According to the NIH and the AARDA, autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in female children and women in all age groups up to 64 years of age. Estimates are that up to 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. In comparison, cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million. The NIH estimates annual direct health care costs for AD to be in the range of $100 billion. In comparison, cancers costs are $57 billion.
You may ask, “What is an autoimmune disease?” An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system, which defends your body against disease, decides your healthy cells are foreign. As a result, your immune system attacks your healthy cells. An autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue. It can also cause abnormal organ growth and changes in organ function. You can find a more complete list HERE, but some of the more commonly discussed autoimmune diseases are:
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Type 1 diabetes
The connection between many autoimmune disorders and our gut bacteria, (otherwise known as the human microbiome), have become hot topics for research. Just in the last few years there has been an incredible amount of study that is connecting the dots between imbalances in the gut to inflammation to allergies to neurological disorders to cancer. As one example, recently a report was published in Science Daily on a study conducted by Case Western Reserve University where an international team of researchers identified a fungus present in the intestines as a key factor in the development of Crohn’s disease.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and a woman is more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime than a man will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the most common cancer among men. Both cancers have been linked to inflammation brought on by non-optimal gut conditions. In the case of breast cancer, a recent study found that postmenopausal women with more diverse gut bacteria exhibited a more favorable ratio of estrogen metabolites, which is associated with reduced risk for breast cancer, compared to women with less microbial variation.
Drs. Claudia Plottel and Martin J. Blaser of the Departments of Medicine and Microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and the Department of Biology at New York University developed a model for understanding how cancer evolves in humans based on an understanding of the bacteria living in our body. They have defined a subset of our gut microbiome responsible for metabolizing estrogen called the ‘estrobolome’. “The estrobolome provides a framework for understanding how an individual’s resident gut bacteria may modulate lifetime estrogen exposure,” said Dr. Plottel. “States of estrogen excess are associated with an increased risk of developing estrogen-related cancers, so knowledge and characterization of the estrobolome represents a novel area of promising scientific and biomedical research.” The estrobolome exists in both men and women.
So why the difference between men and women?
Given the copious evidence that our diets have the greater effect on our gut flora, most experts agree that the typical American diet has a lot to do with imbalances to the microbiome. Many experts are now saying (some shouting) that the American culture of daily sterilization is destroying our bodies’ abilities to protect themselves. The first line of our body’s defense to pathogens is our microbiome and its diversity of bacteria is largely responsible for our immunity. With every dose of antibiotic, every sugary glazed donut and every gluten-ous piece of pizza that goes unanswered, we are compromising the ability of our guts to protect us. However, if we assume that within the American diet there is not a significant difference between how American men eat to how American women eat, why are women more susceptible to diseases associated with microbiome imbalance?
The difference could very well be due to a woman’s exposure to antibiotics and pharmaceutical birth control over her lifetime. Studies have established that women are 3 times more likely to see a doctor than a man and that a female patient is more likely to be over prescribed an antibiotic (for various symptoms) than a man is. If one considers all of the other reasons a woman might take an antibiotic for, urinary tract infection (8-times more likely than men), pregnancy, surgeries, acne, etc., the opportunities for an imbalance in her gut microbiota over her lifetime are significant. When you add extended use of “the Pill” to this equation, significant becomes outright scary…
Oral contraceptives provide a continuous stream of elevated estrogen in a woman’s body, which promotes estrogen dominance in her hormonal system and an imbalance to the estrobolome in her gut. Science has established a close link between estrogen dominance and yeast overgrowth (candida), which can lead to inflammation and everything inflammation leads to… Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center recently made the association of increased breast cancer risk for women between the ages of 20 and 49 who take oral contraceptives. Hmmm… Are we moving in a circle here…?
So what is a woman to do?
If you suspect the causes of your health issues stem from a gut imbalance, addressing gut health first may bring you relatively quick relief. In functional medicine, the underlying causes of a disorder are the focus (rather than the symptoms), and address it with a patient-centered focus. Lifestyle factors, environment, genetics, and history are all evaluated, and they address individual aspects with a systems-oriented approach. The Institute of Functional Medicine developed a tool for clinicians to use when treating digestive disorders, called the Four “R” Program: remove, repair, replace, and reinoculate.
1. Remove: Undertake an elimination diet
First we must stabilize and smooth the digestive tract. A 14 to 30-day detox cleanse is a gentle approach that helps eliminate common allergens, such as dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, yeast, and alcohol. It can help determine which foods may be contributing to symptoms. We at Essential Ninja conduct a regular 30-Day Cleanse that walks you through the process (daily) and provides a venue for discussion of feelings, physical sensations, tweaks, accommodations, etc. If you are interested in joining the next one, just let us know…
2. Replace: Investigate digestive aids
Oftentimes, using soothing digestive herbs, digestive enzymes, or other digestive supports, can help protect the lining from further damage, and coat the intestines while they heal. A functional medicine clinician can help determine which supports are best for each patient’s unique needs.
3. Reinoculate: Rebalance your gut flora
Friendly bacteria are important, and a well-colonized gut is vital to good digestive health. The good bacteria help abate the less-friendly ones, that lead to sickness and disease. Probiotics are an important way to re-introduce proper flora to the intestines. Proper diet, including fiber-rich foods also establish microfloral balance.
4. Repair: Rebuild your intestinal cells
There are many ways to repair and rebuild the intestinal cells and lining. Medical research continues to explore ways to advance this healing, naturally. Studies have shown glutamine is helpful for maintaining the structure and function of the intestine, and has been shown to improve damage from radiation and chemotherapy. Other therapies include methionine and N- acetyl cysteine, larch, kiwifruit, and zinc to aid in healing.
Our Cleanse and Restore education series addresses all four for these steps plus we show you the tools you need and how they work…
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