Now, I want you to imagine sitting on a three legged stool. If all three legs are solid then the stool holds your weight. However, if one leg is loose the entire stool will wobble. And if a leg breaks off the stool topples over. Are you imagining that? So, I'm sure you're wondering why I'm talking about three legged stools?
Here is the deal. Autoimmunity is on the rise with incidents of hashimoto's thyroiditis, type one diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis (to name a few) becoming more and more common. In fact, it's estimated that autoimmunity is responsible for 90% of the cases of hypothyroidism in the United States. Current research is exploring the possibility of alzheimer's and heart disease as being autoimmune in nature.
Autoimmunity is a condition where the immune system attacks itself. If the attack happens against the thyroid you'll end up with hashimoto's. If it's against the joints rheumatoid arthritis is the diagnosis, and so on. Understandably, those struggling with autoimmune diseases often feel helpless and frustrated as the very system designed to protect them begins to attack them. But why does the body mistake it's own tissue as foreign and can we do anything to prevent, halt, or reverse autoimmune reactions?
Enter the three legged stool. World renowned gastroenterologist and autoimmune expert Dr. Alessio Fasano has done extensive research on the cause of autoimmunity and here is what he has discovered. Three triggers must be present in order for autoimmunity to develop. He likens it to a three legged stool. If all three legs (triggers) exist simultaneously then autoimmunity has a stool to sit on. However, if you take away one (or two) of the legs there is no chair and therefore no autoimmunity.
Lets take a look at the three legs:
1. Genetic predisposition
2. Environmental trigger
3. Increased intestinal permeability
We all inherit genes that will make us more susceptible to certain conditions including autoimmunity. However, research in the field of epigenetics has made it abundantly clear that genes do not equal destiny. Having a gene for multiple sclerosis does not mean you'll end up with multiple sclerosis UNLESS the environment (a.k.a lifestyle) is conducive to the expression of that gene.
So, in this case, having a gene for an autoimmune condition will only lead to the development, and diagnosis, of autoimmune disease if two other factors also exist: an environmental trigger and increased intestinal permeability. Environmental triggers are numerous and take time to identify and eliminate. They can include: diet, lifestyle, stress, infections, chemical exposures, and more. Increased intestinal permeability, more commonly called leaky gut, describes a condition where the space between the cells that make up the lining of the intestines gets larger. When that space opens up the gut becomes "leaky" and allows partially digested food, and waste, to leak into the blood stream.
So, here is the good news. There are hundreds of things we can do to prevent, and heal, leaky gut while simultaneously reducing our exposure to triggers. Now, you know I'm always looking for high leverage points. The reality that autoimmunity cannot happen if gut integrity exists is a biggie. That means we have incredible control over this process and can choose to create a diet & lifestyle that supports gut health and is therefore inhospitable for autoimmune disease.
Now I'd like to hear from you. Did you already know about the three legged stool of autoimmunity? If not, does this surprise you? Most importantly, what is one thing you can do to improve the health of your digestive system?