Autoimmune Disease is part of the rising tide of chronic illness known to affect the developed world, Now rapidly affecting developing countries.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
In an autoimmune illness, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue, creating inflammation, damaging and deforming tissues in the body, which leads to pain and loss of function. Any disease that results from this improper immune response is called an autoimmune disease.
There are currently more than 80 distinct autoimmune diseases that have been identified by the National Institutes for Health, but the autoimmune mechanism is involved in well over 100 diseases
Here are some of the most common autoimmune conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Graves Disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Coeliac Disease
Why does Autoimmune Disease occur?
The activation of the immune system in autoimmunity happens earlier than the onset of symptoms. In layman’s terms, what happens is, there is a set of circumstances than occur simultaneously or accumulatively, and once they are all in place, they disturb the balance of the immune system. Once this disturbance exists, the immune system no longer behaves in a healthy way.The combined, accumulated circumstances cause the immune system to act in a pro-inflammatory way, over-reacting to things that are not actually harmful or dangerous, and instead of interrupting healthy function and eventually causing symptoms, that if they’re not arrested, will eventually become a disease.
What do all these widespread diseases have in common?
An autoimmune disease is defined as a condition that arises from an abnormal immune response to a normal body part. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks your joints. In celiac disease, your small intestine is targeted. In lupus, it attacks tissues many parts of your body. In multiple sclerosis, your nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord are attacked. In Graves disease, your thyroid is affected. For psoriasis, it’s the skin cells. The bad part is, nearly any body part can fall victim to a rogue immune system. All of these diseases develop when your immune system, which is supposed to defend your body against disease, errs and decides that your healthy cells (in nearly any part of your body) are foreign and begins to attack themselves.
What causes autoimmunity?
There are multiple underlying factors that contribute to developing autoimmunity.
In order to activate the autoimmune mechanism, it is understood that three things are required.
- Genetic predisposition
- Intestinal Permeability (aka Leaky Gut). Click here to see if you have symptoms of leaky gut.
- An Environmental Trigger such as bacteria, virus and very significantly – inflammation caused by foods. There is a significant link between gluten, dairy, and autoimmunity.
There is some genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases, but certainly, and arguably most important, is that environmental factors play a huge part. By environmental factors, I mean, among other things:
- The foods we eat.
- The exercise we perform.
- The amount of sleep we get.
- The amount of stress we endure.
- Whether we smoke or not.
- The medications we take.
There are many other environmental factors and I’m sure you can think of a few more.
What is the conventional treatment for Autoimmune Disease?
Traditional medical management of the autoimmune disease is slightly different from disease to disease but is generally focused on using drugs to suppress symptoms or attempt to suppress the over-active immune response. They use medicine from Pain killer, Steroids to Immunosuppressant. Lastly, surgery may be recommended to remove tissue that has become so badly damaged by the inflammation or the side effects of the drugs taken to manage the symptoms of the AID.
My approach to Autoimmune Disease:
Here is my thinking about a better way to address autoimmunity.
If you have an autoimmune disease that affects a specific tissue, such as your joints, your gut or your thyroid, your conventional treatment will probably be focused on the area of your symptoms. However, the real issue lies in the immune system. If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, this is not primarily a thyroid problem, it’s an immune system problem, and until the balance of the immune system has been addressed and restored, it will continue, no matter how much thyroid medication you take.
Addressing the underlying immune system disturbance in autoimmunity is rarely as simple as identifying a single ‘magic bullet’ trigger. In some cases, identifying the environmental trigger and removing it can make a tremendous difference, and also, often it will be necessary to address multiple variables in order to restore more normal function to the system.
The best part about working with autoimmunity is that, because of its multi-factorial nature, rather than just relying on your doctor to adjust your medication, there is a lot that can be done to take back control of your health and improve the situation.
The following all impact immune system function and balance, and are areas that we can investigate or adjust in order to impact the way the immune system works.
- Immune system reactions to food proteins
- Gut health and ‘leaky gut’
- Infectious agents such as viral or bacterial infections (which can be latent, or hidden)
- Pro-inflammatory / Anti-inflammatory foods
- Toxins such as heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic) or mycotoxins/mold
Where to begin?
- We can very easily begin by looking at and adjusting the food you eat, your sleep and stress levels.
- I will likely request some tests to look further at your gut, to determine any overgrowths or deficiencies there. The gut is the heart and soul of your immune system. I believe that anyone with an active autoimmune disease has intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and quite likely imbalances in the bacteria found there, both of which need to be corrected to restore immune health.
- We may need to look for different antibodies in the blood or investigate hidden infections.
- And if we have addressed all of these things and you’re still experiencing symptoms, then it’s likely that we need to consider and investigate toxins.
This is a basic outline of my approach, but I consider every patient individually and will adjust the thinking and approach to fit each person and their history. Lastly, I do know from personal experience how overwhelming a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease can be, and again I would like to really emphasize that there is so much that you can do to change your health in a positive way.