Origins of Autoimmune Disease and the Microbiome

Minnie Jacobs

Autoimmune disease is one of the fastest-growing causes of disability and death in the U.S. Some researchers and clinicians believe the incidence of these chronic conditions is skyrocketing in nearly all industrialized countries of the adrenal fatigue world.

Presumed causes vary, but all seem to be centered on the microbiome. The mucosal barrier between the gut and the rest of the body appears to be exceptionally important in the development of autoimmune disease. Dysbiosis of the microbiome and a leaky gut set the stage for these life-long conditions.

Epidemiology of Autoimmune Disease

In the United States, approximately 8.5 million people suffer from some form of one of over 100 autoimmune diseases. About three-fourths of these sufferers are women. These conditions are the fourth largest source of disability in U.S. women.

Many of these conditions are on the rise. For example, between 2001 and 2009 the Diabetes Association reported an increase of 23% in the incidence of Type 1 diabetes. The incidence of celiac disease is reported to be 1 in 133 people.

Reasons for these increases aren’t fully known. While most sufferers have a genetic predisposition to develop any given autoimmune disease, genes do not change fast enough to explain such increases. Most researchers believe there must be environmental factors at work.

To emphasize the importance of continuing research into finding the causes for autoimmune conditions, consider this: 1 in 69 women under the age of 50 will eventually have breast cancer, but almost 1 in 9 women of childbearing age will eventually have an autoimmune disease.

The Role of the Microbiome in Autoimmune Conditions

The human microbiome contains more microorganisms than there are cells in the body, around 1014 bacteria. Every person has a unique microbiome starting from birth and affected by the environment, foods consumed, and other factors. At least some of this variability has to do with the presence of stress, along with other environmental factors.

Inside the microbiome, the food you consume is processed to release nutrients needed for good health and functioning. The gut, beginning with the mouth, is the primary way both nutrients and pathogens enter the body. All of the microflora inside the gut forms a barrier between pathogens and the rest of the body. When the gut is in good condition and functioning appropriately, the body also functions well.

While another of the major organs of our bodies, the skin, is protected by multiple layers of epithelial cells, the gut is protected by only one layer of these cells. As long as the junctions between the cells in this layer are tight, they serve their purpose very well article source.

However, there can come a time when the microbiome doesn’t function as well as it should. Toxic agents in one form or another can gain entry into the gut system and cause significant problems.

One significant problem occurs when the junctions between these epithelial cells that protect the gut loosen. When this happens, food particles, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens can slip through the loosened junctions and enter the bloodstream. This condition is called “leaky gut” syndrome.

The epithelial cells in the lining of the gut are covered with a mucosal covering that makes up the majority of the immune system in the body. Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) is a highly developed and very specialized tissue that holds immunologically active cells, enabling this lining to do its job of dealing with pathogens.

This mucosal immune system has the job of distinguishing between harmful and non-harmful substances. Problems arise when, due to a leaky gut, particles cross the mucosal barrier and are deemed foreign, and therefore dangerous, by this immune system.

When the mucosal immune system labels substances as dangerous, it mobilizes the immune response and inflammation results as the immune system strives to fight the foreign substance. Over time, this immune response and the inflammation it produces can lead to autoimmune disease.

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