Can Improving Gut Function Improve Auto-Immune Disease?

I was recently on a Dublin Radio Show promoting my talks on Auto-Immune Disease and Gut-Barrier Function. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system becomes dysregulatied and attacks cells of the body, mistaken them for foreign invaders. Common types of autoimmune disease include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel disease, Hashimoto’s, Type 1 Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis.

At certain times the immune system will flare up and it’s during these times that it will mount its attack on various tissues of the body. While there is no ‘cure’ for autoimmune disease, flare ups can be set off by the food we eat as well as various toxins in the body.

70% of the immune system is in the gut and it’s the first place our immune systems comes into contact with foreign substances. It’s imperative then that our guts function well in order to avoid unnecessarily triggering of our immune system. Dr. Allesio Fasano discovered that the gut can become porous or leaky and allow substances such as undigested food particles to enter the body, which can trigger the immune system to flare up. His research also points out that if we strengthen the gut barrier we can prevent triggering antigens from entering the body and thus reduce or prevent auto-immune flare ups.

In this radio show I’ll be looking some of the things we can do to heal out guts and promote a healthy immune system. Check it out!


Presenter: Ciarán, I came across you on Facebook there the other day and unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to you last week because you were giving a talk yesterday on health. Do you want to start off telling us a little bit about it? I know the talk is over, but what an interesting subject that you have to talk about. I was just absolutely overwhelmed when I read the article about it.

Ciarán: Okay, brilliant, yeah. The talk last night was basically on auto-immunities. S0 just in case anyone’s wondering there, an auto-immunity’s something like multiple-sclerosis, hashimotos, coeliac, arthritis, diabetes type Presenter. It’s basically about when the body attacks itself- when the immune system attacks itself, that’s an auto-immune disease. And what I was looking at specifically was how the gut and your digestion is actually related to that. So, what’s basically the idea, this researcher called Alessio Fasano, he came up with this idea that in order for you to have an auto-immune disease you’ve got to have some sort of genetic susceptibility, you’ve got to have some sort of trigger. So there’d have to be something in the environment that’s actually triggering your immune system to actually react in that way- it might be some food that you eat, it might be that you have some heavy metals in your system, it could be something else- and he also said you have to have this thing called intestinal permeability.


Presenter: Right


Ciarán: Which means that your gut- the walls of your gut have to become kind of leaky, so that stuff is actually getting through them that isn’t actually getting through them and that’s going to trigger the immune system. So about 70% of your immune system is actually in your gut so the vast majority of your immune system is actually down there inside your gut, so that’s the first place your immune system often comes in contact with things from the outside world. So that’s where it kind of primes itself and learns about what’s good, what’s bad, what should I be attacking, what should I not be attacking.

Presenter: Mm hmm.

Ciarán: So for people with auto-immune disease; let’s say they have hashimotos thyroiditis, that’s a condition where the immune system is attacking the thyroid gland. And normally the western drug based approach would be to simply give more thyroid hormone, because the gland’s being attacked so the levels of thyroid hormone are going to go down, so we’ll just boost up the levels of thyroid hormone. But really it’s not looking at why is the immune system actually attacking it. The way to really get at that, and the only way to really get at it at the moment as far as we know is by modulating what we- the structure of the gut and helping the digestion as well and this can actually help that kind of condition. So, as I’m saying, this thing called intestinal permeability- or leaky gut as it’s been nicknamed- what doctor Fasano found was that when the gut barrier was actually quite strong and when you actually heal the gut lining a lot of things that are getting into the blood stream and getting in to the body stop getting in, and that stops triggering the immune system so people show much better. Their symptoms really come down and they get a lot less flare ups.

Presenter:It must be hard then to pinpoint what it actually is that’s actually getting into the gut in some cases?

Ciarán: It is, yeah. For a lot of people, taking gluten out of their diet can have massive affects. Just doing that one thing for some people; that will be enough. For other people it’s going to be more complex and they’re going to have to figure it out. Like, half the time I’ll do an elimination challenge diet with the clients where I’ll put them on quite a strict diet for a little while where they’re eating really good food, really clean food, but not a lot of things, like they wouldn’t have soy or dairy or wheat or anything like that for a while. And then I’ll start reintroducing foods one at a time and see what happens. Often you’ll see the symptoms just come right down once they go on the strict diet; they’re not getting flare ups anymore, energy returns, they’re feeling much better in every way, you know? And suddenly then you’re introducing stuff and they’re getting flare ups again, so you kind of know that’s one of the triggers there.

Presenter: Ciarán, you know something that would strike you there, now I wonder if you’re not eating something as well, could it have an affect on your gut as well?

Ciarán: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously one of the big things these days, I mean, we’re all kind of aware of it now from all the Yakult ads and all that-

Presenter: Yeah.

Ciarán: -would be the microbiome, the healthy bacteria, making sure we’ve got enough of those in our guts, you know?

Presenter: Yeah.

Ciarán: And I mean, that’s all about getting a good balance between the good bugs and the bad bugs you know? And at the moment it’s a really hot topic of research, there’s loads and loads being done on it and in the next few decades we’re going to see a whole lot of new understanding of what’s actually happening there. But what we know is that the good bugs, they really heal the gut, they release off the chemicals that actually make the lining of the gut repair itself. Without these bugs, the gut would actually die. There’s some experiments on rats where they’ve actually taken- sterilised the guts and quite quickly their digestion falls apart; it won’t actually even work. It just won’t work without these, so it’s a totally symbiotic relationship we have with them. At the same time the bad bugs are actually trying to dismantle your digestion so they can basically eat your food instead of you being able to digest it properly, you know?

Presenter: Yes.

Ciarán: So, a lot of the time a lot of the foods we’re actually given today that are just commonly found on the shelves are high in sugar, high in carbohydrates like white flour or those sorts of things and people develop a sweet tooth. We naturally have a sweet tooth, it’s really to get us to eat more fruit probably, but basically because we have all these foods- refined foods on the shelves, we eat them, they tend to feed all these bad bugs.

Presenter: Yeah.

Ciarán: And they tend to cause dysbiosis, they tend to cause things like candida to really start growing. We all have candida in our guts but it can become pathogenic if we feed it the wrong stuff.

Presenter: Candida!

Ciarán: Yeah, you heard of candida?

Presenter: Never heard of it.

Ciarán: Yeah, it’s like a fungus and pretty much everyone has it in their gut, but if you start eating lots of carbohydrates and lots of sugary foods it will start- it will become kind of pathogenic. It actually changes shape and grows these little tentacles and starts burrowing into the side of your gut. Other things like clostridia and types of E. coli and these types of bugs, they can start growing inside your gut and they’ll replace all the normal lactobacillus and all the other healthy bacteria that you’ve got in there. Then the problem is that they’re producing all the chemicals that will destroy your gut, you know? So really having a diet based on more fibrous foods- obviously we hear we should be eating vegetables and vegetables should be a large part of everyone’s diet because it’s what our ancestors would have been roaming around for hundreds of thousands of years eating. So those kinds of foods are full of fibre and they’re the kinds of foods that feed all the good bacteria as well, so you want to be getting lots of those kinds of foods. Then also fermented foods, if anyone’s heard of kefir or kombucha or kimchi, sauerkraut these types of things. A lot of the time you can actually buy- you make them yourself now with starter cultures and stuff, but you can actually buy them in health food- sorry, in polish shops, you know these kinds of Lithuanian, Polish, Latvian shops you see all around town now? A lot of these- their traditional foods a lot of the time, they ate these fermented foods you know, so they’ll sell them on the shelf. But the only thing is, if you’re buying foods like that you always want to make sure you get them out of the fridge and not out of the shelf because if they’re off the shelf they’ve been pasteurised and that means that all the bacteria are now dead, there’s no healthy bacteria in them anymore. So you make sure you get them out of the fridge because that’s where all the live cultures will still be there. So all pickled foods are good sources as well-

Presenter: Really?

Ciarán: -you have to get them out of the fridge. Yeah.

Presenter: I love pickled onions now and gherkins and stuff like that, so am I okay to a certain extent? Now, I know I’m not okay because after listening to you there I’m like taking my notes here and I know I’m so unhealthy. Especially the one, candida that you said there- I’m eating sweets and carbohydrates, I am a glutton now for- but funny enough that you say about sugary stuff and that. People do get addicted to it. I didn’t used to eat so much sweets and there, I think it was just after Halloween, there was a few bits and pieces hanging around the house and low and behold we’re nearly at the end of February and from someone who never really ate sweets, I’m kind of eating sweets nearly every day. And, I suppose another question that I have for you is how bad can your gut get before you notice that there’s something wrong?

Ciarán: Yeah, usually by the time you’ve noticed something wrong it’s gotten to a pretty bad stage. So you can all have- dysbiosis is the name for when you know you’ve got too much bad stuff and not enough good stuff- so we can all have a bit of dysbiosis going on and not really know about it, our guts getting weaker and then eventually- it could come out anything, the first things that people usually notice is bloating, gas, cramps, that sort of thing. That can be a problem for some people. For other people though, they might just be getting eczema flare ups-

Presenter: Wow!

Ciarán: I would always track that back to the gut if someone’s getting eczema, skin problems, that sort of thing; I’d always start looking at the gut. Basically, I’d start looking at food intolerances and things through there. So they might not be showing something directly in the gut, you know what I mean?

Presenter: yeah, that’s very interesting about the eczema.

Ciarán: It really depends on the individual there, but obviously if you’re getting any bloating, gas, cramps. Also, you know, stools; they should be coming out- gross to be talking on radio- but they should be coming out nice, kind of healthy, you know a brown banana shape. If it’s coming out like a cow pat or something you know there’s something happening there, you know, things are not digesting properly.

Presenter: Ugh, okay. Well, now, look. Come here, everybody does a poo, you have to talk about it, you know what I mean? Like, I was going to ask you about colonic irrigation. Have you any insight into colonic irrigation and would you link colonic irrigation with the gut. I think I was interviewing somebody before and they said everybody should have a colonic and prevention is better than cure and so forth. And I was discussing this with somebody there yesterday and they said that is pure bullshit. And I said, ‘really?’ I said, because I was an experiment for this person that was doing this colonic irrigation. Felt great after it, lost a few pounds, the usual she-bang, you know? And this person that I was talking about said ‘no, there’s absolutely no benefit to your health of having a colonic’. Where the person who had done the colonic for me told me ‘oh my God, you don’t know how good this is for your body- you can prevent this, you can prevent that, you can prevent the other’. So, like, your colon is- I suppose your gut and your colon are too huge things in your body, do you have any insight onto that?

Ciarán: Really I’d say colonic irrigation; it’s about getting impacted fecal matter out of the colon. If someone’s had a bad diet for a really long time with not enough fibre in their diet they can become constipated. They literally get blocked up and things just get stuck and impacted into the wall of the colon. So that’s where colonic irrigation come up and it can actually, you know take a lot of that matter that’s just kind of sitting there out because all of those toxins will actually slowly get reabsorbed back into it as well which is just work for your liver to do which just kind of brings you down-

Presenter: Very good. Like, that’s a good point there that it’s working for your liver. Irish people, we have enough stuff for our liver to be doing, let’s face it.

Ciarán: That’s it, yeah, you know. And you know, we’re living in the 21st century where we’ve car fumes and busy roads, something like 80 thousand different chemicals now in our households that we never had before and it’s a lot of work. Our livers actually never evolved to deal with all of this, do you know what I mean? We never needed this level of detoxification before.

Presenter: Yes, yes.

Ciarán: So it is a lot of work and it does actually impact people’s health greatly, and it impacts the way people feel. One of the things is I talk about going on elimination challenges are there are always- the idea is they’re temporary for the person. But what I often find is that with clients and myself, with friends, with everyone who’s done it now- people start feeling really great. People start feeling really great, you know, they’re just happy, you know?

Presenter: Yeah.

Ciarán: They’re just walking down the road and they’re just like, ‘you know I’m just feeling really content in life and usually I’m worrying about something there’, you know what I mean? So I have to say the psychological benefit of actually cleaning up your diet and stuff is actually quite immense and if you can get people to that stage, it takes a while to get to that stage, but all of a sudden people are reluctant- they’re kind of not wanting to come back to the old ways because they’re kind of going, ‘I’m actually just feeling quite content now all the time’. You wonder if that’s what a human- a fully functioning, healthy human should really be like, do you know what I mean? If we were all kind of the picture of health but basically nobody is in the modern world the way things are, you know?

Presenter: It makes sense and it’s really smart too. You know something Ciarán, that liver thing too- I mean, wow, that’s huge those things that you touched on there that we didn’t have years ago and now that our liver has to cope with. Now getting back to our actual gut and all the problems it causes if we’re not looking after it or if there is something going against the grain so to say. If I was with you- so you are a health coach and nutritionist- so if I came to you what kind of tests would I be getting?

Ciarán: So, it really depends. Basically, I do tests if it’s going to change the treatment. So sometimes I can just see by a person’s symptoms, I’ve asked them a lot of questions, found out a lot about them and I can kind of see; look, if we start following this protocol things are going to get better. So I mightn’t go down the line of actually functional testing, you know?

Presenter: Yeah

Ciarán: So I might just work off that. But other tests that might be useful would be like, stool analysis tests.

Presenter: Oo.

Ciarán: Basically send it off to the lab and it comes back with whether you’ve got candida, different types of species of bacteria. They can’t track them all, there’s 500 in everyone’s gut you know, and they track some of the main offenders and they kind of find out what’s going on there you know?

Presenter: I suppose it sounds disgusting, but it’s life saving.

Ciarán: Yeah, well, It really is. And it can help someone kind of realise if they’ve got all this different types of pathogens going on, then we can put together protocols that really target working with that more specifically. And they can see if you’re missing certain strains of good bacteria that would be having an affect on the main health of your gut as well. Because as I say you need these good bacteria to be kind of cleaning and repairing your gut for you all the time, so that would really help with that as well. There’s another great test you can get done as well these days called an organic acids test and basically all these different types of bacteria and stuff, they all produce these different chemicals, that makes its way into your bloodstream, comes out through your kidneys and you pee it out, so it’s a urine test. Basically it will give you lots of markers for all these different types of things as well, but I kind of find it interesting because you’ll find things like HPAA which is a chemical produced by a bug called clostridia. Now the interesting thing about that is it blocks the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, so dopamine can start getting very high in the brain and you get like almost these obsessive compulsive disorders and it’s very high in children with autism, so it’s kind of a marker you know for repetitive behaviour and getting stuck in certain patterns. So, buy finding that- this is what I’m saying about the microbiome, the science about it is becoming huge right now because they realise that these bugs really are affecting our behaviour, our moods, the way we deal with things, our cognition, everything is actually being affected by all of that. So you can start then taking protocols to eliminate, say, the clostridia, you then start reducing this chemical and then start having the affect on the behaviour as well and the way people think and feel basically too.

Presenter: That is just absolutely-

Ciarán: Huge.

Presenter: Yeah, it’s uncanny this stuff. I have a texter in there; ‘Les, what can be done for acne, reflux, heartburn. I’m getting reflux and heartburn all the time’. How can we help that texter?

Ciarán: The interesting thing about reflux, heartburn- GERD as it’s called as well, gastrointestinal reflux disorder, is people assume that it’s too much acid in the stomach that’s causing the problem when it’s actually too little. What’s happening is the stomach’s not producing enough acid so it starts squelching very, very hard. It’s like a kind of washing machine or like trying to clean a dish cloth or something with your hands, you know you’re just kind of squelching it. That actually pushes the acid then up the oesophagus. And the oesophageal sphincter between the stomach and the throat becomes weak so that pushes the acid up along there. So people go straight for the antacids and they want to dampen down that acid further because they don’t want to get that affect, but the net result is that you’re actually weakening your stomach more and more over time and you’re actually making the problem worse.

Presenter: Wow.

Ciarán: So what you want to do is actually get yourself some good digestive enzymes. I had terrible digestive problems all through my early 20’s so they were absolutely life saving for me I have to say. So, good digestive enzymes, you take them with your food instead and they will actually digest the food properly for you and then you won’t get the heartburn and you’re not actually weakening the problem either. Now there could be further problems, there could be some H. pylori there, that could be a cause of heartburn as well so you might need to go further to see if that’s there to try and eliminate that. You can get a breath test done where you breathe out and there’s certain gas there that will tell you if you’ve got the H. pylori or not. But that would be the way to go with your heartburn anyway.

Presenter: Brilliant, thanks Ciarán. Now Ciarán, I was just reading a little blurb that you put up there on the internet yourself and you have here ‘an inflamed gut leads to triggering the immune system which affects many other parts of the body’ which you have told us about, but something there you haven’t touched on- a lot of people might be interested in this- is your sinuses.

Ciarán: Yes, sinuses-

Presenter: You’d never think- you wouldn’t think something that’s in your gut could be having an affect on your sinus, and then you go on to say what you already told us about the hashimotos, MS, neurological disorder, crohns- wow, and lupus and arthritis. We need to really look after our gut when we’re hearing these facts from you and to be having tests on them. I mean so many people suffer from sinuses and they put it down to pollen and they take antihistamines when in fact it could be something to do with their gut.

Ciarán: Yes, absolutely, it’s going to be both. With the sinutitis it could be allergy to dust or something, or pollen and that’s triggering it there but really the immune system is in this hyper state. It’s hyped up and a lot of the time what’s going on in the gut will affect that as well because the immune system’s systemic through the body, it’s not just in one area, you know? So when an inflammation goes off in one it tends to trigger inflammation in other places too, or it can do anyway. So taking care of your gut will really, really help that. And again, it’s getting back to what Doctor Alessio Fasano was saying about building up the lining  of the gut. Once you strengthen, repair and heal the lining of the gut then you become less reactive to things. I’ll just kind of give an example of my own, as I said, terrible problems in my own 20’s. When I was younger I had very bad asthma, very bad sinutitis, wheezing all the time, I’d start sneezing and I’d literally be in bits all day long kind of crying and nose running and sneezing and just completely unfunctional. I wouldn’t be able to do much that day. I also had very bad asthma, was always wheezing- I’d do too much sport and get all wheezy and heavy breathing. And it was just quite by accident- I had a brother who decided he wanted to be vegan there and then he told me to try soy milk instead of normal milk, cow’s milk. So I cut out the cow’s milk and then amazingly enough the asthma kind of disappeared and the sinutitis didn’t completely go away but a lot of it disappeared then after that. So I was kind of wondering, well what’s the problem there, you know? And then I realised, well I must be lactose intolerant, casein intolerant or something- I dunno- must be just one of those type of people, you know?

Presenter: Yeah, yeah. That’s unbelievable!

Ciarán: The interesting thing then was though that I went on- so, I stayed off milk but I still went on to develop all sorts of gut problems, just all sorts of problems going on. Basically everything that could go wrong with me was going wrong and so I had to start really learning about the gut, and healing the gut, and taking all these protocols and cutting out all these different foods, and going very strict on myself to try to get better. And it did get better. The amazing thing was though- so obviously I’ve really healed the gut well and I’ve fixed all that, is that now if I was to go and drink a glass of milk or something, I wouldn’t get any problems.

Presenter: Yeah.

Ciarán: Now, I don’t drink milk very often. But if I had a latte or something basically with a glass of milk in it, I just don’t get the problems now. And the reason why is that is because the gut wall is now quite very strong, do you know what I mean?

Presenter: Yes. Wow.

Ciarán: It’s going to take a certain level of insults before it’s actually going to react.

Presenter: Oh! I love the way you put it Ciarán, ‘a certain amount of insults’!

 Ciarán: Yeah.

Presenter: So, basically, you were probably just one of the lucky ones in regard to- that your brother had changed this eating habit and you tried the soy milk and bingo, it worked for you. And you are helping other people because of what happened to you. I really like that ‘ a lot of insults before you can attack it’ so to speak.

Ciarán: Yeah, yes. So, I guess that’s- basically every time you’re putting something in that isn’t going to agree with your body, you are sort of insulting it. But it’s obviously going to, the stronger it is the less affect that’s going to have. With the sinutitis, that’s never been an issue for me- never for years and years I haven’t had any problems at all with it. So as I say, now here’s the interesting thing, I got an allergy test before and I did show up as being allergic to dust. And it was dust that was triggering my sinuses, so I was getting- as a teenager I would be hoovering my room, I had the cleanest room for a teenager ever that ever existed you know?

Presenter: My God, where did your mother get you! Hoovering your room all the time?!

Ciarán: I know! I was always just trying to get the dust out of the place, I just didn’t want to get these attacks. I knew if something dusty got in my face I’d be getting these attacks. But the thing is now that if I was doing a bit of cleaning and something a bit dusty kind of got in my face, I might start sneezing a little bit for a little while but it would clear up and go away and it wouldn’t be a problem- it wouldn’t be this major constant attack of where my eyes are running and my nose is running that was happening before. And that’s all from healing the gut. My immune system is so much calmer now than it used to be, it’s not on red alert all the time basically.

Presenter: Brilliant advice there Ciarán for people. And it’s such a huge subject, we could talk about it all day. We’re going to have to wrap it up unfortunately. Before I do let you go, what’s your advice to people, what’s the procedure, how do we go about getting help here and what can you do for people out there- there was one thing you touched on there and I never really got a change to elaborate on it- that’s the eczema, change in your diet and stuff like that. So just say for example, someone like me, I have a little bit of eczema now the last few months and I’m thinking now ‘what the hell is going on?’. But like that, as we’d been going through the course of the conversation I’d been telling you I’d been eating sweets since Halloween, so maybe that could be something to do- but say for the likes of me I’m not 100% sure that it’s that and I want to know, what are you going to tell me to do?

Ciarán: Well just off the bat, well obviously you’ve got to go through the gut healing protocol but I would look at basically reducing sugar for a start-

Presenter: Right.

Ciarán: Taking sugar out. It’s very pro-inflammatory in your body, so looking at cutting that down a lot as well. And you’re going to give your whole system a break, you’re going to give your liver a break, there’s nothing that it doesn’t really affect in a bad way unfortunately as much as everybody loves it. So reducing sugar, and then I’d start taking more of those probiotic foods as well that I was talking about, starting putting them in your daily diet. You know, for some people if they buy kefir they think ‘but I have to drink a litre of that stuff’, but you don’t. You can even start with like, a tablespoon a day or something and kind of build yourself up.

Presenter: Kefir?

Ciarán: Kefir. You can get it in, as I said, any of these kind of ethnic European shops-

Presenter: Very good. Yeah, very good.

Ciarán: Just make sure you’re getting it out of the fridge. Really good, it’s got 50 species of really good bacteria in it. When you think about it, normally when you buy a pill off the shelf at a health food store you get around eight species- five or eight species of bacteria- here you’re getting 50 species of bacteria so you’re getting so much more out of that type of food and getting it out of food that way as well.

Presenter: I’ll be getting that because I’ve been now trying to get my multivitamins and stuff into me. Ciarán, tell the listeners, how can we get- do you do consultations for people? Can people contact you if they want to have word or advice? You area a life coach too- or rather, a health coach, so how can we get in contact with you, what’s the procedure there?

Ciarán: So you can check out my website, it’s, and that’s Ciarán with a ‘C’. And also, you can call me as well, my number- if I can give it out?

Presenter: Yeah, sure.

Ciarán: Is 086 225 7906. So if people want to ring, have a chat and see, you know, they can tell me what’s going on and I can tell them if I can help them and what we can do from there. I have a clinic in Ballsbridge so I’m working on the south side. But also for people who find it hard to travel or anything like that, I can do phone consultations as well, so there’s easy access in that way as well.

Presenter: Lovely. Ah, Ciarán, it was lovely talking to you this morning. What a great insight into things there, I really and truly- like, our gut, what the hell are we doing! I love the way you’re talking about the liver and everything. And there’s so many things there that we didn’t actually know about and I could talk to you all day about my own problems, and I’m sure other people too. And the person that texted in there, I hope that you’re answer was beneficial. But once again, really and truly many, many thanks to you for coming on. And before the end of the program I’ll be giving out your information as well. And maybe some time you’ll be coming on again, and before one of your talks the next time, instead of getting you after the talk, I”ll get you before it.

Ciarán: Yeah. Absolutely.

Presenter: Lovely. Ciarán, thanks ever so much and continuing success to yourself.



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