Why Oral Tolerance Is So Important For Health
You may have noticed that recently, I’ve been writing about some obscure health topics.
For a long time, I focused on a lot of the more common things you can do to help improve health… well, at least common in the more holistic circles.
Certainly modifying diet, and optimizing hormones are not go-to remedies in the traditional world of medicine.
However, the more I learn about integrative and functional health, the more I begin to understand how other facets of human biology need to be addressed to help people make meaningful gains in health.
This is especially true when the common and obvious things have been addressed and issues remain.
Oral tolerance is one of those aspects of human biology that the medical world doesn’t focus on, but is a key player in health, especially as it relates to auto-immunity.
Auto-immune issues (where your body begins to attack itself because it believes that its tissue is a foreign entity) are responsible for many of the chronic conditions I see in my office.
And oral tolerance plays a big part in whether or not a person develops auto-immune issues.
In this article, I’ll show you what oral tolerance is, how an impairment in this pathway can lead to a host of problems as well as how to address it
What Is Oral Tolerance?
Oral tolerance is something we use to help build our immune systems.
When we’re born our immune systems are practically non-existent. Most of the immune system we build in the first 6 months of life is passed on to us by our mother.
After 6 months or so our body’s mucosal system (think, eyes, nose, ears, and other orifices that potential bacteria could invade) begin to form immune responses to pathogens.
Note: Pathogens are what you’d consider microscopic bugs, things like bacteria and viruses.
Antigen is a broader description of molecules or molecular structures that can trigger an immune response. They’re any foreign particulate matter, like a food protein, a pollen grain, a chemical, etc. that can bind to a specific antibody or T-cell receptor and possibly trigger an immune response.
At the same time that your body begins to send a ton of immune system agents to your mucosal membranes, it’s also doing a lot of work to help beef up security in your mouth, which is your body’s main inlet for potentially damaging particles.
Why the mouth?
Two reasons. One is because pathogens (think bacteria and viruses) can invade through your mouth.
The other is because your mouth is the primary way that potential antigens (food for instance) can make it into your body.
Your mouth is incredibly important for setting the tone of your body’s natural immune responses, and this is where the concept of immune tolerance comes in.
John Coden, CEO of selfhack.com, explains oral tolerance in this way:
Oral tolerance is when you ingest a given protein and you become tolerant to that protein.
Think about this in terms of evolution. If you chronically ingest a given protein or ingest a very large dosage of said protein, it would be advantageous for you to develop a tolerance and not attack it.
This is because, in both situations, the likely scenario is that we wouldn’t be eating a huge amount of a pathogen or chronically ingesting it.
If we’re only exposed to certain kinds of foods, we‘d be more likely to survive if we could build a tolerance to it.
Tolerance to ingested proteins is essential for the barrier function of the intestinal tract i.e. to prevent leaky gut.
Breakdown of tolerance is associated with the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as food allergies and celiac disease.
Though the mechanisms aren’t completely understood, oral tolerance works by deactivating T and B cells that target our tissues – either by getting rid of them or by making them not respond to proteins anymore (clonal deletion and energy). The other mechanism is by Tregs directly suppressing these cells.
What he’s saying is oral tolerance is akin to building up immunity to a thing so that when it’s presented to us in low amounts our bodies don’t mount full-scale attacks on themselves.
Oral tolerance is needed to help de-escalate already present inflammation and could be used as an adjunct to other protocols to reduce chronic inflammation and diseases related to it.
Now, not many people are aware of oral tolerance as it’s a relatively new field of study and much of the scientific literature remains “on the shelves” so to speak.
It’s hard to say what exactly can be done to induce oral tolerance for certain conditions as we’re discovering how different antigens affect different aspects of our immune system response.
The most important thing here is to realize that what we eat can affect us beyond just obvious allergic reactions (as in the case of a peanut allergy) and can do a lot more damage internally…but that there may be ways to help induce enhanced oral tolerance so our bodies don’t always feel the need to mount a full-scale immune response.
Well, as I mentioned, we’re still learning about oral tolerance, but there are some simple starting points and suggestions that are designed to help with oral tolerance and could also help boost other components of immune response to support great health.
How to Build Oral Tolerance and Improve Auto-Immune Reactions
1 - Focus on Diet:
I know at the beginning I mentioned that oral tolerance is a departure from the common admonition of getting your diet right.
However, altering your diet to improve your body’s ability to resist negative immune responses as it relates to oral tolerance is a bit different than simply eating well.
For instance, you’ll want to avoid lectins with diet, and or even try something known as an elemental diet.
Lectins are present in almost all plant-based foods and are there to serve as defense mechanisms for the plant they come from.
As I’ve written about before, (the ancestral movement and the carnivore diet) are great for many people with auto-immune issues because they are free of many of these irritants that cause an immune response to be activated.
Lectins are a low-level toxin and if you’ve been ingesting too many of them and never built up a tolerance then reducing intake to next to zero could serve you well as you programmatically reintroduce them later.
You could also try something like an elemental diet.
The Cleveland Clinic writes the following about elemental diets and how they can help cure a person of chronic issues:
“The elemental diet is a liquid meal replacement diet that offers a complete nutritional profile broken down into its most “elemental” form. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down into amino acids, short-chain triglycerides, and short-chain maltodextrins, combined with vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. These dietary “building blocks” are easily absorbed in the upper digestive tract, allowing the rest of your digestive system to rest and recover from illness or injury. Several prescription and non-prescription formulas are available on the market. They come in a liquid or powder form designed to be mixed with water. They can be taken orally or enterally (through a tube).“
I don’t recommend an elemental diet unless you’re in discussions with a physician about this, but it is an option.
Eating a ton of animal-based products, including organ meats, is also great for helping round out your diet to help enhance oral tolerance.
Additionally, supplements can help out a great deal.
Why? Because they help your body assimilate proteins and reduce immune response.
A sample of what you could take is below.
These should be taken with the foods you’re eating as they’ll help ameliorate immune response.
- Slippery elm
These are all good starting points, and in the future, I plan to write more on oral tolerance as I learn more about it.
Consider this, an introduction, to something sure to be a developing story in how we improve health!