Subsequent to our previous blog on autoimmune disease, there are some other triggers for autoimmune disease people on the Sunshine Coast should be aware of. I’m referring to stress, certain foods and nutritional deficiencies.

Causes of Autoimmunity, leaky gut


Long term or intense stress can trigger autoimmune disease in many people. While it is never the sole factor, it can induce a flare-up.

Stress can also be a major block in recovery from autoimmune disease. This is due to the effect of stress hormones promoting the immune system to produce inflammatory cytokines. These heighten immune activation and make autoimmune disease more likely and more intense.

Causes of stress can be emotional, food related (food intolerances and/or allergies), or physical (over exertion or chemical exposure).

Long term stress can also lead to adrenal exhaustion, which can block healing, worsen pain and increase fatigue.

Physical stress

Exercise that is too intense or too long acts like stress in your body. If you are chronically stressed, not sleeping well or have pain and/or fatigue it is best to stick to mild exercise that doesn’t overexert your body. A time frame of no longer than about 30 minutes a day is sensible.

Stress and hormones

The stress hormone cortisol shares its production pathway with progesterone. So chronic stress can lead progesterone deficiency (which leads to menstrual problems.)

Hormone imbalances can also cause an array of problems that can worsen autoimmunity, Some studies show improvement in symptoms with supplementation of hormones. Long term elevated cortisol also raises blood sugar levels causing abdominal weight gain, cravings for sugar and high carbohydrate foods. This worsens worsen insulin resistance, and increase the risk of diabetes.

Stress and the immune system

Chronically elevated cortisol weakens the immune system.

Stress and digestion

Chronic cortisol excess causes leaky gut by opening the tight gap junctions between the cells lining the digestive tract.

We, here at Pulse in Minyama on the Sunshine Coast, have a particular interest in helping people who are stressed. The naturopaths often work with Dr Mark Fulton, Nicole Nelson or Dr Tracy Johns, who are holistic doctors, to treat stressed people. Please see our blog on holistic psychiatry 

Foods which may be problematic for autoimmunity include…

Gluten and grains

Grains contain enzyme inhibitors and lectins that reduce your ability to digest and absorb the nutrients that are in them. Gluten contained in many grains irritates the gut lining and triggers leaky gut.


Well-known legumes include alfalfacloverpeasbeanschickpeaslentils,  carobsoy beans, and peanuts. Lectins contained within legumes can be very difficult to digest. Legumes may also cause leaky gut and are often best avoided to reverse autoimmunity.


Dairy products (including sheep and goat milk) can be highly inflammatory and irritate the gut lining (causing leaky gut) and immune system of some people.

Night shades

The night shade family includes, tomatoes, eggplant, potato, peppers (capsicum, paprika and chilli) and goji berries. Nightshades contain saponins and lectins which can contribute to leaky gut. They are often strong immune irritants.


Eggs are a common food allergen. Lysozymes contained in eggs bind tightly with other proteins contained in eggs forming complexes that are not digestible.

This can trigger an immune response and antibody production in some people.

Nuts and seeds

Are high in good fats, minerals and fibre, which is healthy. Most people can safely consume them in small amounts. Yet they are a common cause of allergy or intolerance.

They can also be difficult to digest due to lectin content. For some people nuts can trigger bloating, gas and other irritable bowel symptoms.


Sugar raises inflammatory cytokines, which can cause pain and fatigue. It also promotes leaky gut.


Pregnancy can be a trigger for postpartum thyroiditis during the first 6 months after giving birth.

Many of these triggers we can control through natural treatment.

Even in pregnancy we can ensure that our gut is in the very best health and our stress levels kept to a minimum. This will make for a happy healthy baby!

Nutritional deficiencies

Most people on the Sunshine Coast believe that they eat healthily. Yet it is difficult to obtain the right amounts of nutrients when our Australian soils are so depleted.

Many people on the Sunshine coast are commonly deficient in zinc, magnesium, iodine and selenium.

We think that the so-called “healthy eating pyramid” places too much emphasis on grains and cereals. This advice clearly has not worked.

The grains and cereals are a poor substitute for more paleo like foods. They are a possible cause of autoimmune disease. They also can inflame the intestines and decrease the absorption of nutrients. What is more, they cause may exacerbate obesity. (It is a sad fact that Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world.)

A typical autoimmune patient has weak digestion with low levels of hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes, poor liver function and inadequate bile.

They also likely suffer from food intolerances, leaky gut and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. A dietary plan is of utmost importance to reduce autoimmune disease. We can tailor it to cater for any of the above factors.

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