We always look to and study healthier populations to see what keeps them healthy, but what we discover should not always be mimicked. The immune system and the biome are complex systems that should take into account the upbringing, lifestyle, and culture of the individual.
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Why You Shouldn’t Always Mimic the Habits and Lifestyle of Healthier Populations: A Study on the Complexities of the Immune System.
The rise of autoimmune disease in Western countries has inspired people to look for natural ways to improve or reverse symptoms, without the side effects of medications.
The availability of health advice and actionable information on the Internet is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it empowers self-education and powerful change. On the other, it can easily be misleading or misinterpreted. In some cases, information can do as much harm as good.
To protect yourself, it’s important to understand how to interpret health information without letting it lead you astray.
I discuss one example in this week’s video on autoimmunity.
I brought up a study that illustrates the complexities of the immune system, particularly the role of early life immune system training in determining immune response later in life.
The takeaway is that certain lifestyle and dietary interventions later in life don’t always produce the expected benefits that others reap.
While there’s a much lower incidence of autoimmune disease among those who grew up on farms, it doesn’t translate to those who didn’t. Farm dwellers have trained their immune systems from infancy to deal with local microbes. City dwellers don’t have the same immune training and won’t reap the immune benefits of farm environments.
It’s hypothesized that stringent standards of cleanliness and hygiene in urban, Western cultures have resulted in a higher rate of autoimmune disease among the population. Urban infants are rarely exposed to farm environments full of dirt and animal bacteria.
Being raised in a hygienic environment, among other factors, may raise the risk of developing conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, celiac, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
It’s logical to assume that if exposure to farm life as an infant will strengthen and modulate the immune system, it could also help later in life.
But, exposure to dirt, bacteria, and animals must occur in infancy and early childhood to be protective. Early life training strengthens and challenges the immune system, which can’t be trained later on.
One study discovered that older, urban children with asthma have a worsening of symptoms when they visit a farm. The conclusion is that “intermittent exposure to farm animals increased the risk of allergic asthma in urban children visiting farms.”
Another example is mimicking the diet of a distant society in hopes of reaping their health status.
African hunter-gatherer tribes have an extremely low incidence of autoimmunity and a high level of bacteria in their intestines from eating a high carbohydrate and high fiber diet.
If a Westerner mimics a hunter-gatherer diet for symptom relief or prevention, it can often backfire.
Evidence and experience shows that diets high in carbs and fiber can irritate Western biomes, especially those compromised by autoimmunity, IBS, or IBD. Rather, adopting a diet lower in fermentable carbohydrates, such as the low FODMAP diet, is more effective in relieving symptoms and inflammation.
The lessons are clear. Early life exposure determines how the body responds to different diets and environments. When making lifestyle and diet changes, it’s crucial to listen to your body to judge what works for it.
Bodies and biomes vary greatly both individually and by society.
There are many ways to manage and ease autoimmunity later in life. A low sugar, unprocessed diet with the right amount of starch, fiber, and carbs can be therapeutic, but the right carb levels are best determined through trial and error.
Moving the body and minimizing stress are also supportive to the immune system. And the right amount of exposure to nature can be beneficial, as long as there’s no reaction.
While it’s important to educate oneself, the best health advocates gather feedback from their bodies and build awareness about their unique needs.
If you need help with autoimmunity, click here.
To be notified when my print book becomes available & get a free gut health eBook, click here.
If you are a healthcare provider looking to sharpen your clinical skills, click here.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.