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Autoimmune Disease Triggers Are More Common Than You Think

Inflammation Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

How autoimmune disease triggers affect your healthHave you ever wondered what starts an avalanche? Or what is the root cause of a particular health problem? Not the symptoms but the actual cause of the event? A team of researchers at National Jewish Health, a hospital in Denver Colorado, are working with mice to learn more about autoimmune disease triggers. And they’ve had an exciting breakthrough. It seems they’ve found a specific trigger and preventing that trigger from firing may prevent an autoimmune disease!

About the Research

Fine wine may taste better with age, but your body’s immune response, more specifically your B cells, do not respond better as they age. Immune senescence is a term becoming widely known and more studies are showing damaging effects as your body matures. Your immune system responses become dull, allowing more and more invaders to sneak past the once impenetrable immune barrier and (sadly) the symptoms of an autoimmune disease may even begin to take hold.

The National Jewish Health team found a transcription factor—called T-bet—in older B cells that can be turned on and off. The study showed that when T-bet remained switched off, mice stayed healthy, despite a predisposition to autoimmune disease. More specifically, age-associated B cells (ABCs) were found to accumulate in the spleen, bone marrow, and even lymph nodes.

One hypothesis is that when your body encounters stress due to chronic or repeated exposures to foreign invaders, T-bet transcriptional cells stimulate the B cells, which then take on ABC-like tendencies. If your body is healthy, ABCs are thought to perform a housekeeping role, removing any debris left behind by dead cells. However, when too much stress is placed on your body, ABCs (even if they are weak and easily manipulated by foreign invaders) head to the front line. Although ABCs are trying to defend your body, these weakened cells may actually become re-programmed and elicit an autoimmune response that causes damage to your body instead.

This event is the cause of autoimmune disease triggers throughout your body that present themselves as inflammatory conditions such as unregulated blood sugar levels, painful and swollen joints, brain fog, and debilitating dementia-like conditions. Then, as the inflammation process worsens in various parts of your body, it can lead to progressive damage. With ageing, some of these changes are expected, but scientists have now realized that others are the result of a weakened immune system.

The Immune System: A Quick Explanation

The immune system has many weapons in its arsenal to fight off foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Sometimes it uses basophils or neutrophils to stop an attack as a strong first line of defence, but if this fails, the body turns to B cells and T cells to help fight off the infection or pathogen.

Similar to trained warriors, once your B cells encounter an intruder they don’t easily forget them, which enables them to easily fight them off again if they ever decide to come back. B cells attack bad bacteria and viruses by making Y-shaped proteins known as antibodies. When Y-shaped antibodies see an invader, they lock onto it leaving a unique mark so that the rest of the immune system knows to attack it.

T cells come in two varieties: helper T-cells and killer T-cells. Helper T cells notify your B cells that they need to create antibodies and work alongside killer T cells. Killer T cells do precisely as the name suggests—attack and kill foreign invaders.

On a cellular level, an autoimmune disease starts when B cells can no longer tolerate the attacks and the antibodies produced to signal the attack are placed in the wrong areas. Although your body is weak at this time, your B cells will still mount a powerful offense, but now instead of fighting off the invaders, it may actually starts a war against itself. Worse yet, some B cells release the wrong signals and end up hurting your already compromised immune system, thereby strengthening the autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune Diseases Triggers

If your parents and grandparents struggled with autoimmune disease, there is a good chance that you will too. Family history and genetics play a huge role in autoimmune disease. On the bright side, just because the predisposition exists doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the disease. For that to happen, there must be autoimmune disease triggers.

Autoimmune disease triggers and geneticsOne trigger for Celiac disease, found by a team, from the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is a retroviral infection. This type of virus has no obvious symptoms like illness or a rash however when Celiac disease sufferers were tested for antibodies against the retrovirus, unusually high levels were found suggesting their immune system had previously been activated to fight against it. Therefore, a simple retroviral infection could trigger an autoimmune disease in those with a family history of it.

Gender is definitely a factor when it comes to autoimmune diseases since women are 75% more likely to develop one than men. Scientists are unsure why this is the case. It may boil down to different hormonal responses or how the female immune system responds. And although someone may appear healthy, for those with a family history, any one of the autoimmune disease triggers, including environmental factors, toxins, pollutants, chronic stress, reactions to foods or a poor diet, can precipitate the disease.

From Trigger to Adrenal Fatigue: The Painful Process

Once triggered, critical pathways are activated and your body’s NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response is automatically sent into action in an attempt to help your body return to normal. The hypothalamus signals the front of the pituitary gland, which tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is a power anti-inflammatory chemical that is a shepherd of the inflammation process. Essentially, cortisol makes sure your body doesn’t overdo the healing and inflammation process by slowing down and cooling off certain areas to ensure balance. If your body experiences chronic stress, cortisol may begin to run out and equilibrium can no longer be achieved. As a result, the stressors start to take over your body.

It can take weeks or even years to officially be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Your body doesn’t succumb immediately to the disease, but makes various attempts to heal itself. Then since it can’t, the symptoms start to show up. Some of these signs first appear in the Neuroaffect circuit such as:

  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Brain fog
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Various mood swings

Your body responds to the NEM response in a holistic way so the symptoms are not only psychological and other organs involved in the stress response may be affected, including the heart, hormonal systems, digestion, and kidneys. When one of these responses begin to fail, the others have to work harder to pick up the slack, and if the stressor is not removed, your symptoms may begin to worsen.

The cause of autoimmune disease triggers may be unknown, unpreventable, or undiscovered. It may not always be your fault that the triggers keep firing against you. When the stock market crashed in 1929, many people were suddenly overwhelmed by the stress of how they were going to live on very little money. Experiencing the death of a loved one after a an extended illness also inflicts stress on your body that is difficult to deal with. But the trigger doesn’t always have to be a life-altering event. It could be something as simple as food allergy you’re unaware of, a tooth that keeps getting infected, or your demanding boss making you work 65 hours a week to meet holiday demands.

Adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disease triggersAll of these stressors put demands on your body and when it’s unable to deal with them effectively, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) can start to show. Adrenal Fatigue is a condition that affects your whole body but there is no one specific cause or symptom. The nonspecific and vague symptoms of AFS confuse many doctors who were not taught to look for AFS nor given an official diagnostic code. Because of this, you may need to look outside your typical area for a physician who is trained in diagnosing and managing AFS. To successfully diagnose AFS, your body must be assessed as a whole and multiple symptoms need to be addressed.

How Can You Stop Autoimmune Disease Triggers?

The key to healing is to completely stop the autoimmune diseases triggers from firing. If the triggering event does not occur, it is theorized that the autoimmune disease will not happen. If you can’t stop one trigger, you can at least prevent multiple triggers from being fired.

Prevention and Healing

The best way to heal is to prevent the root cause from happening in the first place. However, if you can’t avoid it, look at healing your body—just a hint, prevention and healing are similar.


One of the most common autoimmune diseases triggers is a lousy diet. Sadly, the typical American menu is full of triggers. Learning to avoid or lower your sugar and caffeine intake is essential. Sorry, this means no triple-shot espresso with sweetened whipped cream in the mornings. You’ll need to take a serious look at your diet and it’s also vital to seek professional nutrition advice. Your goal should be to remove dairy, corn products, gluten, and sugar. Those four ingredients sound simple, but a quick visit to your local grocery store and you’ll soon discover they’re in the vast majority of products you normally buy. A trained nutritional expert can help you make a menu plan and shopping list that will provide you with the healthiest diet possible.


Slow walks, gentle yoga and stretching, as well Tai Chi, are great ways to move your body without adding stress. Of course, make sure you seek approval from your healthcare practitioner to ensure these activities are appropriate for you.


Oral supplements can be taken to replace anything your body may be lacking and are extremely helpful to both preventing and healing autoimmune conditions. Vitamins A and D and glutathione are beneficial to your immune system and Omega-3 fatty acids (also found in salmon) can help reduce inflammation. It’s best to speak with you healthcare practitioner about the right dosage.

Mental Support

finding relief from autoimmune disease triggersThe month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Whereas changing your diet or adding an exercise program are fantastic ideas, you can’t fully heal your mind if you’re still experiencing constant mental stress. Neuroaffect symptoms are not something to look down upon or brush off. Feeling unusually depressed and anxious are real problems with severe consequences for the body. Talking through what’s going on in your life right now, releasing the stress of losing your job, or working through any pain and grief you may be experiencing will allow you to heal mentally.


As scientific studies begin to show us more and more ways to prevent autoimmune disease triggers, you can use this new information to both prevent disease and heal your body. Although you may not be able to have your B-cells replaced to avoid the T-bet reaction just yet, you can take serious steps today towards preventing autoimmune disease triggers in your body. As you train your body to be healthy, you’ll also prevent your NEM stress response from becoming overloaded and avoid worsening the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue. There is hope and there is healing. Avoid the avalanche today and don’t delay!

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

The key to effective healing is to stop the autoimmune diseases triggers from even firing. If the triggering event does not occur, it’s theorized that an autoimmune disease can’t happen. Even if one trigger can’t be stopped, you can prevent multiple triggers from being fired.

autoimmune disease triggers

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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