I was recently reviewing a new homeschool resource for my kids that has all kinds of learning videos including ones on health. So I thought I would check out a few videos on the immune system and see if I could learn anything new or at least jog my memory on a few things I've covered in the past because after all, I can't remember absolutely everything I've read! :)
While there wasn't much new to learn it did give me a different perspective that I would like to share with you. Basically it boils down to this: Immune cells are designed to attack anything that doesn't belong in your body. These are called pathogens and they include viruses, bacteria, chemicals, parasites, etc. Once your immune system destroys one of these pathogens it takes a little piece of its protein and carries it around with it so all the other immune cells can learn to watch out for it too.
So imagine you have a string of colored beads. Each bead on the string is an amino acid and the whole string of beads together is a protein. While there are only a handful of amino acid variations out there what order they are put on the string and how long the string is makes up an almost infinite number of possible proteins. So you could have a pink bead followed by a green bead, another pink and then an orange and that would be one protein but take off all the beads and put them in a different arrangement and you have a completely different protein.
Now if you took some scissors and clipped off small pieces of that protein chain you would have what are called polypeptides. These polypeptides are only a fraction of the larger protein but these are what the immune cells are using to train all the other immune cells as to who the enemy is. Can you see where the problem is?
So proteins make up just about everything. There are proteins in the food you eat, in the pollen and dust in the air, and your own body is made up of proteins. If you have leaky gut, you've got all kinds of partially digested proteins and polypeptide chains leaking into your bloodstream where your immune cells have to clean them up. And these immune cells remember every little protein it has to clean up and will communicate that to your other immune cells.
Now if that little bit of polypeptide chain that your immune system is looking for happens to be similar to a part of your own body proteins - it will attack that too. It's called molecular mimicry where your immune system mistakes your own body tissue for a pathogen resulting in an auto-immune condition.
So say for example a polypeptide chain from soy protein leaks through your gut wall and your white blood cells digest it. Then it remembers that bit of polypeptide chain which happens to look a lot like your thyroid tissue. You may end up developing Hashimoto's Thyroiditis which is an autoimmune condition where your own body has developed antibodies to your thyroid tissue. And the more cells your immune system destroys the more the program is reinforced creating a vicious cycle of continuous inflammation.
And it's not just the thyroid this can happen to. Any body tissue can come under attack. Auto-immune disorders are on the rise and many people will end up with multiple auto-immune diseases. Some examples include Psoriasis, Crohn's Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and many others.
The key to bringing auto-immunity under control is to seal the leaky gut through a nutritional protocol such as the GAPS diet allowing the body and the immune system to return to normal function, although it may take quite a while depending on how much damage has been done. In some cases the body may never fully recover from auto-immunity! So the sooner you can deal with a leaky gut, the better your chance of a full recovery.
If you suspect you have a leaky gut or you already have been diagnosed with an auto-immune condition, don't wait to address it. Get to the root of the issue with the help of a qualified natural health practitioner or GAPS practitioner.
To Your Health!
Kathryn Doran-Fisher, ND, CGP
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.