By Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS
Are you one of many people asking the all too familiar question, “Why are autoimmune issues becoming so rampant?” Well, the truth is they really aren’t becoming more prevalent; problems associated with autoimmune response have always been here—we’re just identifying them better today. While genetics and environmental factors affect our predisposition to—and development of—allergies, sensitivities and autoimmune responses, there’s a lot more to it. Cases of such responses have not actually multiplied, but rather our knowledge of a broader spectrum of immune reactions has.
Through ongoing studies, we have learned so much about the way our bodies respond to different foods, antigens and environmental factors. Not only have we learned that immune responses can be triggered by sensitivities and intolerances in addition to the more commonly termed “allergies,” but we have learned that there are different ways our bodies can respond to them. Specifically, these responses can be immediate or delayed.
Immediate immune responses usually appear within 12 minutes of exposure to something that the immune system rejects. When you think of an allergic reaction, for example, you might imagine one’s face swelling up, body breaking out in hives or throat tightening up and causing breathing difficulty. These are immediate, or type I hypersensitivity responses to antigens (allergens) that the body mistakenly recognizes as harmful and works to attack or fight off. Nuts and shellfish are examples of common allergens that would cause these immediate reactions.
There are also delayed responses, which usually occur 48-72 hours after exposure and can be seen in such forms as contact dermatitis, like a poison ivy rash, or granulomatous inflammation, as with Crohn’s Disease. Delayed immune responses (types II, III and IV hypersensitivity) can not always be seen and often make it more difficult to identify sensitivities or intolerances that could be causing harm and ultimately, leading to autoimmune diseases. Delayed autoimmune responses usually occur when the immune system produces autoantibodies (a type of protein) that begin to attack the body’s own tissues.
The following highlight three common types of autoimmune reactions:
- Silent autoimmunity – occurs when there are autoantibodies present to a specific tissue but no related symptoms have manifested and there are no signs of tissue destruction.
- Reactive autoimmunity – occurs when there are autoantibodies present to a specific tissue and related symptoms have manifested, but there are no signs of tissue destruction.
- Autoimmune disease – occurs when there are autoantibodies present to a specific tissue and related symptoms have manifested, and there are signs of tissue destruction.
Like any other food hypersensitivity reaction, gluten sensitivity can be categorized under both immediate and delayed responses. Gluten sensitivity with enteropathy is known as celiac disease. Not all people with gluten sensitivity have celiac disease. However, those who do inherit this genetic autoimmune disease and do not exhibit immediate reactions to gluten can suffer from inflammation and atrophy of the mucosa of the small intestine for years before being diagnosed.
If you have any recurring symptoms, but cannot correlate them to any specific trigger, you may be experiencing delayed immune reactions, and if so, you may benefit from autoantibody testing. What studies have shown us is that a body can produce autoantibodies up to about 10 years before developing into a clinical autoimmune disease, resulting in ongoing tissue damage and eventually showing symptoms. The good news about this discovery is that it could enable healthcare practitioners to test for such antibodies that could serve as predictors of the future development of disease. The idea of predictive autoantibodies has been around for a few years but is still undergoing studies.
Proactive testing for underlying symptoms that may or may not have presented themselves yet is highly recommended, especially if you have a history of autoimmune disease in your family. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, offers an enhanced intestinal permeability test, the Array 2 – Intestinal Antigenic Permeability Screen™. This lab test evaluates the permeability of large molecules in the small intestine and helps identify the route of intestinal damage as a result of immune reactivity from environmental or dietary triggers. Knowing the route of damage helps direct specialists to the trigger causing the damage, whether environmental, genetic or derived from diet.
As always, the best thing you can do is to communicate with your healthcare provider if you feel you may be experiencing an immediate or delayed autoimmune reaction. Self-awareness, a healthy lifestyle and proactive testing can keep you one step ahead in the prevention of any illness.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.