Dr. Jamie: More and more people are being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. You and I understand the underlying causes from both a biomedical as well as a Traditional Chinese Medicine standpoint. But how would you explain to our patients and our readers how and why people develop autoimmune disease (AI)?
Dr. Lee: Science has proven 3 consistent contributing factors to the development of AI. These 3 factors are occurring increasingly and simultaneously, creating "the perfect storm" for the body to dysfunction and attack itself. The first prong is genetics. There are certainly genes that run in families that can express for certain diseases.
Dr. J: But that’s where the genetics talk ends for the everyday person, right? Meaning, your genetic profile is what it is. You can’t change your genetic profile, but you CAN change your genetic EXPRESSION through the foods you eat, specifically, the nutrients that you pour into your body. So there’s no point to bemoan your genetics – the best thing you can do is make the right lifestyle choices to improve positive gene expression, and reduce negative gene expression.
Dr. L: Yes, exactly. There is a huge diversity of genetic profiles of AI patients, but there’s a lot of crossover, or commonalities, if you will. Many AI patients have the following exposure factors in common:
cigarette smoking (or second-hand exposure to it)
EDC – Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (found in household cleaners, etc)
TMTD (tetramethylthiuram disulfide)
toxins in plastics (BPA)
poor food choices
So this is the second major element of AI: Environment. This is the main reason why AI diseases are on the rise. We’re living in a different world than our grandparents did. This world presents a multitide of insidious toxins that bombard our immune systems and short-circuit its functionality.
Dr. J: I’d like to plug in here that that’s why it’s so very important to not only make excellent food choices – organic, plant-based whole foods – but to also make judicious use of high-quality nutritional supplements that help our liver, lungs, intestines, and kidneys to detoxify more efficiently, as well as optimize immune function. For most of us, we’re just not eating enough raw leafy greens and antioxidant-rich whole plant foods to combat all the toxins and consequent oxidative stress that occurs in our brains and bodies.
Dr. L: Correct. And you just hit on the third and final prong of that perfect storm leading to AI: Immune Function. There are numerous immunotoxins in our environment that trigger an immune response. Usually, our immune response is self-limiting, but when we are constantly and repeatedly exposed to toxins in our foods and environment, there is an immune cascade and it doesn’t shut down, it just can’t get back to normal. The outcome is immune dysregulation, chronic inflammation, and pain.
Dr. J: So how can we prevent AI, especially if it runs in the family?
Dr. L: First, be very aware of your eating habits. Make the necessary changes towards clean, natural, plant-based, whole foods. Minimize exposure to environmental toxins. Minimize internal toxins like alcohol, food additives, cigarrette smoke, and pharmaceutical medications. Reduce your inflammatory triggers, like not enough sleep, or drinking coffee, or even being around certain places or people. And of course, exercise to keep your internal terrain clean and flowing.
Dr. J: Stress is also a huge immune-dysregulator, so it’s of utmost importance to manage stress well – make it a priority. Engage in positive outlets for stress and manage your stressors with deep breathing, acupuncture, massage, meditation and prayer, journalling, yoga, and exercise. Now, Let’s unpack the diet aspect a bit more. Can you be more specific about a "clean" and plant-based diet?
Dr. L: Certainly. You want to stick with an anti-inflammatory diet: NO fast foods, fried foods, animal proteins. If you do eat animal meat, make sure it’s organic, grass-fed, free-range, no hormones, no antibiotics – that’s what we mean by clean. Also, minimize or eliminate processed carbs and sugars. Dairy-free. Egg-free.Gluten-free if you show gluten sensitivity. The easiest way to see if you have gluten sensitivity without taking a blood test is to simply avoid wheat and all wheat products for a few weeks. If you begin to feel more energy, less pain, improvement in GI, no more bloating or constipation, and you lose those stubborn pounds, you may very well have a gluten-sensitivity and you will do so much better when you avoid wheat.
Dr. J: What suggestions would you give to our patients and readers on how to optimize their immune functionality?
Dr. L: Again, it’s about eating clean and organic – to reduce toxins. Of course, you must get adequate rest and sleep, exercise regularly, and engage in stress management activities. Truly, the best way to think of immune function is not to think of immune or autoimmune, but to just think of Qi. Everything starts in the gut: the food that you eat, the junk or the good nutrients you are intaking and absorbing. Exercise moves Qi – too much depletes Qi. No exercise leads to stasis and excess.
Once the immune response is dysregulated (chronic stress, years of processed, nutrient-lacking diet, months or years of no exercise) , it’s very difficult to get it back to normal. Autoimmunity develops slowly as the load of the body’s immune system reaches a threshold but you can be asymptomatic for years. Then once you are exposed to an acute immune assault, such as a simple viral or bacterial infection, it can trigger the final manifestation of AI / turn on the final switch.
It’s important to recognize the non-AI symptoms (clinical but non-serological symptoms) in your internal terrain before you are officially diagnosed with the full-blown AI markers: sluggish GI, inflammatory signs, headaches, and body aches.
Dr. J: Thank you so much, Dr. Lee, for your insight into Autoimmune disease and how we can effectively prevent AI. Like so many other diseases, our lifestyle choices play a monumental role in the development or prevention of these often debilitating diseases. I hope our readers are blessed by this interview and encouraged to make the choices and changes that will lead them down the road to healthy, long lives. So much is in our power. That’s the beauty and strength of free will. May we all use our will wisely.