepatocyte to prevent penetration of liver poison into the interior of the cell. Second, they stimulate the action of nucleolar polymerase A, resulting in an increase in ribosomal protein synthesis, thus stimulating the regenerative ability of the liver and the formation of new hepatocytes.


Autoimmune diseases may be greatly improved by strengthening the immune system by making healthy lifestyle changes in diet and stress reduction. The protocols needed are covered in our 2-week wellness retreat and our information blog on this site.

Appendix A
Leaky Gut Syndrome The healthy gastrointestinal tract (gut) performs a multitude of functions. It digests foods; absorbs small food particles that are converted into energy; transports vitamins and minerals across the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream; contributes to the chemical detoxification system of the body; and contains immunoglobulins or antibodies that act as the first line of defense against infection.

Leaky gut syndrome represents a condition in which large spaces develop in the intestinal mucosa, allowing bacteria, toxins, and food to leak into the bloodstream. This hyperpermeable condition leads to inflammation and atrophic damage to the mucosal lining. Once the gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged, the functioning of the GI system is disrupted, allowing large food molecules and toxic pathogens that are foreign to our natural defense system to be absorbed into the body.

The result is the production of antibodies that launch an attack on the foreign invaders, with our own healthy tissue often being damaged in the process. Food allergies often complicate leaky gut syndrome. An elimination diet should be undertaken to determine food irritants.

Maintaining Proper pH Balance in the Gut Diet can significantly impact complete immune function. Because 80% of immune system cells reside in the area of the small intestine, numerous potential antigens can form from the incomplete breakdown of food products. Autoimmune states can be induced by food sensitivities that cause intestinal gut permeability and complicate leaky gut syndrome.

A first defense against the alteration of protein structure that produces autoimmunity is in the consumption of food sources as close to natural as possible. In addition, the body should be kept in the proper acid/alkaline balance. The correct ratio by volume would be 25% acidifying to 75% alkalizing foods.

In general, it is important to eat a diet that contains both alkalizing and acidifying foods. Allergic reactions and other forms of stress tend to produce acids in the body. The presence of high acidity indicates that more of your foods should be selected from the alkalizing group.

For more information:        Dr. Patrick