DHEA and Autoimmune Disease
DHEA is a naturally occurring steroid in the body and is used to make the male sex hormone, testosterone, and the female sex hormone, estrogen.DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, the reproductive organs, as well as the brain, and it is often low in women.Because DHEA has anti-inflammatory properties, there is speculation that insufficient DHEA levels could have a contributing effect on autoimmune disease.
Uncovering the Root Cause of DHEA Deficiency with Functional Medicine
1.Assess patient’s hormone levels and recheck regularly.
2.Find out why the imbalance is present (Pain, Inflammation, Infection, Emotional stress, Chemical stress, Physical stress)
3.Ensure DHEA supplementation is administered is a way that simulates the body’s natural way of delivery.
We know that autoimmune disease can silently exist in the body for years before any symptoms are evident so it is important for younger women to have hormone levels checked and regularly monitored as they age.If DHEA levels dip below the normal range, I work with the patient to investigate why.Often times we find that the adrenal glands are fatigued and as a result, an event occurs within the body called “pregnenolone steal”. When this happens, the body diverts it’s effort to produce sex hormones and increases it’s stress hormonal output instead.Certainly DHEA supplementation can help get hormone levels back in balance, but we must uncover why this diversion is happening in the first place through employing functional medicine principles.
There are a few connections we see to “steal” pathways and adrenal fatigue: poor nutrient absorption, the presence of infection, and fluctuating blood sugar levels. And frequently we find gluten intolerance as the common thread connecting all these symptoms. While this isn’t always the case, the reoccurring prevalence of gluten intolerance among patients makes it worth screening for gluten sensitivity.Removing any food intolerance, remedying infection, and restoring optimal health allows the intestines to heal and better absorb nutrients which, in turn, helps normalize adrenal function once again.DHEA supplementation may still be necessary in the healing process so mimicking the body’s natural delivery is beneficial.Since the body passes hormones directly into the blood stream, applying a oral sublingual route (under the tongue) is the most favorable way to allow DHEA to enter the bloodstream and bypass the liver & digestive tract.
Estrogen and Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disease is more prevalent among women than men and many researchers are exploring why.The authors of The Immune System Cure offer the following explanation: “Scientists believe that the female hormone estrogen may be the reason for this. The hormone estrogen may interplay with certain immune factors that enhance the action of the inflammatory response, increasing antibodies that attack certain tissues in the body. An over abundance of estrogen or estrogen-dominance may be a factor in the prevalence of autoimmune conditions in women.”
Other studies have investigated pre and post menopausal women, hormone levels, and the immune response.
It is believed that the immune response is more robust during a woman’s reproductive years due to higher estrogen and progesterone levels and once menopause begins, estrogen and progesterone levels drop resulting in a lowered immune response.The changes in immune function and activity of certain immune cells seems to be linked to the decrease in estrogen.Furthermore, statistics indicate a dramatic dip in autoimmune disease occurrence in women following menopause.
The research continues to illustrate the association of post-menopausal estrogen levels and the immune system. In a review of various studies designed to better understand the relationship between sex hormones such as estrogen and the immune system, Dr. Sarit Aschkenazi and colleagues explain that sex hormones affect and modify the actions of different types of immune cells. The authors also point out that certain interactions between estrogen and cells of the immune system can also influence other organs of the body that are not directly related to immunity.Health concerns such as osteoporosis and heart disease are linked to a decrease in post-menopausal hormone levels and a loss in estrogen’s ability to regulate other types of immune cells to function normally.
In their review, Dr. Aschkenazi and colleagues concluded that sex hormones, in particular the estrogens, play a role in the activity of immune cells. Furthermore, a deficiency in estrogen that occurs during menopause may result in a failure of estrogen to properly regulate the immune system. These changes, in turn, may play an important role in the development of menopausal symptoms and disease. The possible role of hormone therapy should be considered in cases of autoimmune disease.
Thyroid Hormones and Autoimmune Disease
It is very challenging to control autoimmunity when there is a deficiency in thyroid hormone production. Thyroid hormones aide in the growth, metabolism and regulation of the body’s immune system so when a patients in a thyroid-deficient state, it takes a toll on the immune system as a result. Every immune cell requires the thyroid hormone and has receptor sites to receive it in order to properly mature and regulate immunity.
Because the thyroid hormone has an influence on cytokine load (chemical messengers made by blood cells) and activity levels, receptor sites may not be able to respond effectively when thyroid hormone deficiency is present. This impact goes further.Inability to dampen cytokine loads significantly impacts conversation rates of T4 to T3 while heightening systemic inflammation throughout the body.
Intestinal Inflammation Related to Thyroid Hormone Levels
Low thyroid levels have been linked to intestinal inflammation and permeability, or leaky gut. Thyroid hormones T4, and it’s conversion to T3, help to shield the mucosal lining of the intestine from becoming porous or developing ulcers. Therefore if T4 and T3 levels are compromised, intestinal health can be. When hypothyroid perpetuates over time, leaky gut syndrome is more likely to evolve further into complications such as food allergies, chemical sensitivities, and a cycle of more autoimmunity.
Unfortunately, even when on a thyroid hormone, the effects of hypothyroidism on the intestines cannot be quelled by supplemental hormone treatment if they have thyroid resistance. The combination of inflammation and elevated cytokine activity blocks the thyroid hormone from effectively communicating with cell receptor sites.So instead of the thyroid hormone helping to calm gut inflammation, their thyroid resistance causes perpetuation of leaky gut and promotes food allergies, particularly gluten sensitivity and Celiac’s disease. This gluten sensitivity obliterates the gut and causes cytokine loads to surge.
Susceptibility to intestinal permeability and leaky gut will always be present due to the physiology of this hypothyroidism, however there is hope for empowering the patient by controlling diet and employing effective stress management techniques.Avoiding gluten and other foods that cause inflammation help improve the condition, though inflammation can fluctuate in times of higher stress or when gluten is consumed.Noticing the cause and effect of triggers and resulting symptoms can help a patient better understand his or her body’s autoimmune response.
Blood Sugar and Autoimmune Disease
Just over a century ago, the average person consumed around five pounds of sugar over the course of a year. Compare that to today where in just one week, the typical American consumes between 2-3 pounds of sugar. In the last twenty years there has been a spike in the average American’s annual sugar consumption. Just prior to 2000, the average American consumed 26 pounds of sugar in one year; today that number has jumped to a staggering 135 pounds of sugar per person, per year!
- weight gain
- sugar cravings
- caffeine dependence
- feeling tired after meals
- feeling lightheaded if you skip a meal
- improved thinking and attention after eating
Irregular Blood Sugar and Insulin spikes suppress the Pituitary Gland
The pituitary is an important gland in the body and it is often referred to as the ‘master gland’, because it controls several of the other hormone glands (Sex hormones, Adrenals, Thyroid). The anterior pituitary makes several important hormones – growth hormone, puberty hormones (or gonadotrophins), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH, which stimulates the thyroid gland to make Thyroxine), Prolactin (Milk production) and Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal stress hormone, cortisol). The posterior pituitary makes the fluid balance hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). We know from what we learned earlier that imbalances in our Sex Hormone, Cortisol and DHEA levels and Thyroid hormones affect our immune system.
It’s clear: Sugar causes inflammation.
Research has shown that white blood cell counts are affected within just 30 minutes of consuming sugar and can remain suppressed for up to 5 hours following. This lowers our bodies’ ability to effectively fight off germs and infection.
Your Brain on Sugar
It’s unmistakable, too much glucose stemming from refined sugar consumption has serious consequences on your brain. Attention span, mood stability, and short-term memory are all affected.
Excessive refined sugar can:
- Impede neural communication due to blocked membranes
- Heighten the damage free radicals cause to the brain, such as cell rupture and oxidative stress
- Inhibit synaptic communication among cells
- Muddle thinking due to a surge in alpha, delta and theta brain wave activity
- Ultimately inflict harm on neurons
Insulin is released from the pancreas in order to transfer surplus sugar from the blood into our cells. In the right amounts, glucose is useful to cells in producing energy yet cells become less responsive to insulin over time. When overconsumption of sugar triggers insulin production repeatedly, destruction to the thyroid gland multiplies.
On a basic biological level, the body responds to low blood sugar as an indicator that our survival is in danger. The adrenal glands are called upon to release cortisol which signals the liver to make glucose more available to the body to use. This chain reaction helps bring blood sugar back to normal but when activated too often can be harmful. The cortisol hormone is incredibly effective in a “fight or flight” situation allowing our bodies to react to any eminent threat. However excessive sugar consumption should not be cause for overstimulating cortisol secretion and this misguided use of the hormone causes the immune system to become suppressed. As this happens regularly, it can be especially harmful to anyone with autoimmune disease.
Intestinal Health affected by Sugar and “Sugar free” substitutes
Multiple studies have concluded that an excess of both sugar and artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin) cause instability in blood sugar regulation and affect the intestinal microflora causing an imbalance of the healthy bacteria our guts need to function. This can lead to leaky gut as the intestinal wall starts to become porous and permeable, no longer able to act as the immune system barrier. Toxins, bacteria, pesticides, and medication now have small channels of entry into body and ultimately circulate through the bloodstream. As soon as the bloodstream is penetrated, the immune system is signaled and the autoimmune response is initiated.
Take away From Today Article:
- Autoimmunity affects cytokine activity and this impacts thyroid health.
- TSH is suppressed, T4 to T3 conversion decreases, and receptor sites become less responsive when hormone balances exist.
- Decreased thyroid hormone levels means immune regulation decreases
- Hypothyroidism leads to inflammatory cytokine loads and resulting intestinal permeability or Leaky Gut
- Managing your condition is possible through regulating the diet, avoiding gluten, supporting your adrenal glands, and optimzing hormones.
- Improving leaky gut and decreasing cytokine levels can drastically quell autoimmunity
- Sugar affects the Pituitary gland of the brain- The master center for hormone communication.
- Sugar affects brain function,immune function and hormone health.
- Insulin Surges destroys the Thyroid Gland.
- Sugar free Substitutes are just as problematic for intestinal health.
At the Naperville Institute For Neuro-Metabolic Solutions, we strive to fully understand the needs and concerns of our patients and we will work closely with you to ensure your good health is restored. To help ensure your health is improved, we offer extensive testing and customized treatment programs as well as an overriding dedication to helping you get better. When you consult the doctors at the Naperville Institute For Neuro-Metabolic Solutions, you are selecting healthcare providers that will be committed to meeting your needs and providing you with VIP service. Your health is our passion.
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