5 Signs of Autoimmune Disease (And How to Reverse Them) - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC

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5 Signs of Autoimmune Disease (And How to Reverse Them)

Reset your gut to improve autoimmunity, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, rashes, and digestive issues

Autoimmune diseases are as common as heart disease and cancer. They happen when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells. While fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, rashes, and digestive issues are often associated with autoimmunity, these symptoms can be reduced with the help of diet and supplements. Watch to learn how an elimination diet, an elemental diet, and vitamin D can help improve your immune system function. 

In This Episode

What Causes Autoimmunity?…00:09
The Signs of Autoimmunity…05:46
Some Techniques for Addressing Autoimmunity…06:46

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Dr Ruscio:

Hi, this is Dr. Michael Ruscio, and let’s discuss what are five signs of autoimmunity and techniques you can use to quickly dampen the cause of autoimmunity?

What Causes Autoimmunity?

Dr Ruscio:

Understanding autoimmunity is important because autoimmune conditions are as common as heart disease and cancer. So let’s cover the signs of autoimmunity and what you can do to address the cause of autoimmunity.

Dr Ruscio:

Now, as you may already know, autoimmune can be loosely defined as when your immune system attacks tissue of your own body that it shouldn’t, and this can result in a number of conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, there’s even discussion that certain neurological conditions like brain fog and MCI (mild cognitive impairment) may actually be underlied by autoimmunity. And of course, there’s certain autoimmune conditions of the gut, which is one of the main areas we want to look to for the potential cause of autoimmunity. Now, the way this tends to play out is dysbiosis in the gut or disruption of the ecosystem, namely by the bacteria and fungi that live there leads to leaky gut.

Dr Ruscio:

When the gut is leaky, meaning it’s overly porous, you can have translocation of various particles from the gut into your circulation into the bloodstream, and this activates the immune system. So dysbiosis essentially through this domino rally leads to an imbalance in the immune system. There’s a very interesting paper from the Journal of Frontiers in Immunology that gives a nice schematic or a kind of flow of how this domino cascade effect works. What you’re looking at here all the way over to the left, the start of the flow, is symbiosis, sometimes also described as eubiosis, meaning things are healthy, the ecosystem is healthy, the ratios of bacteria are as they should be, the immune system is calm, and essentially the garden or the rainforest that is this dense ecosystem is one of health and balance or eubiosis. From there, we can start tipping into dysbiosis, meaning imbalanced.

Dr Ruscio:

And one of the first things that occurs in this situation is the release of cytokines or inflammatory signaling molecules that the immune system uses to communicate. And as part of this other immune cells like macrophages and dendritic cells are recruited into the immune response. Now, what’s interesting in particular about dendritic cells, they’re also known as presenting cells. They take parts of antigens or they take parts of food particles or tissues of your body and they present them to the immune cells. It’s kind of this, “Hey, look, immune cell or look police officer, is this a nefarious character?” And this leads into the leaky gut, the end of the schematic here from the Frontiers Journal, where we can come down to a few of the core mechanisms underlying autoimmunity, one of which can be molecular mimicry. This is where the immune system, when presented one of these potential culprits or or bad guys from these presenter cells, attacks it when it shouldn’t.

Dr Ruscio:

And this is where you can see something like certain dietary triggers can lead people to have joint pain or brain fog within 30 minutes or sometimes the next day. This is the end result of this entire cascade where the wrong thing is being attacked by the immune system. Now, similar to this, there’s the bystander effect. This is where in a warning situation, let’s say, you know, there’s a shootout with the police, an innocent bystander may get shot by the inflammation or by the immune attack of the immune system, as the immune system is trying to clean up a certain mess or pathogen or attack an antigen. And this leads to the end result of autoimmunity. Now, the concept I’d like you to understand here is that there’s a saying of “genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” So we can’t necessarily do anything about the genetics, but we can modulate the environment.

Dr Ruscio:

As a quick aside, if you do have autoimmunity, there’s an opportunity here for you to actually appreciate the strength of your immune system. There is some research indicating that those who have autoimmunity actually have stronger immune systems and are more protected against infectious organisms. So if we were living in a non-westernized society, let’s say a hunter/gatherer society where death from infectious pathogens is somewhat common, certainly more prevalent, you would actually be a step ahead of many people because your genes are better suited for that environment. In a western society, we have to work a little bit harder to make sure that the environment, in this case, I would argue the gut environment is one of the most important, that that environment is conducive to your gene. So remember, genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. And one of the main environmental factors that we can modulate is the health of your gut.

Dr Ruscio:

I’m also curious, what are your thoughts on the gut-autoimmune connection? I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know in the comments below.

The Signs of Autoimmunity

Dr Ruscio:

So what are some of the more prevalent signs of autoimmunity? This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the cornerstone symptoms to consider: fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, rashes, and digestive problems. This could indicate inflammation and/or autoimmunity in various tissues of the body. Now, important to understand and clarify, while this can be disconcerting, I would bridle you from going to a fearful place because there is a lot that can be done. And unfortunately, I don’t think in healthcare education, doctors, clinicians, gurus, what have you, always do an adequate job of parsing this. And if people have an overly fearful perspective about autoimmunity, this is antithetical to healing because it’s going to stress you out and stress definitely has an impact on your immune system and on your wellbeing at large.

Some Techniques for Addressing Autoimmunity

Dr Ruscio:

Now, as one example, an elemental diet, we refer to this loosely in the clinic as a “gut reset”, is a simple way to reduce the antigens going through the gut and as evidence for the power of this intervention…And by the way, an elemental diet is a hypoallergenic predigested meal replacement. So it looks very similar to a protein shake mixed with water and you essentially subsist for a day or a couple days exclusively or predominantly on these meal replacement shakes. This removes the antigens that those dendritic presenting cells would present to the immune system to ensue this auto immunity cascade. What’s my evidence for this? Well, there have been a couple trials that have found for either IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] or for rheumatoid arthritis, an elemental diet is as powerful as the steroid anti-inflammatory prednisone.

Dr Ruscio:

So if you’re not sure what diet do I do, how do I shop accordingly? A simple on-ramp to calm things down can be an elemental diet reset. Certainly not the only tool, but I think a really simple and powerful one. Now, within diet, there’s a lot of disagreement about diet of course, but there’s a few tenants you’ve likely heard. Gluten can be a problem for some, not for all. Dairy can be a problem for some, not for all. Processed foods can be a problem, you know, and I would argue that’s probably not good for anybody. Night shades may also be a provocating agent. The important concept here is you want to eliminate things like gluten and dairy and processed foods and perhaps night shades, but then after the gut has healed, reintroduce. Because if the lining of your gut and the health of your gut, if we move from that leaky gut to dysbiosis back to eubiosis, you should be able to tolerate these foods.

Dr Ruscio:

This is key because in the clinic it’s so commonplace that individuals are overly avoidant of food. If we improve the health of your gut with something like an elemental diet as one tool, you should be able to eventually broaden your diet. So the reintroduction part of this is crucial. So elemental diets as a simple reset on-ramp. And elimination diet. And from there, avoiding foods that you notice are clearly provocating of your symptoms.

Dr Ruscio:

Another simple and inexpensive therapy or nutritional supplement here, really hormonal supplement, is vitamin D. A meta-analysis summarizing six randomized control trials looking at about 250 participants with Hashimoto’s thyroid autoimmunity found that vitamin D supplementation led to a roughly 150 point reduction in TPO or thyroid peroxidase antibodies. Another meta-analysis, again of six clinical trials, looking at about 430 patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that vitamin B supplementation led to reduced joint pain with a fairly large effect size, meaning the magnitude of the benefit, reduced disease activity with a small effect size and also reduced inflammatory markers like ESR or erythrocyte sedimentation rate, again with a large effect size.

Dr Ruscio:

So there’s some really simple therapies that you can use here from the elemental diet as an initial kind of reset, an elimination diet in a shorter or moderate-term application, and vitamin D. There are other tools, but these few tools get you started in taking inventory of those symptoms to consider what your potential risk for autoimmunity might be. And remember, there is a lot that can be done. Be careful of some of the fear mongering that exists online. It probably comes from a good place trying to educate individuals, but there is so much that can be done that it’s important to underscore there’s a lot of hope here and there are many tools that can help you improve. This is Dr. Michael Ruscio, and I hope this helps.

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