Hello everyone! I hope your week is going well. If you are reading this post on the day of publication, I am in Indiana. My mother and I have taken my grandparents to Shipshewana, IN to Amish country. My dad is at home caring for both farms. I will share more about the trip later, but this week I want to talk about Autoimmune Disease.
Autoimmune Disease is a term we hear quite often these days. It is defined as, "An illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system." The immune system is designed to seek and destroy invaders of the body including infectious agents. People with Autoimmune disease usually have unusual antibodies circulating in their blood that target their own body tissues. Autoimmune Diseases are more frequent in women than men. Furthermore, the presence of one Autoimmune Disease increases the chance of developing another simultaneous Autoimmune Disease.
People's immune systems are increasingly overreacting to substances that should be harmless, often leading to allergies,or worse, causing their immune systems to lose self-tolerance and attacking parts of their own body. Overly sterile foods and environments could be at the root of the problem. The very advances that represent all that is modern in the world, hand sanitizers, treated water, pasteurized food, refrigeration, have contributed to an epidemic of immune related diseases, like asthma, allergies, eczema, and multiple sclerosis. We are not meant to exist in a sterilized bubble, isolated from life. We are designed to spend time outside being active and getting dirty, encountering and developing lasting immunity against potentially infectious agents.
Asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergies, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and other immune mediated afflictions are all on the rise. According to one estimate, allergies and diseases of the immune system have quadrupled in the last few decades. The cause of all this strife to our immune systems may sound like an unlikely culprit, but in fact, it makes perfect sense…Our bodies are crying out for dirt!
In one article, Jeff Leech, used the example of a simple farmer's market as an analogy of what's missing from many of our lives. In a word, DIRT! The heads of lettuce and bunches of carrots of yesteryear were awash in various micro-organisms and no one even considered that to be a problem. Today much of our food is pasteurized, irradiated, sterilized and made so that bacteria, even the good kind, can no longer survive.
In a world of hand sanitizers and wet wipes, we can scarcely imagine the pre-industrial lifestyle that resulted in the daily intake of healthful organisms. For nearly all of human history this began with maternal transmission of beneficial microbes during passage through the birth canal, mother to child. However, the alarming increase in the rate of C-section births means a potential loss of microbiota from one generation to the next. For most of us in the industrialized world, the microbial cleansing continues throughout life. Nature's dirt floor has been replaced with tile, our once soiled and sooted bodies and clothes are cleaned almost daily, our water is filtered and treated, our rotting and fermenting food has been chilled, and the cow shed has been tucked neatly out of sight. While these improvements in sanitation deserve applause, they have inadvertently given rise to a set of truly human made diseases.
The hygiene hypothesis, the theory that early exposure to dirt and germs programs our immune system to properly identify and countermand threats, has been gaining slow but steady support over the past decade. According to this theory, if you're healthy, exposure to bacteria and viruses can serve as natural vaccines that strengthen your immune system and provide long lasting immunity against disease. We aren't meant to exist in a bubble, isolated from life. This would seem like common sense, but in today's world of obsessive sterilization and savvy marketing, many have been brainwashed into treating dirt as Enemy #1 to be eliminated at any cost. There's an antibacterial solution for every area of our lives, and if we're not wiping down our counters and cleaning our hands with antibacterial soap, we're taking antibiotics, which are grossly overused. Our diets are devoid of the natural bacteria that make food and us healthy, as most of what is consumed is highly processed, refined and pasteurized. This overzealous avoidance of bacteria and viruses comes at a steep price, the rise of numerous related diseases.
A neuroscientist wrote, "Since ancient times benign micro-organisms, sometimes referred to as old friends, have taught your immune system how to tolerate other harmless micro-organisms, and in the process, reduce inflammatory responses that have been linked to the development of most modern illnesses from cancer to depression." Quite simply, if you're too clean, you deprive yourself of the exposure to bacteria that your body needs in order to program itself to keep inflammation at bay, as well as to respond properly when a threat does occur. The answer isn't to eat dirty food, but food that has been grown in healthy soil and contains beneficial bacteria is incredibly important. This is one reason why fermented foods are so important. Establishment of normal gut flora in the first twenty days of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of your baby's immune system. Babies who develop abnormal gut flora are left with a compromised immune system and then they are typically vaccinated, which can be a recipe for disaster. The end result is increasing numbers of children with autism, learning disorders, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, immune disorders, and digestive problems, all because of a lack of exposure to the proper bacteria in early life. Many women of reproductive age are deficient in beneficial bacteria, a deficiency that transfers to their babies and may set the stage for a number of problems.
The solution is simple. Nourish your gut flora with a probiotic rich diet. Some examples of naturally fermented foods that are outstanding sources of beneficial bacteria include sauerkraut, kefir, kimchee, other fermented vegetables, and kombucha. Eating fermented foods regularly will help reseed your body's beneficial bacteria, which is under constant assault from antibiotics, chlorinated water, antibacterial soap, metabolic byproducts of stress, and poor diet, especially sugar consumption. Eating sugar nourishes the pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi in your gut. Tending to the bacteria in your gut is an on going process, much like tending to a flower garden. If you do not eat fermented foods, you should take a high quality probiotic supplement.
In conclusion, it's high time for many to get reacquainted with some "old friends," those beneficial bacteria that have been a part of civilization for eons. This is important not only for you, but for your children, as the future of your child's immune system is in your hands. You can help your child by letting him/her be a child. Let them play outside and get dirty. Avoid antibacterial soap and products, simple soap and water is sufficient. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics including not only medically, for example, taking them to target a viral infection for which they are useless; but also in your food, which is a major source of exposure. Serve locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics. Educate yourself on the harmfulness of vaccines which further manipulate the immune system and making informed decisions about their use. A simple visit to your local farmer's market may help you get back in touch with your more down to earth roots. They may represent our only connection to some "old friends" we cannot afford to ignore.
For more information about Homestead Nutrition, or to make an appointment, visit my website at homesteadnutrition.com. Have a healthy and blessed week!