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Common Triggers of Autoimmune Diseases

May 11, 2022 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Genetics aren’t the only thing that causes an autoimmune disease. As it’s been said, genetics loads the gun, but something else pulls the trigger. There are a handful of so-called triggers that can launch a dormant disease into an active one. Why are these important?  If you can uncover and treat one of the one things that caused your autoimmune disease, you have a better chance of putting your disease into remission. Here are a few of the most common triggers and how to investigate them.

Most Common Triggers

  Heavy Metals

Heavy metals include things like lead, mercury, and silver. They’ve all been connected to autoimmune disease development. In fact, many reports of heavy metal-induced autoimmune disease traced back to over four decades ago.  It’s not fully understood how this happens. Some researchers believe that these metals can suppress your immune system or over-activate your lymphocytes.

There are unfortunately many different avenues for heavy metal exposure.
  • Lead can leak into drinking water from old pipes or contaminated soil.
  • Silver is found in many things. The people who are at most risk are those who work with silver daily. This includes people who work with jewelry, silver mining, and photographic processing. Silver can also be found in medications, silver fillings or dietary supplements containing silver.
  • Mercury is most commonly found in large predatory fish, dental amalgams and thermometers.

In order to investigate heavy metal toxicities or overload, there are both urine and blood tests for these. Getting a provoked urine test is controversial. What they do is give you a medication that helps your body release metals from the cells. Obviously, that will inflate the levels of heavy metals in your body so you have to really work with someone who is qualified to interpret the results when you do this.


There is well documented research linking the connection between viruses and autoimmune diseases. Viruses are another trigger for an immune response. For some viruses like Epstein Barr and herpes, the B cells make autoantibodies or antibodies against the body’s own proteins. One reason why this happens is that the immune system gets a little confused as to what the target virus is. In addition, the more intense the virus is, the more confusion it can cause. Another reason is viruses may cause tissue damage. This damage may release self-antigens from the body. When this happens, those self-antigens can become accidental targets of the immune system. While this can happen to almost anyone, it takes additional triggers to push someone into a full-blown autoimmune disease.

Some researchers suspect that it can happen when there’s already a lot of inflammation present. Others may be genetically predisposed to having failure and their immune regulatory function. Having that virus tips them over the edge.  If you think that you may have a virus that’s causing your autoimmune disease, you can have some blood tests run to determine if you have a dormant virus that has turned active in your body. 


Parasites are organisms like worms or protozoa, that live in a person’s body and feeds off of them. Most people who have them get them from contaminated drinking water, and food. or even bug bites.  There are many different kinds of parasites. Some are more harmful than others.  The connection between parasites and autoimmune diseases is still up for debate. Parasites can trigger type two inflammation in the body which activates the immune system. These worms and bugs may also cause tissue damage, which can cause a reaction similar to what you see in viruses.

There’s also some discussion around the benefits of certain parasites called helminth parasites. These worms may actually lower the inflammatory response. Testing for parasitic infections can sometimes be tricky. There are stool tests that generally are used to test for them but sometimes you can get false negatives if your stool doesn’t happen to contain a parasite.  There are a few specialty labs around the country that are better at testing for these than others.  Again, you must work with someone who is qualified to handle parasites.


Stress can be a huge trigger for chronic diseases in general, but this includes autoimmune diseases.  For one, stress can trigger a leaky gut, which allows for more foreign objects to sneak into circulation for the body to attack. Second, stress can actually modify your gut microbiome to a less diverse makeup. Lastly, stress exacerbates inflammation.  In my personal experience in living with an autoimmune disease, my stress levels are directly correlated to my disease activity. When things get very stressful for me, my joint pain definitely ratchets up a few notches.  And it’s not just me, I hear the same complaint from many of my clients.  For more information on stress, check out this blog post on stress, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.


A few of the most common triggers of autoimmune diseases are heavy metals, viruses, parasites, and stress. Uncovering your triggers may help further you on your healing journey. For more information about how to work with me, please go to my contact page to either schedule a free discovery call or send me a message. You can also follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

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