Part 2 of Our Children With Type 1 Diabetes: Genetics Are NOT Destiny
by Carla Atherton Director of the Healthy Family Formula
What Is Autoimmunity?
Since Type 1 Diabetes (at least the classic diagnosis) is an autoimmune condition, we need to define and discuss autoimmunity. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system attacks its own healthy tissue, hence the name, autoimmunity. When a foreign invader is present in the bloodstream, the immune system tags that invader, marking it to be attacked and destroyed by another arm of the immune system. This is great when the immune system tags old, damaged, and dying cells, or pathogens such as parasites, viruses, and opportunistic bacteria, but not so good when it tags its own healthy tissues and organs. There can exist a healthy level of auto-antibodies as it is also the immune system’s job to clear away dead and dying cells, but it is when there are more auto-antibodies being produced than healthy cells that healthy cell, tissue, and organ destruction will occur.
Most autoimmune diseases are similar to each other in nature; they all involve self-attack, the triad of conditions preceding the development of autoimmunity, and the only thing that differentiates them is the tissue that is being attacked, hence, determining which symptoms the condition will provoke. In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the targeted tissue is the thyroid gland; in MS it is the myelin sheath that covers and protects the nerves; in Scleroderma, it is the connective tissue; in Rheumatoid Arthritis, it is the joints; and in Type 1 Diabetes, of course, the targets are the pancreatic beta cells. The reason that the immune system attacks one tissue over another is different for each person and depends on many factors. Those factors could be: where the infection is (if there is infection), what tissues are cross-reactive with a specific antigen, if the child has particular genetic predispositions (SNPs: single nucleotide polymorphisms), and where the weakest link is in that particular child’s body. Additionally, most people already have or can develop more than one autoimmune condition.
It is apparent why the immune system attacks foreign pathogens, but why would it attack its own tissue? What makes the immune system create an excess of auto-antibodies? There are several theories that have been developed to explain this:
- The immune system is confused. This was originally how medical science explained autoimmunity and is still how mainstream medicine understands it, but immunologists are now finding that confusion is not exactly what is taking place in the autoimmune process.
- The body is targeting antigens (a foreign substance that creates an immune response) but also tags and attacks healthy cells and tissues through a case of mistaken identity called molecular mimicry or cross-reactivity. These antigens can be food proteins, heavy metals, and/or chemicals, anything that enters the body that is not supposed to be there.
Antigens can also exasperate Type 1 Diabetes as well as other chronic conditions by causing tissue and organ inflammation, as well, that is not autoimmune in nature. Chronic inflammation is the mother of all disease, and where there is smoke, there’s fire.
- The cells and tissues are infected with a pathogen such as a virus, bacteria, parasite, and/or an overgrowth of yeast and mold, and the immune system is attacking the pathogens and not intending to attack the tissues and cells, themselves.
Pathogens can also injure the organs and tissues, themselves, without causing an autoimmune response, and some have an affinity for pancreatic beta cells.
So, if the immune system is not confused or broken, how do these antigens enter the bloodstream? What triggers autoimmunity? To explain this, we must first lay out the Autoimmune Triad: the three conditions that must exist for the immune system to begin a self-attack.
- Genetic Predisposition (or weakness)
This is a predisposition, not prediction. These genes have to be turned on through diet, lifestyle, and environment to cause any problems.
- Intestinal Permeability
This creates a highway for antigens to enter into the bloodstream through the GI tract. The blood brain barrier (BBB) can also become permeable, potentially allowing infection and inflammation of the brain and creating auto-antibodies to brain tissue. This is much more common than most realise.
- Environmental Trigger
These triggers are most often the usual suspects below and autoimmunity is usually due to many of these factors creating a “total load” that builds up to finally cause symptoms, then disease.
“Genetics loads the weapon and environment pulls the trigger.”
The Role of Epigenetics and Bioindividuality
Epigenetics, meaning “above the gene” is an exciting scientific field that asserts that genetics are not destiny but that our genes can be turned on or off. We are all born with a specific set of genes and some are fixed, such as eye and hair color, but many others turn on or off in response to the environment. Very simply put, healthy diet and lifestyle habits turn on the good genes and turn off the bad; unhealthy diet, lifestyle, and stressors such as infections and metal and chemical exposures turn off the good genes and turn on the bad.
Your child’s skin and GI Tract protect their internal environment from invasion from antigens (foreign invaders) that make them sick, disrupt their metabolic processes, and are not meant to be in the bloodstream. When there is a breach in these defences, invasion can occur, and when invasion occurs, their immune system responds. The GI Tract has tiny holes for small particles to pass through such as nutrients and minerals from fully digested food (called assimilation), but when the lining of the gut is disrupted and bigger holes are created (through poor diet, chemical and metal exposure, potentially gut-damaging proteins such as gluten, or pathogens), antigens can make their way into the bloodstream.
All that needs to happen now is an environmental trigger to set the autoimmune cascade into motion.
Some of the usual suspects that can enter the bloodstream, disturb the immune system, and wreak inflammatory havoc are:
-heavy metals and chemicals
-leaky gut and dysbiosis
-EMF exposure (NEVER underestimate electromagnetic polution’s power to cause inflammation, DNA damage, and autoimmunity)
“The Perfect Storm”
The causes of childhood chronic illness are multi-factorial and involve the perfect storm of genetics and environment. It is the child’s environment that determines genetic expression, and many of those environmental factors can be controlled through diet, lifestyle, and addressing both internal (pathogens, infection, chemical or heavy metal toxicity, nutritional deficiencies or excess) and external stressors (environment, lifestyle, mental/emotional stress, trauma). Causal factors are sometimes psychological, sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes relationship, and many have roots in family history and childhood experiences. All causes involve the environment from which our children receive their information that cause stress. How each child’s body responds to those stressors depends upon their bioindividuality, their unique physical, chemical, and hormonal make-up that makes them, well, them.
Because of this, no one factor causes Type 1 Diabetes, and no one thing will “cure” it. But through a functional approach, we can untangle what combination of things might have caused the onset and then discern how that particular child can recover given their own unique set of traits, genes, and circumstance.
Finding Root Causes and Stressors
Many diseases are simply a set of symptoms; the symptoms that are experienced depend on the function, organ, or tissue being affected. For most diseases or conditions, there is no one set of bloodtests or symptoms that can definitively define them. And in the end, it is not the identification of the disease that is important, but the identification of the malfunction that is occurring and then ultimately the root causes of that malfunction that leads us to discovery and recovery. Only once we uncover what those root causes are, then it is possible to stop and remove the offenders in order to repair and even reverse the disease or condition.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Some people can suffer from any combination of the longer list of symptoms associated with diabetes, sometimes suffering from all of them and sometimes experiencing none at all. Some people experience severe symptoms and some are mild, almost as if there is a spectrum of severity much like the way we understand autism. I would argue that most diseases and conditions are experienced on a spectrum and are not a clearly definable or a permanent diagnosis.
For instance, with regards to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, many people have auto-antibodies to their thyroid gland while some suffer from low thyroid symptoms because their intact thyroids are not getting the right signal from their brains. Some call low thyroid hormone that causes symptoms of thyroid hormone deficiency “thyroid disease,” but in many cases, it is not a problem with the thyroid gland, itself. It can originate in the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland causing a disruption in the signalling to the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones, or it can be a problem in the liver or adrenals causing hormonal imbalances affecting hormone output.
In those instances, the problem is metabolic, and not a deficiency or physical problem with the organ, itself. Some illnesses are metabolic and some are physical; some dysfunction can be attributed to energetic and emotional stress; and most often times, illness exists on many planes of our being. In Type 1 Diabetes, it can be all of the above, and most often, it is.
End of Part 2
photo credit from Integral Natural Medicine Online: http://www.integralnatmed.com/cause-of-ai-dz
Carla Atherton, MA, FDN-P, Family Health Coach, is the director of The Healthy Family Formula, host of The Children’s and Teen Health Summit, author of the forthcoming book Family Health Revolution (release date: March 15th. 2019), editor, book junkie, research geek, insatiably curious mother of three grown (son age 20), almost grown (daughter age 18), and growing (daughter age 15) children, one of whom has Type 1 Diabetes. Carla lives on an acreage in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, where she works from a home office with families from all over the world on the reversal of conditions such as, Autoimmunity: Type 1 Diabetes, PANDAS/PANS/Autoimmune Encephalitis, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity; Asthma, Allergies, Eczema, and Reactivity; ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Learning Disabilities; Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health Disorders, Eating Disorders, ODD; Other Neurological Conditions; Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Metabolic Disorders; Untangling Mystery Symptoms, Complex Cases, and Co-Morbidities (having more than one condition); Mold Illness; Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; Lyme; Other Infection; and Addictions. Carla is on a revolutionary mission to empower families to transcend our new normal of ill health and chronic disease.
For more information or help with your own family’s health journey, read more on this website, contact Carla, schedule a complimentary Meet and Greet with Carla, or learn about her Practitioner Training Programs for professionals and educational online Weekend Workshops for parents.
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