Every week I see patients with chronic inflammatory conditions disguised under the names of Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Dermatomyositis, Polymyositis, Psoriasis, Eczema, Asthma, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative colitis and others. All of these come under the umbrella of Autoimmune Disease or illnesses where the body’s immune system attacks itself. In this article I’ll be teaching you about how undigested food can trigger this ‘self-attack’ response leading to the conditions.

During times of improper digestion or accidental toxin ingestion, foreign items are introduced to your gut. As a defensive response your body activates immune tissue called GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) to neutralize them. This defense mechanism has been around since the time we were born controlling the way we respond to food. The way the body neutralizes these food items engages a process called inflammation where immune system soldiers called Macrophages and T-cells are signaled to break down undigested food and toxin.

Digesting Dairy

One example of under-digestion occurs in people who are found to be lactose intolerant. These are people who can’t digest milk giving them gas, bloating, or other symptoms within the next hours after taking it. Researchers have shown that 65% - 70% of the adult population are lactose intolerant (1,2). The reason for this condition lies in the body’s inability to produce an enzyme called lactase which is needed to break down lactose - a food protein found in milk. The undigested lactose stays in the gut, ferments, is eaten by gut bacteria and then is responded to by the body by activating the immune tissue to create the inflammatory response able neutralize the undigested lactose or overgrown bacteria. Both the immune response and increase in bacterial number lead to symptoms of gas, bloating and in other patients more severe inflammation such as migraine, fatigue, and skins issues to name a few.

Tip: Remember that the skin is merely an extension of what is happening in our gut — so chronic skin issues are gut issues first before anything else.

Digesting Gluten

As researchers put more effort into understanding our response to food, the identification of a particle in wheat, barley and rye called gluten was found to be an inflammatory trigger for certain people. Individuals susceptible to gluten were grouped into having a condition called Celiac Disease - medically defined to be people who could not digest gluten. As more and more people were discovered to have this condition a pediatric gastroenterologist researcher from Harvard by the name of Alessio Fasano discovered something groundbreaking. His team found out that if a person had the risk for Celiac Disease, when this person’s gut was exposed to gluten the gut channels would create a an opening called leaky gut. This opening could allow exposure of toxic contents of the gut into the immune tissue fueling inflammation (3,4). 

Trio of Factors of Autoimmune Disease 

Alessio’s discovery has since then been validated by other researchers. He has concluded that there are three factors that need to be present in individuals for Autoimmune Disease to occur.

  • Genetic susceptibility present in individuals for Autoimmune Disease to occur.

    • Individuals are born with this inability to digest certain food items.
    • Ex: lactose intolerance or celiac disease
  • Environmental trigger
    • The dietary trigger is ingested dairy or gluten if we take the examples previous
  • Intestinal permeability/ Leaky gut
    • Opening of the gut channels from damage or exposure to undigested food

When the three factors are present, the body’s immune tissue is activated leading to continued inflammation. The site of inflammation differs depending upon the person’s susceptibility. If the inflammation moves toward their joints it would be diagnosed as Rheumatoid Arthritis; if found in their lungs that would be named Asthma; if in the skin that would be Dermatomyositis, Psoriasis or Eczema. Despite the change in the diagnosis the common thread between each autoimmune condition is the underlying inflammatory response of the body starting from the gut.

Other Causes of Under-Digestion

Apart from the people who are genetically unable to digest certain food particles, it is important to understand that under-digestion happens quite often in people who have developed the following eating habits:

These behaviors prevent the body from digesting food properly and lead to the gut’s response to turn on inflammation.

What To Do

Next time you’re experiencing unexplained inflammation like:

Chronic pain, skin redness, hypersensitivity reactions to food or the environment, bowel issues (chronic constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea), long term colds/ runny nose, cough, acid reflux disease and many others.

I’ve seen many of my patients have so much improvement after trying the recommendations above that they wonder how they could have missed it all this time.­

Since today’s topic is highly technical we’d love your comments or questions. If you have any feel free to send them over. Our team at Nutrigineering is committed to helping you elevate your understanding of nutrition based on what’s new and current and will never shortchange what’s new just because of its highly technical content.

Your Partner in Health,

Dr Rayms

  1. Bayless T, Brown E, Paige D. Lactase Non-persistence and Lactose Intolerance. Curr Gastroenterology Reports. 2017;19(5):23. doi:10.1007/s11894-017-0558-9.
  2. Szilagyi A, Galiatsatos P, Xue X. Systematic review and meta-analysis of lactose digestion, its impact on intolerance and nutritional effects of dairy food restriction in inflammatory bowel diseases. Nutr J. 2016;15(1):67. doi:10.1186/s12937-016-0183-8
  3. Visser J, Rozing J, Sapone A, Lammers K, Fasano A. Tight Junctions, Intestinal Permeability, and Autoimmunity. Ann Ny Acad Sci. 2009;1165(1):195–205. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04037.x.
  4. Serena G, Camhi S, Sturgeon C, Yan S, Fasano A. The Role of Gluten in Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes.Nutrients. 2015;7(9):7143–7162. doi:10.3390/nu7095329