Image source: NIEHS

In a previous post, we explored the immune responses associated with COVID-19 and what happens when it goes haywire. This was an example of an autoimmune disease developing from a virus.  But what does your gut have to do with autoimmune disease?  First, let’s define autoimmune disease.

What is autoimmune disease?

There are over 100 different autoimmune diseases that affect between 50-75 million people in the US and more worldwide. Autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 causes of death in women and the second highest cause of chronic disease in women in the US.  Some examples of autoimmune diseases include Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system, apart from attacking an external organism or substance, also targets your own cells or tissue.  Although genetics may play a role, far more common autoimmune triggers include viruses, bacteria, mold, medications, foods (gluten/dairy), hormones, pollutants, and stress.  These external factors often have molecules or pieces that resemble your own body’s tissue or cells.  This is known as molecular mimicry.  Essentially, autoimmune disease is a case of mistaken identity.

What does the gut have to do with autoimmune disease?

The intestinal tract from our mouth down to our colon is only one cell membrane thick.  It protects us internally from dangerous substances much like our skin protects our body externally.  Our gastrointestinal immune system sits right below our intestinal membrane.  When our gut is bombarded with an offending agent, like gluten, it produces an inflammatory protein called zonulin.   Zonulin weakens the tight junctions of our “intestinal skin.”  As a result, larger and more toxic materials can pass through the gut into the bloodstream. The gastrointestinal immune system goes into high alert to attack these “invaders.” Because of molecular mimicry, the immune system may mistakenly identify human cells and tissue as invaders, triggering an autoimmune response.

All of us at Companion Health are here for you to identify the root cause of your autoimmune issues or any other concerns you have.

We wish you a happy and safe 4th of July!  Since we continue to have increased cases of Covid-19, especially in NC, please continue to be vigilant by:

  • washing your hands
  • disinfecting surfaces
  • practicing physical distancing
  • wearing a mask


1) Sci Am. 2009 Aug; 301(2):54-61. doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican0809-54. A. Fasano.

2) The Cost Burden of Autoimmune Disease: The Latest Front in the War on Healthcare Spending “The burden of a human disease should be counted not only in terms of dollars spent on health—2011.