What You Need to Know About Autoimmune Disease Triggers


Autoimmune disorders and diseases occur when the immune system tries to attack healthy cells.
“Autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells.”John Hopkins Medicine
This in turn can lead to many different types of conditions, some of the most common include:

  • Lupus, a disease that damages areas of the body that include joints, skin and organs
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, a form of arthritis that attacks the joints
  • Celiac, a reaction to eating gluten that triggers an immune response in the small intestine
  • Psoriasis, a condition marked by thick, scaly patches of skin
  • Psoriatic arthritis, a type of arthritis affecting some people with psoriasis
  • Thyroid diseases, including Graves’ disease, where the body makes too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where it doesn’t make enough (hypothyroidism) of the hormone
  • Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin
  • Multiple sclerosis, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks myelin in the central nervous system

While the cause of autoimmune diseases is still relatively unknown, many say it is a combination of genetic predisposition, stealth infections and environmental triggers. (Source) For example, studies suggest that smoking, living in an urban environment with exposure to various pollutants, and exposure to certain chemicals and solvents increase susceptibility.
Autoimmune diseases have become increasingly common throughout the years and some experts attribute the increase to the changes in our environment. Some of these changes include a decrease in nutrients and increase in processed foods of the standard diet, an increase in man made chemicals in the products we use every day, and an increase in chronic stress people experience daily. These environmental changes may make it more likely that someone with a genetic predisposition to an autoimmune disease will actually develop it. (Source)

What Are Autoimmune Flare Ups & Triggers?

When you have an autoimmune disorder, most of the pain and discomfort occurs when you experience a flare up. Flare ups are caused by triggers, and triggers, in turn, are usually caused by environmental factors. There are two ways environment affects the expression of an autoimmune disease:

  • Inflammation – foreign invaders can cause cell damage and inflammation within the body. This triggers a process called immune reactivity where antibodies may attack the antigen substance or not, depending on a variety of factors.
    If the body is reacting to cells in the body that are NOT invaders from outside the body, but are the body’s own cells, then it is called ‘autoimmune’ reactivity. This exacerbates the autoimmune process. Basically the body’s immune system is attacking its own body. Yikes!
  • Epigenetic control of genes – This is where exposure to harmful substances that can enter the cells of our body change the expression of a gene without actually altering the original DNA instructions. This process either results in expressing something that should not be expressed or repressing something that should be expressed from the DNA.

Common Triggers

Mental Health Changes

After studies collected information about the effects of prolonged stress on your health, researchers discovered that it can cause damage to your immune system. Prolonged stress can trigger a variety of autoimmune diseases. This study concluded that those diagnosed with a stress-related disorders:

  • were more likely to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease
  • were more likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases
  • had a higher rate of autoimmune disease if younger


In the last six years, gluten has become somewhat of a four-letter word among those who are newer to the natural health community. Even though there’s a large portion of literature that is devoted to getting people to stop consuming gluten, not very many people understand exactly what gluten is or what its function might be. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley among other grains.
Studies have shown how gluten alters your microbiome, which is the complex system of bacteria that exists mostly in your digestive system. Alterations in the gut microbiome are linked to autoimmune disease expression. (Source) Avoiding gluten containing foods that throw your microbiome out of whack should assist in keeping flare-ups at bay.
Not to mention that gluten causes inflammation in the body, which also exacerbates autoimmune disease symptoms.

Gluten-free Foods

This might be serious bit of bad news to a lot of people who have been doing their best to avoid gluten, but many of the proteins contained in foods such as rice, corn, and oatmeal are similar to gluten and could also create many of the same symptoms. Keep in mind that not all of these symptoms may manifest the same way, and they can take place outside of the gut. It would be a good idea to get blood tests that are focused on figuring out what is going on in your immune system when you exposed to these different foods. It could be that you are sensitive to other foods and are cross reacting to them as well.

Toxic Agents

The overwhelming number of compounds and new chemicals that have been formed as a by-product of man-made processes are creating a big problem for us. Some of these toxins can be so dangerous that they can arrest neurological functions in the brain, or important processes that keep your cells alive. (Source) A portion of these toxins can occur in nature, but some of the most deadly toxins are the ones that are created as a result of man-made processing.
This all might sound scary! But don’t panic, there are steps you can take daily to help minimize autoimmune triggers.

Tips for Avoiding Triggers

If you are a person who suffers from an autoimmune disease, then you probably know that flare-ups result from either some kind of external trigger as mentioned above, or they can occur randomly with seemingly no triggers at all. The frustration that these conditions can cause are highly disruptive and emotionally draining. You might wonder what can be done, but with some small adjustments to your mindset and lifestyle, you are more likely to find peace and increase your quality of life.

Be Patient

The modern mentality fostered by the pharmaceutical approach has created a false belief in an instant cure. This causes some people who suffer from disorders to become discouraged when dietary changes and attempts to lessen the severity and number of their flare-ups don’t materialize instantly. People who have had great amounts of success on healing diets have reported that it can take a year  or more before real progress becomes noticeable. If you remain positive and stay on course, hopefully the present state will be a thing of the past. It simply takes time to heal from the inside out!

Take Your Own Time

One of the most difficult things about having an autoimmune disorder is that your flare-ups can be unpredictable and create disruptions that cause you to cancel plans. It can mean you always have to consider a potential flare up when making decisions. Hopefully, people who love and care about you will understand the difficulties that prevent you from being able to be as available as before. It is also a good idea to have close friends and family ready to help if you need them. When you feel tired, take the time out early on to prevent a flare-up from occurring. Don’t wait until you’re totally spent!

Prioritize Quality Sleep

Sleep is an important part of life for all living things. During sleep is usually when your body does the most healing. If you don’t sleep enough, then your body won’t have the downtime it needs to make repairs. Don’t feel guilty for prioritizing sleep! Read my article on how to improve your quality of sleep here if insomnia is something you struggle with.

Watch Your Diet

Diet can play a massive role in the length and intensity of your flare-ups. Foods that are high in sugar or contain gluten can cause more inflammation, and that will mean more pain for you. I recommend that everyone, but especially those with autoimmune diseases, eat a diet full of organic fruits, tons of vegetables, and fresh meats like grass-fed beef.

Testing the Right Way

Sometimes,in order to figure out those underlying autoimmune triggers, we need to do some “out of the box” testing. Deep cellular inflammation can be caused by many things including stress from poor diet, environmental toxins and mold, stealth infections, sugar and much more. Thankfully, we are able to test for the presence of these triggers and then once we know what we are dealing with, we can remove the source and work towards true healing.
I love using the environmental toxin tests from Great Plains Laboratory, the GIMap test to identify stealth infections and the DUTCH test to see what’s going on with the hormonal system. This information is incredibly valuable for digging up the root causes and creating a successful path for healing. Why guess when you can test?
If you feel like you’re stuck and don’t know what to do to alleviate your autoimmune symptoms, please feel free to reach out to me here