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5 Ways the Environment Could Be Triggering Your Immune System

With $120,000,000 now reportedly spent on treating autoimmune conditions, the subject is more relevant and important than ever.

Fortunately, Dr. Chad Larson, a Board-certified chiropractor and naturopathic doctor, specializes in treating autoimmune disorders. ([02:50]) He got into the field after a bad back injury in college left him barely able to walk or stand up straight. After someone suggested he try a chiropractor – something he had never done before – he went and was amazed to find his back fixed after just one visit.

He changed his premed track to a chiropractic focus and immediately began learning the ropes with a local Santa Barbara chiropractor who took him on to mentor him. During chiropractic school, he read the book Total Wellness, which “rocked my world” with its then-cutting-edge information (nearly 20 years ago). He says this laid the foundation for later pursuing his doctorate in naturopathic medicine.

What Are Autoimmune Diseases?

Over 24 million people are affected by autoimmune diseases today ([9:03]), so what exactly are they?

Simply, they are a condition where the immune system gets confused and decides to attack its own tissues. So, for instance, if the body attacks the tissues in the thyroid, Hashimoto’s can develop. If it attacks parts of the brain, it can become Multiple Sclerosis.

Environmental toxins are often attributed to the increase in autoimmune diseases. So I asked Dr. Chad, what are the five ways the environment can contribute to autoimmune diseases? ([10:16]) A trigger affects the immune system in such a way that it attacks its own tissues.

  1. Infections often act as one of these triggers.
  2. Food sensitivities also act as a trigger when certain foods react with a person’s body chemistry negatively.
  3. Environmental/manmade chemicals: We’re exposed to more man-made chemicals than ever before in human history.
  4. Leaky gut: There are multiple causes of this, but the gut barrier is a system that separates the external environment from the internal environment. Before food particles can be absorbed, they must go through barrier system, but if that system is compromised, then food and chemicals can get through that usually wouldn’t and inflame our systems.
  5. Nutrient deficiencies.

Environmental/Manmade Chemicals

What kind of chemicals are we referring to here?

([12:48]) The worst ones in relation to autoimmunity are the ones we are exposed to on a regular basis, namely in foods and beverages that we consume. BPA (Bisphenol A) is in a lot of consumer products that we’re consuming regularly: water bottles; canned foods (that slick lining inside); and even consumer receipts. In certain people this triggers an autoimmune response.

How do you know if you’re one of these people who is sensitive to environmental toxins?

([14:41]) For the most part, the common chemicals and heavy metals that negatively affect people are ones that we are exposed to a lot. Many people develop immune tolerance, which is the immune system’s ability to tolerate exposure or consumption to certain substances or foods. If you have a tolerance to BPA, for instance, you won’t be affected. But if you’ve lost tolerance, your immune system will attack the BPA and become an autoimmune disease.

Dr. Chad says there are two major ways to test for chemicals. ([16:18]) The first is to test the level of a chemical to see how much is in your system. The second method is to evaluate antibody activity to those chemicals – the immune system’s reaction to the chemical – which is much more clinically significant. Simply the presence of a certain chemical in your body does not necessarily mean it will trigger a disorder, so the second test is more specific to how your body responds to that chemical. If there are high antibodies, this means the body is already fighting a substance – it has lost the immune tolerance.

How do we lower the immune response, or the antibodies?
Dr. Chad Larson - Autoimmune Disease

Dr. Chad agrees reducing toxin exposure is a great help.

([18:02]) A major part of the treatment protocol is educating the patient on how to avoid sources of the triggering contamination, Chad says. The key then is to avoid re-exposure. (The website,, provides guides on how to avoid common environmental toxins.) Next, you help improve the barrier systems by first evaluating the integrity of the current barriers and then improving its quality so the toxins don’t go deeper into the body.

I asked Dr. Chad if just reducing the exposure was sufficient to get rid of it. He says that’s a big piece of the picture since the antibodies are the destructive part of the condition, which is relative to the exposure. Eventually the immune system will stop producing antibodies when it no longer has exposure to the irritating trigger. Nutrition and digestive protocols also help move out toxins and improve overall health.

Dr. Chad and I both agree that Cyrex Labratories is the primary source for this sort of testing; it focuses on autoimmune diseases and dysregulation (

How long until you feel better?

I also asked him how long it typically takes a patient to feel better once he starts working with him or her. ([22:39]) He says that the clinical literature suggests that if you can find and remove the triggers to the reaction, the antibodies will go down and the symptoms will improve. The time frame is contingent on how quickly you can identify the trigger and reduce or eliminate exposure.

With a well-known autoimmune disease such as Celiac, its trigger is obvious: gluten. It varies from person to person, but most people feel better on a gluten-free diet within days. The antibodies are not out of their system yet (that can take months), but they do feel noticeably better.

What Are The Most Commonly Eliminated Foods?

What are the foods ([25:22]) that Dr. Chad most commonly takes out with his patients? Gluten and dairy – two of the most common foods that people eat. Since people don’t know what else to eat, it takes a period of education. Sometimes a completely hypoallergenic diet or running lab tests to see what they’re sensitive to is useful too.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?

([26:18]) How are autoimmune diseases treated at a regular doctor’s office? Typically, with a major chemical: anti-inflammatories and chemotherapy-type drugs with significant side effects that are very destructive to the system; they suppress symptoms rather than treating the cause.

Some of the common symptoms of chemical toxicity are headaches, gas, headaches, brain fog, and hormone fluctuations. Every organ can be potentially affected by chemical toxicity. ([28:45]) And if anyone has a chronic condition diagnosis (chronic joint pain, chronic fatigue), they will be exacerbated by chemicals.


Even healthy people must replenish probiotics that are naturally lost every day.

Treating leaky gut ([30:20]) typically begins with testing to set a baseline. After six months of a tailored protocol, Dr. Chad retests to see if the treatment is effective. Many nutrition companies also make protocols for leaky gut that can be very effective in healing the digestive system. They usually include ingredients such as L-glutamine (an amino acid energy source) and healing botanicals such as slippery elm and marshmallow. Probiotics, Vitamins A and D, and fish oil help support healthy mucus.

A probiotics protocol for someone who is unhealthy ([34:44]) is obviously going to be different than for someone who is healthy; Dr. Chad aims for a broad-spectrum of 20 billion organisms a day. Even healthy people must replenish probiotics that are naturally lost every day, though, so it’s important that everyone supplement daily, preferably taking them with food.

Is Narcolepsy an Autoimmune Disease?

I had heard that narcolepsy is now considered an autoimmune condition, ([43:00]) so I was curious about Dr. Chad’s perspective: “It’s interesting, and I think there will be more and more conditions that we will start to consider an autoimmune condition. With narcolepsy, the science and labs discovered that the immune system produces antibodies to a certain part of the nervous system that affects sleep.”

The most important things to do if you think (or know) you have an autoimmune condition is to get tested to identify what your particular sensitivity might be ([44:08]). Put gluten at the top of the list to consider, since it tends to be the food most linked with autoimmune disorders. And if you are sensitive to scented candles or perfumes, you probably have sensitivity to chemicals.

Find out more about Dr. Chad at his website,

Photo Credit: williumbillium via Compfight cc

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