Why the stress in your life might be the number one reason that you are still sick with an autoimmune disease.

stress matches

“I think nutrition certainly plays a strong role but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge the role that I  think increasing stress of modern life plays in the rising incidence of autoimmune disease”  Chris Kesser


The Autoimmune Disease Series

 This week I am going to examine some research that shows us how stress, in whatever form it takes, can create a chemical cascade in the body that results in inflammation.

Inflammation in turn causes a leaky gut.
Alessio Fasano, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Celiac Research , a cutting edge researcher into autoimmune disease, explains that a compromised gut, is one of three key components in autoimmune disease.

So this week we are going to look at the following:

  • Stress and inflammation, why this can be a viscous cycle.
  • Understanding that there are many different types of stress.
  • Examining three factors involved in autoimmunity.
  • Introducing Zonulin, a protein that regulates the tight junctions in your gut.
  • Switching off your fight or flight response – tips and tricks to lead a less stressful life.

If this all looks too complicated to you, the take away from this week’s blog is to identify the areas of stress in your life and find ways to cut them down or out.  Also look at some methods that can help you to relax and switch off your “fight or flight” response.

So it might be that you have made some great changes in your diet, you are taking anti inflammatory and supportive supplements and yet flare ups are still an issue.  Or maybe you are just at the beginning of your journey with an autoimmune disease; either way this session will be a really important one, so read on.

Now let us take a more in-depth view of what happens to your body when you suffer from stress:

Sheldon Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University says:

“Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control.”

He has observed that long-term stress can alter the efficiency of cortisol to regulate your inflammation response.  This is because stress decreases your tissue sensitivity to cortisol, that is your immune cells become less-responsive to cortisol in a similar way to diabetics and insulin resistance.

This means that when your stress levels are chronic, you put yourself at risk of runaway inflammation which spins out the kind of symptoms that we see so often in autoimmune diseases.

Remember here that stress can take many, many forms, from a bad relationship with your mother, to overexercising; from damp and mouldy rented accommodation, to a gut infection; from spiraling debt, to shift work, or an injury.

Unfortunately it can take a lot of effort to break away from damaging behaviours, relationship conflicts and poor lifestyle choices.  There can be a downward spiraling of stress and the consequent  chronically inflamed picture that we see all too often.

So now is the time to tell yourself to step back, identify where the stress lies in your life, imagine how you would feel if you could shrug off that anxiety and address that toxic relationship, or change your working hours, stop driving yourself so hard.

Find another way forward.

In A Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases, Alessio Fasano, offers an alternative theory on autoimmune disease, that is rapidly gaining support through the scientific studies that support his work.

To understand this we should first look at his earlier work where he describes a three legged stool approach to the model of autoimmunity.  He suggests that there are three vital components to autoimmune disease.  If any one of these components are not part of the picture, the symptoms do not appear.  The three are:

  1. A genetic predisposition
  2. An environmental trigger
  3. A leaky gut

A leaky gut is of particular importance in this trinity because it represents your body’s last chance.  If you already are genetically predisposed and you come under the influence of an environmental trigger all will be well if there are no holes in your gut.  It is only when this last line of defence is breached, that your body will initiate an immune response, generating inflammation not only in your gut but elsewhere in the body too.

Fasano explains in his recent paper that researchers have recently identified a protein called zonulin, which they have found regulates the tight junctions in your gut wall.

When zonulin levels rise, the tight junctions open partially and this is the moment when your gut integrity is breached,  now potential “triggers” may pass through into your blood stream.  This is when we will see your body mounting an immune response and presenting you with those flare-up symptoms that you know so well.

Gluten can increase zonulin levels in the body, but so too it appears can inflammation.  We have come full circle, to chronic stress which,  may well also increase zonulin levels in our body, contributing to one of the three legs of Fasano’s three legged stool of autoimmunity.

So how can you manage your stress?

When stressed or overwhelmed, the immediate relief is always in the softening, and the surrendering. Your surrounding world already offers its medicine everywhere. Place your hands in the soil to feel grounded. Wade into water to feel cleansed and healed. Fill your lungs with fresh air to feel mentally clear. Raise your face to the heat of the sun to feel your own immense power. You are part of the earth, and comprised of the very same elements. And this is something you should remember. – Victoria Erickson

  1. Look at food stressors such as the unhelpful foods that I listed in last weeks blog.  Look also for food triggers such as wheat or dairy and look to eliminate them for some time to see what an effect this has on your overall health.
  2. Get out in nature, better still take off your shoes and socks and get grounded on sand, grass or soil.
  3. Take time out to meditate, practice yoga, so breath work or visualisation exercises.
  4. Journalling – get your mental whirlwind down and out onto a page
  5. Slow down.  If you have a demanding and hectic job for instance, don’t head for the gym after work, stop pumping that adrenaline; go to a yoga session or for a sauna instead.  Take time to eat your meals (and chew them!).  Sit down at a table to enjoy home cooked food, cut down on food on the go.  Relax.
  6. Take responsibility for your own health and well being, set up a support team that is positive; friends, family, support group, yoga teacher and nutritionists can all offer help and advice at different times.
  7. Have an Epsom salt bath, to help you to relax and unwind after a long day.  You would be surprised how many clients I see that can’t even find time for this; they always use a shower because it is quicker.

Cutting out your stress might be one of the hardest changes that you need to make, but might also prove to be the most important one.  Lessen the “fight or flight” response and switch instead to “rest and digest”. Really this should be non-negotiable.  Lighten up your life.

“A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well”

Gemma x

Top 10 ways to stop your pain and inflammation

The Autoimmune disease series

autoimmunity inflammation


Reduce your pain and inflammation

When I think of the top symptoms of autoimmune issues; I think of the flare ups that we wish to avoid: Rheumatoid arthritis and the painful swollen joints, of Hashimotos with a thyroid gland that is under attack, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus with its rash and soreness in the joints and Multiple Sclerosis which presents with an autoimmune inflammatory attack against the myelin sheaths of neurons.

I would use one word to sum it all up; inflammation.  The body is at war and is creating havoc at a cellular level with tissue damage as a detrimental  result.  We can see, heat, pain, stiffness, numbness and tingling as cells come under attack and impingement compresses the nerve supply.  There can be a lot of pain.  One of my clients described the intensity of it as like “having broken glass in my veins”.

With this in mind one of my first blogs of this autoimmunity series is to offer ways to reduce this pain and inflammation.

So my top 10 list;
  1. Maintain hydration
  2. Reduce unhelpful foods and beverages
  3. Address your stress
  4. Eat a rainbow
  5. Be Trigger Happy; Identify and eliminate food and environmental triggers
  6. What’s missing?  Address nutritional deficiencies
  7. Repair your leaky gut
  8. Address poor adrenal function
  9. Alkalise your tissues
  10. Are you toxic soup?  Have a long hard think about where other toxic elements might be creeping into your life

Here they are again – my top 10 ways to reduce inflammation (with a bit more detail).  I will be delving into each of these crucial topics in a lot more detail in my further blog posts.  So watch this space.

  1. Hydration.  Did you know that the mast cells that produce histamine are generally found in the gut.   It has been said that we do not produce histamine unless we are dehydrated…keep up a regular practice of drinking 1-2 litres of fresh filtered water every single day (no more than 1 litre in 1 hour).  Hydration is the cornerstone of every disease that I treat.  With our bodies comprised of approximately 60 – 70% water this humble beverage is crucial to our survival.  Vegetables and fruits contain water in this kind of percentage so eating them fresh will also be a vital part of keeping ourselves in tip top health.  At the very least, drinking adequate quantities of water throughout the day will dilute the effects of that histamine in the gut.
  2. Reduce unhelpful foods and beverages.  Caffeinated drinks, alcohol, smoking, poor quality fats and oils, mass produced ready meals will all contribute to a toxic load on the  body which will place a strain on all of its systems, but will notably impact on our stress hormone production, our immune system and our ability to cleanse effectively, three systems that will be critical to reducing our levels of inflammation in the body.
  3. Address your stress.  Very low calorie diets, mental chatter, taking on too much, being an “over achiever” or a “pleaser” will all take it’s toll on our stress levels.  There is a very definite connection between our stress levels with it’s  release of adrenaline and our immune system so this is a non-negotiable area to manage effectively.  Find your own way to unwind.  Need some ideas? Yoga, gardening, a walk in the countryside or by the beach, breathing techniques, massage, positive affirmations or a long hot soak in the bath.  Be sure to find something that will provide a daily release for you.
  4. Eat a rainbow  Increase your intake of inflammation soothing foods.  Think of including a wide colour palette; blueberries, avocados, walnuts, kale, carrots and apples.
  5. Be Trigger Happy – Identify and eliminate food and environmental triggers.  Wheat and Dairy are right up there as the top 2 most challenging foods; the ones that cause the most issues.  If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis you might also wish to cut out the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, chili peppers etc) as a reduction in these food triggers has offered relief to many people.  Meat too has been found to be challenging, bringing acidity to an already compromised system.  There may also be a parasite or infection such as Lyme disease that is lurking undetected in your colon, slowing the recovery process.  So consider testing for such ‘triggers’.
  6. What is missing? Address nutritional deficiencies.  An organic, freshly prepared, plant-based diet will go a long way towards supporting your body in it’s return to health.  However chronic disease can really take a toll on the nutrient required to maintain optimal health.  B vitamins for example are depleted during times of stress, so too are vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.  Many people with autoimmune diseases also struggle with vitamin D levels, which will be at their lowest during the winter months.  So consider testing for these vitamins and minerals or start a regular daily intake of these vital nutrients.
  7. Repair your leaky gut.  Scientists have now confirmed that in cases of autoimmune disease, the lining of the gut has been damaged and breached, leading to absorption issues and a compromised immune system.  Some key foods and spices such as stewed apples, coconut oil, cinnamon, cloves, garlic and turmeric with starches that offer fermentable fibers like leeks, sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke and yam, when taken on a daily basis can help to heal this lining and restore its integrity.
  8. Address poor adrenal function.  A stress response that is working overtime will have a devastating effect on our adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands produce cortisol which is involved in regulating our immune system, so ensuring that our adrenal glands are given the time to rest and repair, along with supportive nutrients to help restore them will have an enormous effect on our fatigue and ability to suppress inflammation.
  9. Alkalise your tissues.  It has long been documented that although our stomach needs acid to properly break down our food and kill off pathogens, our tissues should on the whole be slightly alkaline.  Juicing and smoothies combines with plenty of soups and salads will really help to bring much needed electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium which will help at a cellular level to promote cleansing and reduce stiffness, aching and fatigue.  Meat, fish, eggs and grains are acid forming (rice less so) so minimise these where you can.
  10. Are you toxic soup?  Have a long hard think about where other toxic elements might be creeping into your life; GMO foods, plastic water bottles, aluminium takeaway containers, fish or amalgam fillings containing mercury, make up products and haircare products all offering a deadly cocktail for your body to process and deal with on a daily basis.

I will address these issues throughout my autoimmunity series, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by such a comprehensive list, here are some of the easiest things to try:

  • Drink water regularly (I will keep on saying this)
  • Reduce your stress, build in some time for your self and make it a regular thing – even just a long hot soak in the bath while you plan how you can make more of an impact on your stress levels.
  • Add some herbs and spices to your food – these seemingly small additions pack a mighty punch so sprinkle merrily; think cinnamon on your cereal, Italian herbs in your soups and turmeric and cloves in your curries.
  • Cut down on those unhelpful foods and possible trigger foods; start to cook more fresh food yourself, one recipe at a time with as many greens and vegetables as you can.

Look out in further blogs for more inflammation busting ideas, recipe suggestions and video tutorials – all dedicated to supporting your body with its task of tackling an  auto immune disease.

With love

Gemma x