5 min|Dr. Maya Kuczma

5 Causes of Autoimmune Disease

Wellness, Health

What is Autoimmune Disease?

Often, when given a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, we are told that we will be 'suffering' from this disease for the rest of our life. Little hope is given and we are left wondering why we ended up with this disease in the first place. Most importantly, we want to know what we can do about it. Standard treatments often suppress the immune system, creating a host of side effects without addressing the root cause. But there's another way; one that aims to help us thrive with an autoimmune disease, rather than simply survive.

Autoimmune disease is the result of an abnormal immune response that causes our immune system to attack our own tissue. Examples of autoimmune diseases include:

There is a common saying when dealing with autoimmune diseases – “genetics load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger”. We are beginning to understand how strong the effect of our environment is when it comes to development of disease. This is good news since, although you cannot change your genes, you can definitely change your environment – internally and externally.

While the traditional method of treating autoimmune disease involves the use of medications that suppress the immune system, I prefer to support the immune system, while taking into account the five components of health that play a large role in the development of autoimmune disease:

“Your lifestyle can either be the greatest foundation on which to build health, or the obstacle your body has to try to consistently overcome"

5 Causes of Autoimmune Disease

1. Gut Health

In this modern era, we are exposed to many substances that can damage our gut lining. Toxins, bacteria, medications, and even certain foods can damage our gut lining and promote the development of leaky gut. Some of the top offenders are: gluten, NSAIDS, stress, antibiotics, yeast overgrowth, and pesticides. This constant onslaught causes the tight links between the gut cells to separate. Common genetic mutations can also influence our ability to create new cells to repair the leaks.

When our gut lining is damaged, it becomes ‘leaky’ and allows large particles to pass through the lining and in to our bloodstream. Our immune system, not used to being exposed to particles of this size, views them as invaders and attacks them, creating complexes of food particles and immune cells that can deposit all over the body, creating inflammation.

Through this process, an issue in our gut can create trigger autoimmune disease, creating symptoms within our joints, skin, even our brain. Leaky gut becomes a gateway for toxins and infections to enter our system, placing further stress on our immune system. Additionally, it interferes with our ability to absorb nutrients.

In order to heal a leaky gut, we use the 5 Rs of healing:

1. Remove food sensitivities, inflammatory foods, toxins
2. Replace components required for digestion
3. Repair the gut lining
4. Reinoculate with good bacteria
5. Relax; create stress-free eating habits

Depending on individual needs, it may be necessary to follow a Paleo, Autoimmune Paleo, or Ketogenic diet. These diets are nutrient dense, and also eliminate commonly reactive foods such as gluten, dairy, legumes, and sugar.

2. Stress/Sleep

Chronic stress creates inflammation in the body and alters our hormone balance. As a result, autoimmune diseases may be triggered. It is important to incorporate a stress management routine that you enjoy and will make time for every day.

Additionally, I encourage a healthy sleep hygiene routine that ensures at least 8-9 hours of sleep each night, with you ideally falling asleep by 10:00pm. If a sleep hygiene routine isn’t enough to help you fall asleep and stay asleep through the night, I may incorporate the use of herbs or nutritional supplements to aid in ensuring you fall and stay asleep.

3. Hormones

Most autoimmune diseases occur in higher rates amongst women. A leading theory as to why this difference between genders occurs is due to differences in sex hormones. Stress management and adequate sleep play a large role in balancing hormones but at times we need further support, utilizing medicinal herbs, supportive nutrients, or bio-identical hormones.

4. Toxins

The single greatest change you can make to help your body detox is to remove sources of toxins from your life. Many toxins have been directly connected to autoimmune disease, as well as contributors to leaky gut which in turn triggers autoimmunity. Choosing organic produce as well as organic grass-fed meat will dramatically decrease the amount of toxins you are exposed to every day.

Depending on your case, you may also need a more aggressive plan that incorporates supplements and/or intravenous therapies. Whatever your individual concerns, it is vital to work with an experienced doctor who will be able to guide you towards your optimal detoxification plan.

5. Infections

There are a number of bacterial and viral infections associated with autoimmune disease. Common viruses known to trigger autoimmune diseases include HSV, EBV, and CMV; often you will have experienced the symptoms of one of these viruses years prior to your autoimmune diagnosis. In an effort to treat any autoimmune triggers, it is important to test for infections and treat them accordingly.


No matter which autoimmune disease you have, the key is to create an individualized treatment plan that takes into account these five factors. While there is no cure for autoimmune disease, a well-rounded treatment plan can not only alleviate many, if not all, of your symptoms, it can help you to live a vibrant life.

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