Protozoan parasites such as Giardia intestinalis, Entamoeba Histolytica, Cyclospora Cayetanenensis, and Cryptosporidium spp are some of the most common microorganisms to cause gastrointestinal distress in the human body. (1) According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), parasites affect millions of Americans and can be the underlying root cause of multiple symptoms, including gut dysbiosis, which is often a key factor in autoimmune disease. (2)
Parasites can be asymptomatic as well as the root cause of ‘unrelated’ or ‘mysterious’ symptoms in the body. The challenge here is that parasites can be undetected and many doctors are unfamiliar with parasitic infections which often leave them to be undiagnosed and untreated. (2)
Heavy metal toxicity
Metals are a part of our everyday living. They occur both outside and inside the human body. Trace amounts of various metals such as manganese, copper, zinc and chromium are necessary for optimal human functioning. However, when detox pathways are impaired, metals accumulate in the body over time, and can create a toxic build up. This is a contributing factor to all disease, including autoimmunity.
Some of the metals that most commonly contribute to heavy metal toxicity are lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. (3) Today, metals are found in excess throughout our environment.
Our water supply is one of the main ways in which toxicity can get into our bodies. One of the most common heavy metals in our water is fluoride. Fluoride started being added to the public water system in 1945 as reports stated that it ‘helped prevent tooth decay,’ however, little evidence has been shown to support this theory. Fluoride is a toxic by-product of another harmful heavy metal, aluminum. It is also a component in the atom bomb. (3) More directly relevant to our everyday lives, fluoride is an endocrine disruptor, which studies have shown to affect everything from hormones to bones to blood sugar levels, the pineal gland, and more. (4)
Some of the metals that most commonly contribute to heavy metal toxicity are lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. (4) Today, metals are found in excess throughout our environment. Here are where some metals are typically found and various ways that they affect the body:
- Aluminum: found in aluminum foil, antiperspirants and aluminum cans, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
- Arsenic: found in pesticides and industrial uses, which can cause neuropathy, fluid in the soft tissues (edema), gastrointestinal issues and more.
- Lead: found in paint, dust, water and food. Lead builds up over time in the organs and can cause various symptoms such as lethargy, gastrointestinal dysfunction, kidney disease and altered mood states such as depression and anxiety.
- Mercury: often found in older forms of dentistry, and can lead to symptoms of mercury poisoning include fatigue, depression, sluggishness (lethargy), irritability, and headaches along with other behavioral disorders. (5)
Bacteria and other microbial imbalances
Balance in the human microbiome is incredibly important when it comes to immunity, inflammation, digestive function and autoimmunity. The human microbiome is defined as “the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment, creating a sort of ‘mini-ecosystem.’ Our human microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria (along with fungi and viruses), all of which call our bodies home.” (6) Scientists now understand that we have “about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells” in our bodies (7), and that “we are dependent on these bacteria to help digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria.(8)
Gut dysbiosis — when the delicate microbiome becomes imbalanced due to stress, parasites, toxins, over-use of antibiotics, or other factors — is a key contributing factor to autoimmune disorder. (9) This often occurs when the ratio of healthy bacteria is out of balance and an overgrowth of harmful ‘bad’ bacteria or fungus occurs, such as with SIBO (bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine) or Candida Albicans (a particular fungus that can present in a number of ways).
Gut imbalance typically occurs over time. Because it presents in various symptoms, it can often be mistaken for other causes, and so be overlooked. These symptoms can include fatigue, malaise, joint pain, and muscle pain. When these symptoms occur over a long period of time while the root cause goes unaddressed, it can lead to serious autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and various other illnesses.
To learn more about holistic practices for detoxification that your functional medicine or certified practitioner might suggest, read Part 2 in this series, “Holistic detox practices to balance the body, mind and spirit.”