The basic tenet of functional medicine is that each person is biochemically unique and, therefore, no one treatment is suitable for everyone. Functional medicine does not look at each individual named disease in a silo. Instead, functional medicine digs deeper to get to the root cause. That’s especially true regarding getting to the root cause of autoimmune disease.
Before I became a physician, functional medicine expert, and two-time New York Times bestselling author, I faced my own struggle with autoimmune disease. Conventional medicine does not view autoimmunity as a disease of the immune system. Instead, they tell you it’s genetics, and the only option is to treat your symptoms with medications that suppress your immune system and don’t get to the root cause.
There is indeed a genetic component that accounts for part of your risk of developing an autoimmune condition. However, the more significant threat comes from your environment, whether due to leaky gut, food sensitivities, toxins, infections, stress, or a combination of these factors.
I’m here to tell you that there IS a way to reverse your autoimmunity by getting to the root cause of autoimmune disease, and I will show you how in just a minute. First, let’s talk about the root cause of autoimmune disease– your immune system.
What Is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease is simply a disease where your immune system attacks your body. Generally, your immune system attacks foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses by releasing antibodies. A healthy immune system knows the difference between your own cells and foreign ones. However, when you have autoimmune disease your immune system can’t tell the difference between foreign invaders and healthy cells and begins attacking your joints, your skin, and even your organs as foreign invaders.
The Immune System: A Root Cause of Autoimmune Disease
Although there are many types of autoimmune diseases and they can affect many different organs (such as your thyroid if you have Hashimoto’s, or your joints if you have rheumatoid arthritis), at their core they are all similar in that they are an immune response that leads your body to attack itself. Regardless of what type of autoimmune disease you have, the true problem (and solution) lies with your immune system.
Your immune system consists of two parts: The innate and adaptive systems.
The innate immune system is your body’s first line of defense against germs entering the body, and it consists of your skin, mucous membranes, immune system cells, and proteins. It is sometimes referred to as the “nonspecific immune system” because it responds similarly to all germs and foreign substances.1 For example, when bacteria enter the body through a cut or wound, your innate immune system quickly detects and destroys them.
The adaptive immune system is your body’s second line of defense, consisting of T-cells, B-cells, and antibodies, such as white blood cells. Your adaptive immune system takes over when your innate immune system cannot destroy germs.2 Your adaptive immune system gets programmed at birth, yet, it can remember foreign invaders once it encounters them.
Autoimmune Disease and Conventional Medicine
As I mentioned, our current healthcare system does not recognize autoimmune diseases as diseases of the immune system as a whole. Instead, they get treated as diseases of particular organs. Unfortunately, that means there isn’t a unified specialty in conventional medicine to treat autoimmune conditions.
With cancer, for example, we have cancer specialists called oncologists. These doctors treat many types of cancers no matter which organ system they involve. There are some sub-specialties within oncology, yet they typically still fall under one central oncology umbrella.
On the other hand, if you are suffering from an autoimmune disease, you will see a specialist who focuses on the organ system that is being affected. A rheumatologist is for rheumatoid arthritis; an endocrinologist is for Hashimoto’s and diabetes; a gastroenterologist for celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s; a dermatologist for psoriasis; and so on.
If you have multiple autoimmune conditions, as many people do, you will see several specialists, each of whom will likely prescribe a different medication. And there is a good chance that none of these specialists will look at how to strengthen and support your immune system.
Supporting, Rather Than Suppressing
Conventional medicine approaches autoimmune disease through medications to suppress your immune system. These medications can or cannot be effective in relieving the symptoms since they suppress the immune system as a whole. However, they are not without many unwanted side effects. These include fatigue, weight gain, depression, infections, and possibly cancer.
In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole unit, and it works on the principle that the health of one system impacts the health and function of the others. Instead of focusing on disease symptom management, functional medicine focuses on supporting and strengthening the immune system, which is the root cause of autoimmune disease. Yet, other factors can cause autoimmunity, and all have one common denominator— the immune system.
5 Underlying Causes of Autoimmune Disease
While there is no known cure for autoimmune disease, I believe that there are five key elements that are at the root cause of autoimmune diseases. Let’s talk about those!
1. Leaky Gut
The gut is the gateway to health. It houses 80% of your immune system, and you can’t have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut. Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions that hold your intestinal wall together become loose.
You can think of your gut lining as a drawbridge. Teeny tiny boats (micronutrients in food) can go under the bridge without a problem. This critical system allows vital nutrients from your food to get absorbed into your bloodstream.
When you have a leaky gut, all of these particles are recognized by your immune system as foreign invaders, sending your immune system on high alert and triggering a massive rise in inflammation to fight off these free radicals. This continual strain on your immune system eventually causes it to go haywire and end up attacking your own tissues by mistake. This makes leaky gut one of the most common causes of autoimmune disease.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and certain grains, and it is now found nearly everywhere in our modern world. It is not only in flour-based foods such as pasta and bread. It is a filler in meat substitutes, medications, and supplements. Additionally, gluten is in body products such as toothpaste, and it can even find its way into “gluten-free” foods through cross-contamination.
Gluten is the number one culprit of leaky gut because it triggers the release of zonulin in your intestines, a chemical that tells your gut lining to “open up.” It is also highly inflammatory, meaning it can cause stress to your immune system.
The gluten protein has a similar chemical structure to some of your body’s tissues (specifically your thyroid), which can lead to molecular mimicry, where your body mistakes your tissues for gluten and attacks them.
I recommend that everyone eliminate gluten from their diet, especially if they have a gluten sensitivity. If you want to find out if you have a gluten sensitivity, I recommend trying an elimination diet.
Toxic molds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals such as mercury are the primary toxins I see in those with autoimmune diseases. Mycotoxins are volatile compounds produced by toxic molds that naturally occur in our food and cleaning products, and they wreak havoc on the immune system.
The effects of toxins on our bodies are complex. After all, thousands of chemicals are out there, and we’re just beginning to understand how they work on the body–not to mention how they work in conjunction with one another. We know that a heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk of developing an autoimmune disease, and there are a few theories as to why.
One thought is that certain toxins, especially heavy metals, physically damage your tissues. Your immune system no longer recognizes these damaged cells as part of your body, and attacks them, thinking they’re foreign invaders.
Another theory is that the damage inflicted by toxins elicits an inflammatory response from the immune system. The constant assault of chronic exposure puts the immune system on high alert, and it begins attacking everything–including healthy tissues.
While this can sound overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. You can tame your toxins through prevention by eating organic foods and using non-toxic cleaning and beauty products and through detoxification. Your body’s biggest detoxifier is glutathione, so I recommend supplementing with extra glutathione.
Scientists have long suspected that infections from bacteria, viruses, and other toxins were likely to blame as causes of autoimmune disease. Several infections have links to autoimmunity, such as Epstein-Barr (the virus that causes mono), Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, and E. coli.
Viruses like Epstein-Barr and herpes simplex never leave your system. However, you can suppress them by ensuring your immune system is healthy. When your immune system is suppressed by stress or illness, the infection can become active again. Once the virus is active, the inflammatory immune response damages tissue, which then causes more inflammation and a more significant response from the immune system. An autoimmune disease develops from that chronic state of inflammation. Healing your infections is necessary to reverse your autoimmunity.
By design, our bodies can handle acute stress. This is stress caused by a long meeting, phone call with an ex-spouse, sitting in traffic, etc. Once the stressor is gone, you no longer feel the effects of stress. However, your immune system stays on high alert if your stress response is always on, and this will cause it to go rogue and begin attacking everything in sight.
Taking adaptogens to support a healthy stress response is crucial in managing stress. Moreover, learning natural ways to relieve stress is essential for an optimal stress response. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Breathing: Meditation and breathing exercises will help calm your anxiety and stress. I recommend the app HeartMath.
- Dance: Moving your body can help you “shake off” your stress. In the words of Taylor Swift, shake it off!
- Listen to music: Amazingly, half an hour of listening to music can reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone.
- Gentle exercise: I always enjoy walking with my family and our dogs. A long walk in a natural setting–changing your environment can help you get away from your stress.
Addressing your stress is just as big a part of getting to the root cause of autoimmune disease, clearing up your infections, healing your gut, and taming the toxins.
Now, I will share my proven method to get to the root cause of autoimmune disease so that you can reverse your condition and get off harsh medications. I call it The Myers Way®.
The Myers Way® Approach to Reversing Autoimmune Disease
The Myers Way® is a proven approach to chronic illness that gets to the root of symptoms. This lifestyle rests on four pillars to get to the root cause of autoimmune disease so you can reverse your condition and live a vibrant, symptom-free life.
Pillar I: Heal Your Gut
You begin by healing the gut. In functional medicine, we use the proven 4R approach:
- Remove the bad – Get rid of things that negatively impact the environment of your gastrointestinal tracts, such as toxins and inflammatory foods, as well as intestinal infections such as SIBO and yeast overgrowth.
- Restore what’s missing — Add Gut Restore with Betaine and HCL and digestive enzymes to your daily regimen to help support digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Reinoculate with healthy bacteria — Restore beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria to heal your gut.
- Repair the gut — Provide the necessary nutrients to help the gut repair itself. Leaky Gut Revive® Max supports your immune system and gut lining. It now comes in three different flavors to satisfy different taste buds. Adding collagen protein or drinking bone broth will also help to heal your gut.
Pillar II: Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to make diet changes. Start by eliminating foods such as gluten, grains, and legumes that cause damage to your intestinal tract and inflammation. I also recommend that those with autoimmune diseases avoid vegetables in the nightshade family, which includes peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. These plants are very high in lectins that damage the gut lining, quickly enter the bloodstream, and do not break down in cooking.
Pillar III: Tame the Toxins
Many patients notice improvement after addressing the first two pillars. You may expose yourself to too many toxins if you do not see progress. We are exposed to thousands of toxins every day. They are in the water you drink, the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the cookware, cleaning products, and cosmetics you use.
Unfortunately, we cannot avoid toxins altogether. As such, the solution is to reduce your body’s toxic burden by:
- Buying clean skincare and body products
- Cleaning your air by getting a HEPA filter for your home. I use AIRDoctor® air filters in my home.
- Buy clean food and eat organic whenever possible. It can be expensive, so buy free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught seafood at the very least.
- Clean your water by installing water filters on your shower taps and sinks. I have a complete filtration system from Aquasana.
Pillar IV: Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress
If your symptoms haven’t cleared up after addressing the first three pillars, it’s time to dig deeper. The fourth pillar of The Myers Way® focuses on healing your infections and relieving your stress.
To relieve stress, I suggest adopting daily stress-relieving strategies. A few of my favorites include breathing exercises, listening to music, dancing, taking a long walk, or practicing yoga.
To support optimal adrenal gland health and healthy energy levels, I recommend adding Adrenal Support. Adrenal Support promotes a more balanced physical and emotional stress response using a cutting-edge blend of adaptogenic herbs.
For total support, The Myers Way® Autoimmune Kit combines four of the most important nutritional supplements for anyone concerned with autoimmunity. Your immune system is a complex puzzle influenced by multiple aspects of health. The integrity of your gut barrier, oxidative damage done by free radicals, inflammation, toxic load, and detoxification, and much more all play a role in how your immune system functions.
The Final Word on the Root Cause of Autoimmune Disease
Hearing you have an autoimmune disease doesn’t mean you cannot live a life full of vitality. I have seen success with thousands of patients using my proven approach. I created The Myers Way® to empower you to regain your health by getting to the root cause of autoimmune disease so you can live a normal life.
Autoimmune Disease FAQs
What triggers an autoimmune disease?
What triggers an autoimmune disease?
The causes of autoimmune disease are varied, however, they all involve one thing: your immune system. The foods you eat, such as gluten, affect your body’s immune system by triggering leaky gut. Mycotoxins, heavy metals, and other toxins can also impact your immune system. The havoc wreaked on your immune system is the essential cause of autoimmune disease.
How do you prevent autoimmune disease?
How do you prevent autoimmune disease?
To prevent autoimmune disease, it is vital to address the causes of autoimmune disease. In order to avoid autoimmune disease causes such as leaky gut, you must avoid inflammatory foods such as gluten. Other causes of autoimmune disease include stress and infections, both of which negatively affect your immune system and can cause autoimmune disease.
Is autoimmune disease curable?
Is autoimmune disease curable?
While there is no known cure for autoimmune disease, autoimmune disease symptoms can be reversed by addressing the causes of autoimmune disease and implementing lifestyle changes. By changing your diet to one that does not include gluten, eliminating toxins, and reducing stress, you can promote a healthy immune system and eliminate the causes of autoimmune disease.