CBD & Autoimmune Disease
By Dr. Frank MichalskiAutoimmune disease is on the rise, and unless you have been living under a rock it is impossible to ignore. This post is going to break down what autoimmune disease is, causative factors, statics, how CBD may help support a healthy immune response, and other lifestyle modifications that may impact autoimmune disease.
What are autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune disorders represent a mixed group of diseases in terms of clinical manifestations, pathogenesis, and prevalence. At the present time there is no common classification.1 Autoimmunity is the loss of tolerance to one’s own substances and can take place in several different ways.1 There is no single cause responsible for autoimmunity.1 The breakdown of tolerance can lead to an attack of the body’s own structures, as if they were foreign through various mechanisms.1 Genetics, environment, stress, nutrition, medication, and lifestyle can all influence autoimmune disease.
In short when an autoimmune disease is present antibodies and immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake. These tissues can include the heart, lungs, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, nerves, eyes, joints, kidneys, GI system, and the list goes on.This will eventually lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is believed to be both an underlying cause and result of autoimmune disorders. Recall from our previous post on inflammation. Inflammation can be good when your body is trying to fight infection of foreign bacteria, parasites, viruses, and injuries. When inflammation is chronic, the body is in a constant state of trying to “fight something off”, even if that something is your own body parts and organs. This cycle will eventually result in oxidative stress, and free radical production. (Keep reading to learn more about oxidative stress.)
Common Autoimmune Diseases:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Lyme Disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Guillain- Barre Syndrome
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Statics on Autoimmune Disease:
- 50 million Americans suffer with autoimmune disease.
- Autoimmune disease costs 100 billion dollars a year in health care and lost wages while cancer cost 50 billion.
- Consider this: Although autoimmune disease cost doubles that of cancer we spend $591 million a year on autoimmune disease research and $6.1 billion a year on cancer research.
- Autoimmune disease is the number one most popular health topic requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center. Autoimmune disease is in the top 10 leading causes of death in female women and children in all age groups up to 64 years of age.
- Researchers have identified 80-100 different autoimmune disease and suspect at 40 additional diseases.
- Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments lead to devastating long-term side effects.
- Medical education provides minimal learning about autoimmune disease.
- Specialists are generally unaware of interrelationships among the different autoimmune diseases.
- Research is generally disease specific and limited in scope.
What is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radical production and antioxidants in the body.2 Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons.2 Think of free radicals as highly unstable angry molecules that float around in the body. Think of electrons as “friends”. Electrons surround healthy atoms/cells in our bodies, and they prefer to come in even number pairs. A healthy atom/cell in our body is surrounded by an even number of electrons. Free radicals have uneven numbers of electrons and will stop at nothing to “get an even number of electron friends”. Free radicals will attack every cell in your body in order to obtain an even number of electrons, all at the expense of your body’s healthy cells and atoms. This process is literally what ages us and is one of the root causes behind autoimmune disease.
Studies have shown that patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome were all positive for markers of oxidative stress. Other studies have shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis had synovial joint fluid that was damaged due to oxidative stress.3Have you ever seen a banana rot or a car rust? This is due to oxidative stress and free radical production. This same “rusting” happens in our bodies on a cellular level. Read below to learn how to prevent free radical build up and oxidative stress.
What do antioxidants have to do with oxidative stress and free radical production?
Antioxidants are compounds found in foods, drinks, and supplements that fight free radical production and prevent cell damage. How do antioxidants do this? Antioxidants are able to give away an electron without becoming unstable. Antioxidants will give free radicals an electron before the free radical steals it from a healthy cell. Diet’s high in fruits and vegetables are super important for maintaining healthy amounts of antioxidants within our bodies.
Causes of oxidative stress and free radical production:
- Poor diets high in processed fats and sugars. Sugar will bind to healthy fats causing oxidation reactions and free radical production.
- Air Pollutants
- Tobacco (especially smoking, oxidative stress is what makes people who smoke look “aged”)
- Unbalanced stress hormones (consider cortisol testing)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- To much sun
- Lack of exercise
How does CBD oil support a healthy immune system?CBD oil is an antioxidant. First and foremost, let’s review the government patent on CBD. The patent states:
“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties. Cannabinoids may be useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage, following ischemic insults, such as stroke, trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV dementia”.
If you have been following this blog this should be enough to convince you CBD offers antioxidant benefits. The patent goes on to say cannabinoids, particularly CBD, avoids toxicity potential.
CBD is an anti-inflammatory6,7. Unlike the harsh immunosuppressive drugs (which shut down the immune system) CBD alters how the immune system works. If a person has an over active immune system it appears to slow it down, if a person has an underachiever immune system CBD appears to turn on that individual’s immune system. In our immune system there is an abundance of CB2 receptors. In some pre-clinical trials, activation of the CB2 receptors slows down the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals while increasing anti-inflammatory markers.
In essence this means that CBD may be able to blunt autoimmune activity. Even more exciting is that CBD does not appear to fully “turn off” the immune system response (unlike some immunosuppressive therapy), it simply “quiets down” an overactive immune system.6,7 For most, less inflammation also means less pain.
CBD has been shown to support a healthy mood, a healthy stress response, healthy sleep patterns, and healthy habits (nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and opioid withdrawal). When it comes to recovering from an autoimmune disease it’s ideal when each of the above issues are addressed, CBD may do just that! CBD has also been shown to help with GI health. GI health is of utmost importance when managing autoimmune disease and cannot be ignored.
Lifestyle Modification:CBD is best used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. Think of it this way. If you are suffering from a disease that is closely related to chronic inflammation, what happens If you are consuming extremely inflammatory foods? You are burning rubber and spinning your wheels. Think of trying to put out a fire with gasoline, this is what poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices are to autoimmune disease. I would recommend the book The Wahls Protocol. This is an excellent read for anyone suffering from autoimmune disease.
Author opinion:Based on my years of clinical practice I suspect the number of people suffering from clinical or subclinical autoimmune disease is much higher than estimated. All too often I will encounter patients who have seen countless doctors searching for answers, only to never obtain a specific disease diagnosis. These patients are left in pain, confused, and disheartened. In modern medicine without a diagnosis there is very infrequently offered a solution. I want to tell you there are options, you just have to know where to look. If you are suspicious of an autoimmune disease, clinical or subclinical, contact a Functional Medicine or naturopathic physician today.
PS: If you feel this blog post was meant for you, please read our blog on chronic inflammatory disease and blood work! You won’t be disappointed.
*This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Frank Michalski and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Frank Michalski nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
- Marisa Benagiano, Paola Bianchi, Mario Milco D'Elios, Ivo Brosens, Giuseppe Benagiano,
Autoimmune diseases: Role of steroid hormones, Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2019,
- Kumagai S1, Jikimoto T, and Saegusa J. (2003, Feb). Rinsho Byori. Pathological roles of oxidative stress in autoimmune diseases]. [Article in Japanese].
- Elliiot DM & Others. (2018, Aug). Frontiers in Immunology. Cannabidiol Attenuates Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis Model of Multiple Sclerosis Through Induction of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells.
In Good Health,
Dr. Frank Michalski
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