• The Connection Between the Digestive System and Autoimmune Diseases

    by Dr. Payal Bhandari
    on Jan 31st, 2018

An autoimmune disease is a disease that changes the way the human body views a specific part or feature of the body. It can actually cause the body to change its immune response and to send blood cells to fight off an infection that does not exist. Many people today do not realize that there is a like between the digestive system and autoimmune diseases. This connection can occur because the foods people eat cause an abnormal reaction or because they cannot process certain types of food. An integrative medicine physician can help you learn more about these conditions.

Types of Digestive Autoimmune Diseases

One of the first things to look at are the top digestive autoimmune diseases. While there are several autoimmune diseases connected to the digestive system, the following ones are the most common:

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes ulcers to form in the colon and rectum. Many people find that they have IBD after eating foods that are rich or heavy or after overeating. When you finish a large holiday dinner, for example, you may suffer from stomach cramps and other types of stomach pains that leave you unable to sit or stand. The pain can cause quite a bit of discomfort and leave you feeling miserable. It also presents via blood in the stool. The blood appears in your stool because you have bleeding ulcers and your stool mixes with that blood when moving through the rectum.

IBD patients can also suffer from frequent diarrhea. Other symptoms can include fatigue and anemia because your body cannot replenish blood as quickly as it loses it. Problems with your immune system can lead to the system attacking the colon and rectum, which makes the ulcers even worse.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is much more common than UC and presents with some of the same symptoms.  Crohn’s disease occurs because your body misidentifies something in the digestive tract as a disease or toxin and fights back against it. Many people with this condition have blood in their stool, feel tired and have problems digesting certain foods.

One of the more harmful effects of Crohn's is that it doesn't impact just one area of the body. It can cause symptoms in your mouth, throat, esophagus and through the entire digestive tract. Those diagnosed with this disease will find that they have a difficult time eating certain foods. They typically cannot eat foods that are spicy or rich because those foods with exacerbate their symptoms.  It is critical to see an integrative medicine physician about your symptoms since the root cause of the disease must be addressed to allow for the disease to go into remission.

Celiac Disease

Another common autoimmune disease is Celiac disease. It is often difficult to diagnosis because the disease affects people differently. The main commonality is that people with Celiac disease cannot properly digest the gluten protein. When they eat gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine lining, which leads to patients suffering symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, and vomiting.

There is a big difference between having a gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. People with a gluten intolerance exhibit far fewer symptoms but may feel tired and suffer from some stomach pains after consuming wheat such as in bread, pasta, and beer.  Most people tend to feel sleepy and lethargic after eating large amount of wheat. It's possible to also exhibit symptoms of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease without actually having the disease.

Connections Between the Digestive System and Autoimmune Diseases

Inflammation is the main connection between autoimmune diseases and the digestive system. When you eat certain poorly digested foods, swelling will develop within your internal organs. Your autoimmune system then views that inflammation as a toxin or a disease that it needs to treat. It attacks that organ to stop the inflammation but actually makes the swelling worse. Red meat, dairy products, wheat, and alcohol are great examples of items that cause inflammation. When you suffer from a common digestive issue and eat a slice of pizza with a glass of wine, your intestines may begin to swell hours later. As the body fights back, the swelling can worsen.

You can also suffer from any of these conditions because of a lack of good bacteria in your digestive tract. While many people assume that all bacteria is bad bacteria, the human body actually relies on some types of good bacteria in order to absorb essential nutrients and have a strong immune system. A healthy balance of good bugs within your digestive tract keeps your bowel movements regular and helps you healthy.  Taking a laxative or antibiotics can be quite harmful to your digestive system since many good bacteria are eliminated from your body. Your immune system will then send more agents to fight the bad bacteria, which can leave you feeling sick. Even consuming an unhealthy diet can eliminate the good bacteria from your body.

Wheat, red meat, dairy products, and sugar are far from the only foods that can trigger an immune system attack. Those diagnosed with some of these conditions often have a difficult time processing many high calorie foods.  For example, chocolate, fish, and tomatoes can also trigger an attack.

Work with a Renounced Integrative Functional Medicine Physician in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, but when you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you may avoid eating out because you do not know how your body will react to the dishes that you consume.

Working with an integrative functional medicine physician in San Francisco who specializes in the digestive system and autoimmune disorders can help you learn more about the connection between your symptoms and how to effectively cope with your condition.


Dr. Payal N. Bhandari, M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco. She specializes in the digestive, immune and endocrine systems since they are at the heart of inflammation and most chronic diseases. Through personalized medicine, Dr. Bhandari effectively restores patients’ health. Book an appointment today!

Author Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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