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Autoimmune disease has been an ever-increasing category of illness that includes thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, type-1 diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis. Since the 1970s the incidence of these disorders has more than tripled. And while conventional medicine has continued to claim that their origin is unknown, research is finding a strong correlation with diet and the health of our gut.
If spread flat, the lining of the small intestine is the size of a tennis court! The surface of this "court" is a single layer of cells whose responsibility it is to both absorb nutrients and block undigested proteins from finding their way into the body. If this latter function is compromised--a condition known as "Leaky Gut Syndrome"--large, partially digested food proteins will be targeted by the cells of the immune system. The result can be a hyperactive immune state characterized by an increase in inflammation with the potential for self-recognition (i.e. autoimmune disease).

Under healthy circumstances it is the mission of the immune system to target invasion by bacteria and viruses as well as to seek and destroy our own cells that have become abnormal, such as with cancer. However, if the immune system becomes dysregulated--a secondary manifestation of Leaky Gut Syndrome--it may in some individuals target their own healthy tissue. This is the very essence of autoimmune disease and has its origin in the gut.

Some foods have been shown to be correlated with the development of Leaky Gut and the subsequent manifestation of autoimmune disease. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley will cause celiac disease in susceptible persons. It has long been held that few individuals have this disease. In fact, few persons do have it; however, no one seems to tolerate gluten well because it is difficult to digest and it is effective in causing Leaky Gut. Furthermore, a high carbohydrate/sugar diet, including wheat and other grains, supports intestinal bacteria that also damage the intestinal barrier compromising its selective permeability.

Known as the microbiota, the entire population of gut bacteria is a cornerstone of health. There are bacteria that improve our health and there are those that compromise it. The type of food that we provide for our intestinal comrades is as important to them as it is to our own human cells (think on that the next time you eat)! As previously stated, high-sugar/high-starch diets support "bad" bacteria (this includes high fiber "whole" grains!) while most vegetables sustain "good" bacteria.

To summarize, the food that we eat determines the types of bacteria that dominate our intestinal tract. Healthy bacteria maintain the selectively permeable nature of the intestinal wall. When the gut becomes "leaky", partially digested proteins pass through the wall only to be treated as foreign invaders by the immune system. Gluten is notorious for this phenomenon because it is difficult to fully break down into amino acids. Once "war" is declared, the immune system becomes aggressive and may attack a person's own tissue as per their genetic susceptibility. In other words, an autoimmune disease requires a triad to occur: environmental trigger, susceptibility genes and a gut abnormality. Successful treatment of autoimmune diseases must focus on eliminating environmental triggers and the healing of the gut.