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Toxic Stress is Causing Autoimmune Disease, Leaky Gut and More Chronic Stress Affects Every System in the Body

We’ve all experienced stress, it’s a normal reaction to emergencies or other serious events in life. Short-term, situation-related (acute) stress reactions to specific events can actually help us cope with the temporary issue at hand. But stress can become toxic when it’s chronic—ongoing daily heightened stress can take a serious toll on your health and negatively impact your overall wellbeing.

Being in a stressed state activates the central nervous system’s “fight or flight” response, which creates a cascade of neuro-endocrine-immune responses and tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline. These two stress hormones immediately affect the cardiovascular and respiratory systems: they are what cause your heart rate to increase and your breathing to become shallow and rapid. This emergency response sends blood rushing to your muscles, heart, and organs. Oxygen is sent to your muscles, your blood vessels constrict, extra blood sugar is produced in the liver to increase energy, more acid is produced in the stomach, muscles become tense, and the immune system is stimulated.

All this is necessary for a physical response to an emergency, but when stress becomes chronic—constant reactions to regular annoyances, feeling under pressure, ongoing worries that we can’t shut off—it begins to damage various systems in our body. Toxic stress can cause damage to:

  • The immune system, which becomes weakened. This makes you more susceptible to sickness and can make it harder to recover from viral and bacterial infections.
  • The digestive system, which produces more acid. This can cause heartburn, acid reflux, and can increase ulcer symptoms. Chronic stress is also a factor in eating disorders, including both overeating under-eating, as well as making poor food choices (stress eating). In addition, when the liver is signaled to produce more sugar due to chronic stress, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.
  • The muscular system, which remains tense and tight. This can cause a myriad of symptoms from backache and headache to neck and shoulder pain as well as overall body aches.
  • The reproductive system, which affects both men and women. Men can experience low testosterone and an increased risk of infection in male organs; women’s menstrual cycles can become heavier, more painful, or irregular.
  • The cardiovascular system becomes overtaxed under chronic stress, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • The respiratory system, which is taxed by more rapid, shallow breathing, can make respiratory problems like COPD, asthma, emphysema, etc. worse by making breathing even more difficult.

In addition, toxic stress can lead to sleep disorders, depression, leaky gut and autoimmune disease. Leaky gut, which we discussed in a previous blog post, occurs when the stomach barrier system becomes permeable, allowing foreign particles into the bloodstream. While leaky gut can be healed, the unfortunate reality is that once you develop an autoimmune disease, you have it for life. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer with constant flare-ups and symptoms—autoimmune diseases can be managed once the triggers are determined.

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A report published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that at least 50% of autoimmune conditions are triggered by unknown factors, but “physical and psychological stress has been implicated in the development of autoimmune disease”. However, a number of studies have shown that as many as 80% of patients with autoimmune disease reported having “uncommon emotional stress” prior to the onset of autoimmune disease. The NIH report points out a somewhat vicious cycle: not only does stress cause autoimmune disease, but once diagnosed with autoimmune disease, patients’ stress levels increase significantly.

These findings led to the report’s conclusion that: “It is presumed that the stress-triggered neuroendocrine hormones lead to immune dysregulation, which ultimately results in autoimmune disease, by altering or amplifying cytokine production.” In such cases, chronic stress would be a likely culprit in triggering autoimmune flare-ups, so stress management and a better understanding of stress reactions would help these patients better manage their autoimmune condition while at the same time improving the health of their immune system.

Of course, diet and specific foods can also be triggers for autoimmune disease, so it’s important to pay close attention to any food-related reactions. Once a dietary trigger is determined, the food or foods should be eliminated from the diet permanently because your immune system remembers whatever it has an antibody against. For example, if your thyroid is reacting to gluten (a common food sensitivity that can also contribute to leaky gut), it can’t just be eliminated for a matter of weeks or months; any time you have gluten, your thyroid will react to it.

It’s important to note that there is no way to supplement your way around these necessary diet and lifestyle changes. Managing any autoimmune disease can be successfully accomplished by eliminating toxic stress and/or trigger foods permanently, which will also help to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com

Common Foods That Trigger Immune Reactions Food sensitivities can lead to leaky gut and autoimmune disease

A lot of people come into my treatment room asking which diet plan is best. “Should I follow a paleo diet?” “Should I do Keto?” “How about the Mediterranean diet?” These are common questions, but there is really no one diet that is right for every person. All three of these diets—paleo, keto, Mediterranean—are all good ways of eating healthy. However, the most important thing to understand is that food is not neutral; it’s either going to be anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory, and the triggers differ from person to person.

Gluten is a classic example of a food trigger for autoimmunity. The vast majority of people have some degree of reactivity to gluten. And because so many people consume so much gluten every day, there’s a high probability they’re having an immune reaction to gluten without even realizing it, possibly attributing their symptoms to other things or just accepting them. The reality is that they most likely have developed “leaky gut syndrome”, or intestinal permeability. Some of the more typical symptoms of leaky gut include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Cramps
  • Brain fog
  • Autoimmunity
  • Digestive problems or discomfort
  • Skin problems
  • Mood swings

So what is leaky gut, and what causes it? Intestinal permeability, more commonly referred to as leaky gut, occurs when the gut’s barrier system has been breached. There are a number of things that can cause leaky gut, such as prolonged or repeated use of medications including antibiotics, NSAIDs and antacids (whether prescription or OTC), food allergies, chronic stress, inflammation, yeast overgrowth, parasites, pesticides, and more.

By far the most common food source causing leaky gut is gluten, but other inflammatory foods like dairy, alcohol, and sugars are also high on the list. Once the gut barrier has been breached, everything from endotoxins and bacteria to heavy metals and environmental pollutants to move into the body’s circulatory system. Think of the gut barrier like a window screen in your home that’s meant to prevent unwanted outdoor invaders like mosquitoes from getting into your home. If the screen is weakened and develops holes, mosquitoes and other pests will breach that barrier and cause damage.

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The same type of thing is happening in your body when your gut barrier is breached and unwanted particles and toxins are allowed to circulate freely throughout your body where they don’t belong, causing the immune system to view them as foreign invaders and repeatedly attack them. The immune system’s heightened state of alert creates a constant state of inflammation, overstressing the immune system, which can then inaccurately attack healthy tissues. This is the beginning of autoimmunity.

In some cases, like with someone who has Hashimoto’s thyroid, there may even be a cross-reaction, which is when the immune system can’t differentiate between gluten and thyroid. When that happens, the immune system reacts to gluten, which causes inflammation, and then the immune system goes on to attack the thyroid.

There are a number of foods that more commonly trigger immune reactions, although gluten is by far the highest on the list. Some other typical culprits are:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Grains
  • Sugars

Here again, different foods can cause immune reactions in different people, and the type of reactions can also differ from person to person. Keep in mind that any food, however seemingly safe, can trigger an immune reaction if a person has become sensitive to it at some point.

New food sensitivities can develop as a result of leaky gut—when food particles move through a permeable gut barrier and into circulation, the immune system will recognize those particles as “unfriendly invaders” and attack them, creating a reaction against that food. So every time that food is eaten, it activates the immune system which creates inflammation and causes the body to launch an inflammatory “attack” response. In addition, these “invaders” can also bind to different organs and tissues; when the immune system sees that those tissues and organs now look different or recognizes the familiar “invader” attached to them, it will attack the tissues or organs themselves, which also leads to autoimmunity.

It’s important to note that while autoimmunity cannot be cured, it can be better managed to control progression. At that point the goal is to calm down the body’s aggressive immune response as one autoimmune expression generally begets another. At the same time, we want to heal the intestinal permeability known as leaky gut. A number of things can be taken into consideration and corrected, including diet, stress levels, potential infections, and so forth. Once gut health has been restored and inflammation has been reduced, many patients experience fewer food sensitivities or have a better sense of what is the primary culprit.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com