What IS Autoimmune?
When we look at a person that is not well, one of the first questions needs to be, “what’s the mechanism”. One of the main mechanisms is an autoimmune mechanism, and we’ll talk about how to test for antibodies, and to follow these up with immune panels and specific antigen testing to discover the cause.
Both approaches are like throwing a sandwich to a man being attacked by a pack of wolves; even if your intent was to help him, he has bigger problems than hunger.
Let’s face it, if either traditional medical or the alternative models had any great percentage of success treating autoimmune disease, you wouldn’t be reading this book. Robert understood that it was “reasonable” that failure to discover the cause of thyroid destruction would lead to further destruction. He also saw that it was “reasonable” that someone ‘out there’ must be able to find out what was causing the destruction; and he thought that it was “reasonable” that if whatever was at cause for such destruction could be evaded, then it was “reasonable” that the destruction would at least slow down. He also reasoned that this deductive thought process would yield him success. Robert was a ‘man with a mission’ and his hard work and refusal to ‘own his disease’ led him to find the answers that would change his life forever!
When we look at any thyroid loss of function, we know that the metabolic rate of the person will decrease over time. We know that thyroid hormones have very powerful effects on controlling the metabolism which enables the body to attain homeostasis – a balance of health. This is why when people are truly hypothyroid, their cellular metabolic rate decreases, they cannot produce the energy in the mitochondria and they have a very hard time attaining a balance in their well-being; their response to viruses and bacteria may diminish, they struggle recovering after stress, just don’t feel as well as they used to and have very low energy. Many of these symptoms come on gradually and if the person is in their thirties or older when the attack takes its hold, they often chock it up to symptoms of aging.
We also know that when a person has thyroid problems they have a diminished gastrointestinal motility, with sluggish gastrointestinal tracts, and they’re often diagnosed with deficiencies in digestive enzymes when the reality is that the body doesn’t have enough metabolic capacity to move food along so there’s fermentation, bloating, gas and constipation. This leads to re-absorption of intestinal toxins and intestinal permeability. This problem is true for many other autoimmune conditions, since many end up attacking parasympathetic nervous centers in the brain that control peristaltic motion.
Another common lab finding with all autoimmune conditions and most certainly in Hashimoto’s patients is that their serum gastrin levels are low. This is an obvious sign of hypochlorhydria or a deceased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. There exist strict influences between loss of thyroid activity and gut function.
We also know that when people are autoimmune, several anemias become more probable for developing. One of them is the microcytic hypochromic anemia associated with iron deficiency. Many times when people have low thyroid function, they become iron anemic because they lose ability to absorb iron (and a variety of other nutrients) due to the gut connection listed above. Their slowed intestinal motility has irritated the absorption sites in the small intestines and decreased the ability of enzyme reactions necessary in bringing these nutrients across the gut wall. The decreased intestinal motility also breeds biological attacks in the gut where opportunistic organisms take advantage of static food sources and wreak havoc. The decreased movement of fecal matter also leads to leaks in the gut membranes and systemic infections that remain ‘low-grade’ and sub-clinical. Then, to make matters worse, because their metabolic rates are down, these people don’t respond well to iron supplements and they often bring about further constipation and misery. What a mess!
Another type of anemia that is common with autoimmune patients are the normocytic-normochromic anemias. This is when the hemoglobin, hematocrit, and RBC levels are depressed but the MCV, MCH and MCHC are normal. Many things can cause normocytic-normochromic anemia, but one of the possibilities is always autoimmune disorder.
Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune attack against a chemical called Intrinsic Factor which is the agent personally responsible for the absorption of vitamin B12. It is not uncommon to see someone that has one autoimmune condition and pernicious anemia, another named autoimmune disease at the same time since the diagnosis of autoimmune disease is named after the organ it is attacking, and the attack has no end if the treatment is centered on suppressing symptoms.
How would the lab panels look to a traditional medical or alternative doctor that doesn’t understand that they are really dealing with an autoimmune mechanism: they diagnose the patient with primary hypothyroidism and B12 deficiency – thinking that they are dealing with two, separate and distinct disease processes. Though the next step should be to look for Intrinsic Factor antibodies along with thyroid antibodies, this step is often skipped yet, would be the telltale sign of an autoimmune response. Treatment with oral doses of B12 doesn’t work well if the problem is a lack of functioning Intrinsic Factor and if your doctor is thorough and re-tests to discover the B12 ‘deficiency’ still exists, B12 injections may be in order. This may solve the problem of the low lab tests for B12 but has done NOTHING for the autoimmune attack on Intrinsic Factor and the stomach where it is produced let alone the thyroid. So the cycle of chasing symptoms continues!
It is important to understand that an autoimmune disease is a ‘state’ that the immune system is in. It is NOT a disease of an organ; and even though it is given a multitude of names depending on the tissue currently affected, it is a STATE of the immune system attacking the tissue it was meant to protect.
We also know that when people have low thyroid activity, Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IGF1) levels seem to drop. We know that the hypothalamus-pituitary axis releases this Growth Hormone; that’s the part of the brain loop with the pituitary gland, also know as the ‘master gland’ since it stimulates so many other hormonal systems. Growth Hormone generated from the production of Insulin Growth Factor 1 then has all the positive anabolic effects on the physiological systems that we attribute to Growth Hormone such as youthful energy, slowed aging, faster healing and everything good about being young. So, when people have autoimmune conditions, they age faster, seem to lose energy quickly, they can’t recover after workouts if they still have the ability to force themselves to do such, and they just don’t feel well in general. Of course, they could probably find some ‘doctor’ to administer Growth Hormone injections for a price.
Another expression of autoimmune processes and Hashimoto’s altered thyroid activity involves neurotransmitter production and expression of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are made in the adrenal glands that sit right above each kidney. They are another part of that hypothalamus-pituitary axis we spoke of. A change in the normal rhythm of release of the adrenals will eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and swings between the two. This leads to a struggle with the ability to handle emotional stress, process and sort consequences in difficult circumstances, etc. These integral expressions of the Frontal Lobe’s Pre-Frontal Cortex are dependent on neurotransmitter function. A decreased stimulation of these processes combined with a diminished oxygenation due to the iron anemia previously discussed is a vicious cycle that spirals the patient downwards. Though appropriate Brain Based therapies are beneficial for the firing into the neuronal centers, the inflammatory process must be stopped. We give these patients named diagnoses like ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD and the likes.