When applying the Functional Medicine approach to managing autoimmune disease, we focus on identifying why the immune system is imbalanced and then work to restore that balance. In more scientific terms, we look to balance the two sides of the immune system known as TH1 and TH2.
TH1 and TH2
TH1 is the pro-inflammatory side of the immune system—it responds immediately to an invader into the body. TH2, on the other hand, is the anti-inflammatory side of the immune system. After a delayed response, TH2 produces antibodies to combat an invader. These antibodies tag the invader so that if it shows up again, the immune system can respond more quickly. In a healthy person, these two systems work in balance. In a person suffering from an autoimmune disease, however, one of these systems may become overly dominant.
This imbalance between TH1 and TH2 underlies autoimmune conditions, and we use a safe template like the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol to help restore balance, tame inflammation, and overcome autoimmune disease.
The New Immune Player: TH17
Recent studies indicate that TH17 is another important player in the immune system. When activated properly, TH17 plays an important role in immune defense. When it over-activates, however, TH17 becomes a factor in autoimmune disease and chronic inflammatory disease.
From a scientific standpoint, TH17 is activated by IL 6, which increases when blood sugar levels drop and when stress responses increase—this includes psychological and emotional stress. When TH17 is activated, it will then amp up IL 17, which activates Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NFKB). NFKB is a pro-inflammatory gene transcription factor that is also activated by leaky gut, dysbiosis, SIBO, food sensitivities, stress and viruses. All of this can play a role in triggering autoimmune conditions.
Increase Regulatory T-Cells and Self Tolerance
Probably, the most important thing you can do for an imbalanced immune system is to support regulatory T-cells (also known as TH3 cells). These cells keep all facets of the immune system in check by regulating the activity of TH1, TH2, and TH17. When the T-cells don’t function properly, the immune system can tip out of balance and promote inflammation and autoimmunity.
When your immune system becomes dysregulated due to T-cell problems, you can suffer from self-tissue attack. This is the basic definition of “autoimmunity” and is also referred to as loss of self-tolerance. Increasing your regulatory T-cells is a way of restoring self-tolerance and balance to the immune system.
Pharmaceutical companies are spending billions of dollars to develop drugs that build up regulatory T-cells. Hopefully these products will be useful for treating autoimmunity in the future. There has also been some promising research on low-dose naltrexone (LDN) for helping to build up regulatory T-cells.
You can start decreasing inflammation now in a much more natural way. Start by getting on a Paleo autoimmune plan and by talking to a knowledgeable Functional Medicine health care practitioner to discuss your options for regulating the immune system and fighting inflammation
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