Autoimmune Disease: Drawing the Lines of Defense | The Paleo Diet®
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Autoimmune Disease: Drawing the Lines of Defense

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
May 25, 2015
Autoimmune Disease: Drawing the Lines of Defense image

The case for the Paleo Diet® continues to grow as the modern diet leads to an epidemic of modern health problems. Over the last three decades, epidemiological data provide strong evidence of a steady rise in autoimmune disease, where the body fails to recognize the difference between its own cells and foreign invaders.1

We have to wonder why more people than ever are afflicted with the following conditions: multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases (mainly Crohn's disease), systemic lupus erythematosus, primary biliary cirrhosis, myasthenia gravis, autoimmune thyroiditis, hepatitis and rheumatic diseases, bullous pemphigoid, and celiac disease.2 Indicators, based on the geoepidemiological distribution of autoimmune disease, point to an environmental factor.3 Although causality has not been proven, scientists hypothesize the answer lies in the relationship between the prevalence of industrialized foods and the environmental impact they have on our guts, specifically in the intercellular tight junctions of the epithelial lining.4

The secret lies in the intestines

The idea of “leaky gut syndrome” has circulated for decades, but many health practitioners still don’t believe it actually exists, despite over thousands of published articles relating to intestinal permeability. Historically, the functions of the gastrointestinal tract have been believed to be limited to the digestion and absorption of nutrients and electrolytes, and to regulate water homeostasis.5 An additional function has been overlooked: to regulate macromolecules through the intestinal epithelial barrier mechanism, within tight intercellular junctions, to control the equilibrium between tolerance and immunity to non-self antigens.6

It shouldn’t seem that far fetched to believe molecules can pass from inside the intestines into the bloodstream, as only a single layer of epithelial cells separates the lumen from internal milieu.7 Our bodies even make modulating proteins, such as Zonulin, in response to certain bacteria and gluten8 that has been proven to open the intercellular tight junctions responsible for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining. When the intercellular junctions aren’t well sealed it allows for the passage of macromolecules into the bloodstream and triggers an immune response leading to intestinal and extraintestinal autoimmune disease as well as inflammatory disorders. 9

The Scarcity of real foods

We are becoming more dependent on heavily processed food sources, 10 and evolving further away from what we are genetically designed to eat.11 There are seven food additives: sugar, salt, emulsifiers, organic solvents, gluten, microbial transglutaminase, and nanoparticles, increasingly added to processed food and are finding their way in record numbers onto grocery store shelves. These industrial food additives are believed to dissolve the epithelial barrier function, leading to increased intestinal permeability and activating the autoimmune cascade. The rate usage of the food additives has also matched the increased incidence and prevalence of autoimmune diseases during the last few decades. 12

The good news

The Paleo Diet, clearly more than the meat lover’s way to keep weight off, might be the only solution to avoiding the onslaught of food additives and their effects on our health. Most of these additives can be completely avoided when following the Paleo Diet13 Further, Paleo food provides important nutrients, often at the therapeutic levels, as well as high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, all necessary to maintain and repair the intestinal tract.14,15

The current research has barely scratched the surface for fully understanding the effects of food additives exposure on intestinal permeability and autoimmune disease. There is enough evidence for those with autoimmune symptoms or a genetic predisposition to minimize the exposure to all processed foods. The best line of defense for those at risk for autoimmune disease may be following the Paleo diet.

Eat for gut health. Eat Paleo.

References

[1] Selmi, Carlo. "The worldwide gradient of autoimmune conditions." Autoimmunity reviews 9.5 (2010): A247-A250.

[2] Okada, H., et al. "The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update." Clinical & Experimental Immunology 160.1 (2010): 1-9.

[3] Parks, Christine G., et al. "Expert Panel Workshop Consensus Statement on the Role of the Environment in the Development of Autoimmune Disease."International journal of molecular sciences 15.8 (2014): 14269-14297.

[4] Hollander, Daniel. "Intestinal permeability, leaky gut, and intestinal disorders."Current gastroenterology reports 1.5 (1999): 410-416.

[5] Diamond, Jared. "Evolutionary design of intestinal nutrient absorption: enough but not too much." Physiology 6.2 (1991): 92-96.

[6] Fasano, Alessio. "Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer." Physiological reviews 91.1 (2011): 151-175.

[7] Shanahan, Fergus. "V. Mechanisms of immunologic sensation of intestinal contents." American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 278.2 (2000): G191-G196.

[8] Fasano, Alessio, et al. "Zonulin, a newly discovered modulator of intestinal permeability, and its expression in coeliac disease." The Lancet 355.9214 (2000): 1518-1519.

[9] Fasano, Alessio. "Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer." Physiological reviews 91.1 (2011): 151-175.

[10] Monteiro, Carlos Augusto, et al. "Increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health: evidence from Brazil." Public health nutrition 14.01 (2011): 5-13.

[11] O'Keefe, James H., and Loren Cordain. "Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol. 79. No. 1. Elsevier, 2004.

[12] A. Vojdani. “A potential link between environmental triggers and autoimmunity.”Autoimmune Diseases 2014.

[13] Lerner, Aaron, and Torsten Matthias. "Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease." Autoimmunity reviews 14.6 (2015): 479-489.

[14] Li, Yousheng, et al. "Oral glutamine ameliorates chemotherapy-induced changes of intestinal permeability and does not interfere with the antitumor effect of chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer: a prospective randomized trial." Tumori 92.5 (2006): 396.

[15] Simopoulos, Artemis P. "Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases." Journal of the American College of Nutrition 21.6 (2002): 495-505.

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