Before I became a physician, functional medicine expert, and a two-time New York Times bestselling author, I faced my own struggle with autoimmune disease. I desperately struggled with gut issues and chronic symptoms that nearly destroyed my life. Thankfully, I took control of my health. Conventional medicine failed me and it is my mission to not have it fail you, too.

Conventional medicine’s approach is to treat symptoms rather than finding the root cause of your autoimmune disease. Whether you have lupus, Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, or one of the other hundreds of autoimmune diseases, there IS a way and you CAN find relief from your symptoms and live a healthy, normal life.

By repairing your gut, ditching inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy, taming your toxic burden, healing your infections, and relieving your stress, you can reverse your autoimmune disease. I will show you how later in this article. First, you need to understand what is causing your autoimmune disease. 

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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 mistakes your joints, your skin, and even your organs as foreign invaders. 

Autoimmune Disease: A Disease of The Immune System

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.

Our current healthcare system does not recognize autoimmune diseases as diseases of the immune system as a whole. Instead, they are treated as diseases of particular organs. Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t a unified branch in conventional medicine to treat autoimmune conditions. With cancer, for example, we have cancer specialists called oncologists. These doctors treat many different types of cancers no matter which organ system they involve. Yes, there are some sub-specialties within oncology, but they typically still fall under one main oncology umbrella.

If, on the other hand, 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, 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 different 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, The Immune System

In conventional medicine, the belief is that there’s nothing you can do to reverse an autoimmune disease once you develop one. It is believed you can only manage the symptoms, which typically involves harsh medications that are aimed at suppressing your immune system. 

These medications can or cannot be effective in relieving the symptoms since they suppress the entire immune system, however they are not without many unwanted side effects. These include fatigue, weight gain, depression, infections, and possibly even cancer.

In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole unit. 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 by getting to the root of what causes autoimmune disease in the first place. 

What's The Real Source Of Your Autoimmunity? – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®What's The Real Source Of Your Autoimmunity? - Infographic - Amy Myers MD®’s The Real Source Of Your Autoimmunity? – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

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 of all autoimmune diseases. Let’s talk about those! 

1. Leaky Gut Can Lead to an Autoimmune Disease

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.1 You can think of your gut lining as a drawbridge. Teeny tiny boats (micronutrients in food) that are meant to travel back and forth are able to go under the bridge without a problem. This is an important system that allows vital nutrients from the food you eat to be 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 into high alert and triggering a huge rise in inflammation to fight off these free radicals. This continual strain on your immune system eventually causes it to go haywire, and it ends up attacking your own tissues by mistake. This makes leaky gut one of the most common causes of autoimmune disease.

2. Gluten Leads to Autoimmune Disease

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and certain grains. 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 also used as a filler in meat substitutes, medications, and supplements. Additionally, gluten is used 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 your diet, especially if you have a gluten sensitivity. If you want to find out if you have a gluten sensitivity, I recommend trying an elimination diet.

3. Toxins Contribute to Autoimmune Disease

Toxic molds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals such as mercury are the two main toxins I see in those with autoimmune disease. Mycotoxins are very volatile compounds produced by toxic molds that occur naturally in our food and cleaning products.2 They wreak havoc on the immune system!

The effects of toxins on our bodies is complex. After all, there are thousands of chemicals 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. What we do know is that a heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk for 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 own 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. It begins attacking everything–including your own 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.

4. Infections

Scientists have long suspected that infections from bacteria, viruses, and other toxins were likely to blame as causes of autoimmune disease. There are now a number of infections, including Epstein-Barr (the virus that causes mono), Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, E. coli, that have been linked to autoimmune diseases. 

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 once again. Once the virus is active, the inflammatory immune response damages tissue, which then causes more inflammation and a bigger response from the immune system. Autoimmune disease develops from that chronic state of inflammation. Healing your infections is a necessary step to reversing your autoimmunity. 

5. Stress

Our bodies are designed to handle acute stress. It may stress you out to sit in a long meeting, or to have an unpleasant phone call with an ex-spouse. Let go of the stress once the challenge has been overcome, and allow your immune system to calm down. It does take practice, but it makes a big difference! I give a long list of different ways to relieve your stress in The Autoimmune Solution. 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: Just moving your body can help you literally “shake off” your stress.
  • 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 going on a walk 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 your recovery from autoimmune disease. For many, it’s the missing piece of the puzzle when they’ve done everything else right, but still aren’t seeing full resolution of their symptoms.

Now that you understand the causes, let me show you how to take back your health and begin reversing your autoimmune disease. 

 The Myers Way® Approach to Reversing Autoimmune Disease

1. Heal Your Gut to Reverse Autoimmune Disease

Healing your gut is essential to healing yourself. Remember, 80% of your immune system lies in your gut! The best way to begin is with my 4R approach to healing your gut. 

  1. Remove the bad: Eliminate inflammatory and toxic foods
  2. Restore what’s missing: Follow a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of organic greens, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats such as avocado and coconut oils, and quality proteins, such as those from grass-fed beef and wild fish. 
  3. Reinoculate healthy bacteria: Restoring beneficial bacteria to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut is critical.
  4. Repair the gut: Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself is essential. L-glutamine is an amino acid that will help mend your gut lining.

The 4R protocol is sure to help you and your gut on your journey to optimal health. I have witnessed dramatic reversal of chronic and inflammatory illnesses in a very short period of time by utilizing this simple approach.

2. Remove Gluten, Grain, and Legumes from your diet

As I mentioned earlier, gluten is in more foods than just wheat and bread. You may be wondering how something that’s used in everything from our foods to even our beauty products could be harmful to your gut. Wouldn’t we all be sick? Well, unfortunately, it has become mainstream to have a chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, or an autoimmune disease – and the rates are rising. 

I highly recommend removing not only gluten but all grains and legumes from your diet to help the immune system function optimally. These foods contain proteins known as lectins, which act as a natural pesticide for crops and can wreak havoc on the lining of your gut. 

3. Test for Heavy Metals and Mycotoxins

As I mentioned earlier, there are two main toxin-taming strategies: prevention and detoxification. The best thing you can do is lighten your toxic burden. You may not be able to control your exposure to all toxins, however you do have control over your own home. I focus my efforts on keeping my own home environment as clean as possible: I eat only organic food and use nontoxic cleaning and beauty products

I also recommend finding a biological dentist to remove your mercury amalgam fillings. Removing mycotoxins and heavy metals can have a tremendous impact on your immune system.

4. Find and Treat Infections to Reverse Autoimmune Disease

There are a number of bacterial and viral infections associated with autoimmune conditions, such as herpes simplex and Epstein-Barr as I mentioned earlier. 

Addressing your infections is a necessary step to get your immune system back to proper functioning.

Support your immune system with the other pillars of The Myers Way® by healing your gut, eliminating gluten, grains, and legumes, and tame the toxins to strengthen your immune system. A healthy immune system is your best defense against the reactivation of latent infections.

You can also support your immune system with supplements such as Resveratrol, L-glutamine, glutathione, and curcimin

5. Reverse Autoimmune Disease by Relieving Stress

Long-term stress can weaken your intestinal barrier, allowing gut bacteria to enter your body and create an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. Ongoing stress from work, illness or death of a loved one, lack of sleep, a poor diet, and other daily stressors can lead to dysbiosis (altered gut microbiome) in your gut and eventually leaky gut. This weakens your immune system and makes it vulnerable to viruses. 

Our stress response evolved primarily as a means of self-preservation from our ancestors facing immediate, life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, that response isn’t ideal for the type of chronic, ongoing stress we face today. That’s why it’s so crucial to make time to relieve your stress!

Hearing you have an autoimmune disease doesn’t mean you cannot live a life full of vitality. I have seen the success of my proven approach. I know because I’ve treated myself with it. The Myers Way® was created to empower you to take back your health by getting to the root cause of the problem so you can live a normal life. 

Autoimmune Disease FAQs

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?

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?

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.

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Article Sources

  1. Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?. Marcelo Campos, MD. Harvard Medical School. 2019.
  2. Mycotoxins. World Health Organization. 2018.