Autoimmune Diseases: Genetics or Environment?

Blog Health Autoimmune Diseases: Genetics or Environment?

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11.19.2019 0 comments

Autoimmune diseases have become a lot more common in recent years. People around the world have begun to suffer from conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease much more frequently. These conditions can prove difficult to live with and can seriously impact quality of life.

Understanding autoimmune disorders is crucial to knowing how to cope with the condition. Knowing the difference between genetic and environmental factors will help you prepare to deal with your autoimmune disease the most effective way possible.

Genetics and Autoimmune Disease

Genetics have long been proven to play a role in autoimmune conditions. Multiple studies [1] have proven that these conditions are directly linked to your genes:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, primary biliary cholangitis, and other conditions are connected to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) region of your genetics. In fact, in rheumatoid arthritis, the HLA gene is the most common and influential factor.

  • Studies in twins [2] have found that monozygotic (identical) twins are four or more times more likely to develop autoimmune conditions than dizygotic (fraternal) twins.

  • Conditions like Graves disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune disorders are proven to have strong familial connections, and thus are more likely to be passed on from one generation to the next.

As one study pointed out, “there is evidence that many autoimmune diseases share a common set of susceptibility genes.” Basically, if you have the same genes as your family members that suffer from autoimmune conditions, you are more susceptible to those conditions as well.

But the good news is that it’s not all genetic! In fact, you’ll find that environment often plays a more prominent role in autoimmune disease than you’d expect…

The Environment and Autoimmune Disease

As one study put it [3], “Although predisposing genetic risk factors have been identified for various autoimmune diseases, it is understood that they account only for a fraction of the overall disease.” The rest is the result of environmental factors.

Infection is the primary trigger behind autoimmune conditions. When infections spread through the body, it’s not uncommon for the immune system to continue attacking internal tissues even after the infecting pathogen is eliminated. Systemic infection can be a trigger for autoimmune diseases, all the result of outside pathogens.

A number of other triggers have been linked to autoimmune conditions:

  • Smoking cigarettes

  • Stress

  • High-sugar, high-salt, high-fat, and high-protein diets lacking in dietary fiber and micronutrients

  • Climate

  • Occupation

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals

All of these factors can play a role in the onset of any number of autoimmune conditions. Basically, anything that drastically throws off the internal equilibrium of the gut microbiata may ultimately lead to conditions like MS, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, and the other autoimmune disorders.

Change Your Environment, Reduce Disease Risk

We may not be able to change our genetics, but we can do a lot to change our environment. Reducing the environmental factors behind autoimmune diseases is a crucial part of trying to prevent and combat them.

What can you do?

Reduce exposure to chemicals. Toxic chemicals [4] can affect your body’s ability to absorb and process nutrients, which in turn leads to a change in your gut microbiata. The gut then becomes more permeable, leading your body absorb too-large particles. Your immune system kicks in to try and stop the problem, which can often lead to autoimmunity problems. Be safe and find ways to eliminate toxic chemicals from your life as much as possible.

Eat right. Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Avoid excess sugar, salt, fat, and carbohydrate intake. Make sure to get a good balance of macro and micronutrients, including a lot of dietary fiber. Diet is one of the most influential factors in the onset of a number of autoimmune conditions. Clean up your diet, and you might drastically reduce your health risk.

Get more sunlight. Studies [3] have linked low levels of Vitamin D to higher MS prevalence. Spend more time in the sun to get those critical vitamins your body needs!

Feed your gut bacteria.Make sure to eat a lot of probiotics and prebiotics, which will nourish your gut bacteria and help it to multiply. Given that 80% of your immune activity takes place in your gut, it stands to reason that most of your autoimmune problems also start there.

Clean up your lifestyle. Find ways to decrease stress, change jobs to one that doesn’t involve exposure to toxic chemicals, quit smoking, and get more exercise. All of these things will help to balance your internal microbiata and decrease your risk of autoimmune conditions.

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