Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Becca Malizia, BS, Ellen M. Martin
Did you know that it takes about 17 years for new scientific discoveries to be translated into mainstream conventional medicine (1)? While this doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time considering everything that goes into the process (i.e., replicated studies, animal trials, clinical trials, etc.), it can be the difference between merely existing and thriving. This is wasted time for those with incurable autoimmune diseases, just as much of the recent research has begun to shed some light on the matter, actionable applications seem still out of reach.
So what do you do if your health can’t wait for the research to expand and the medicine to catch up? You can start by being an advocate for your own health– fearlessly experiment and educate yourself.
So here’s what we know:
1. Is it still Autoimmune?
Let’s start with the basics. New terms such as Immune-mediated, Autoinflammatory, Autoimmune spectrum/continuum are confusing to us all. So let’s break it down:
Immune-mediated inflammatory disease is an umbrella term used to describe a spectrum of diseases that all involve inappropriate inflammation or immunological dysfunction. Diseases in this continuum of conditions can be classified as autoimmune, autoinflammatory or an overlapping combination (2).
An Autoimmune disease refers to dysfunctions of the acquired immune system’s defense mechanisms. These are disorders of immunological memory or misidentification and where the cells of our acquired immune system attack our own cells and tissues.
Autoinflammatory diseases refer to a group of rare hereditary diseases characterized by recurrent inflammation in the absence of infection, without the unusual presence of antibodies or antigen-specific T-cells typical of acquired autoimmune diseases. These could be considered diseases of the evolutionarily older, innate immune system, rather than of the acquired immune system.
2. Our beneficial microbial buddies!
The microbiome is an ecosystem of the microbes that inhabit different parts of our bodies. Recent discovery has challenged the dogma that all microbes are bad pathogens, instead many are good for you and are actually needed to maintain a healthy body- the absence of beneficial microbes can trigger or admit disease. The are many different ecosystems: vaginal, skin, gut, and mouth, all which have different communities of beneficial microbe buddies.
While most research has emphasized the gut microbiome, the other habitats are also important for overall health. As a trained Doctor of Dental Surgery, the oral microbiome and its link to systemic disease has fascinated me. I have made it my mission to devour all current scientific literature to become a repository of updated information pertaining to the oral microbiome.
Check out our oral microbiome and health series here and stay tuned for our upcoming oral microbiome e-book!
3. Genes, the Environment, and Epigenetics
The story surrounding genetics has changed quite a lot in the last couple decades, since the Human Genome project. The simplified dogmas of 20 years ago are being replaced by a more complex understanding of genomics. Technological advances and new applications for epigenetics, have resulted in a wide variety of new research and discoveries. It is now clear that few chronic diseases are not caused by single genes, but rather, large clusters of genes.
We used to believe that there was little connection between our genes and the effects of our environment. Now we know that certain factors, such as diseases we have lived through, the food we eat, chemicals we are exposed to, and other influences, can actually change the way your DNA is expressed. These accumulated changes can even be passed on to your children!
The study of epigenetics is helping to shape our current understanding of the more complex chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases. These diseases are not shaped by only one mutation in a single gene, but by large clusters of hundreds of genes, plus the unique history of each of us that influences how our genes are expressed and interact throughout our lives.. This explains why, for example, no two cases of Lupus, present themselves in the same way.
4. Nutrition and the new wave of “omics”
To complicate this story even further, a new concept of how food and food components can mediate these epigenetic changes and impact immune functioning. Understanding and studying personalized nutrition can help us shed light on the complexities of disease and the uniqueness of each individual. The two dimensions of this application include nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics.
- Nutrigenetics is the impact that your genes have on your response to nutrients. In other words, genetic variants influence varying responses to nutrition.
- Nutrigenomics (gene expression) is the way our genes respond to nutrition through epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation and histone deacetylase (HDAC).
To explore this truly fascinating topic check out our article on The Doctor Weighs In.
Now, what is being done?
5. Don’t forget about your mouth!
Medical practice tends to forget about the mouth’s important role in overall health, leaving that to dentists. But the mouth is the starting point for health— where the food you eat, your oral microbiome, and the immune system first interact.
Healthy People 2020, a U.S. Government initiative project from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, targets oral health as a key area for public health improvement by increasing awareness of the importance of oral health and its influence upon systemic health and wellness— something I have been focusing on for many years!
In light of these aims, there has been an outcrop of products aimed at creating a balanced oral microbiome and promoting oral health. To learn more, check out our post on 3 tips for maintaining oral health.
6. Food is life, food is fuel, food matters too!
In addition to all the new nutrigenomics, nutrigenetics, and nutrition research being done, there are many new diet recommendations and dietary products out on the market. Some of these are for weight loss, some are just hyped fads, and some can help with symptom management and disease control. Functional Medicine is a new view of medicine that adds a nutritional component often left out of modern medicine practice.
There are also various resources that provide dietary recommendations based on the diseases you have. Personal Remedies is a great and free tool you can use to get personalized food lists based on combined disease lists. You can also check out our Food Spotlight series to read about the highlights surrounding foods in relation to specific autoimmune diseases, aiming to reduce or mitigate disease symptoms and severity. Click here for our food matters series!
Lastly, what can you do?
7. Experiment, explore, and take charge of your health journey!
It can be both exciting and discouraging hearing about new findings surrounding autoimmune and chronic disease, and then remembering the lag time from scientific discovery to accessible medicine and therapies.
But there are MANY things you can do right NOW to build toward a healthier you.
- Be the best patient you can and learn how to navigate countless doctor visits and achieve optimal health
- Get our free ebook How to Achieve Your Optimal Wellbeing here!
- Try different movement therapies to figure out what works best for you and your symptoms.
- Learn about Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, Gyrotonics and more in our free ebook A Guide To Movement Therapy!
- Experiment with food and learn how to craft your personalized diet!
- Dive into what makes you unique, food as medicine, and various dietary recommendations in our free ebook A Guide to Food Therapy!
What have you tried? Questions? Comment below!
- Morris, ZS, Wooding, S, Grant, J. “The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2011;104(12):510-20. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180.
- Kuek, Annabel et al. “Immune-mediated inflammatory diseases (IMIDs) and biologic therapy: a medical revolution” Postgraduate medical journal vol. 83,978 (2007): 251-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2600039/.