10 Things You Need To Know About Autoimmune Disease

1.)  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates around 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. It is estimated to be at least 50 million people by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. The reason for this is that the NIH statistics only include 24 of the over 100 known autoimmune diseases afflicting people. More well known autoimmune diseases are conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease, Graves disease, pernicious anemia and psoriasis. 

2.)  Autoimmune disease is one of the top ten leading causes of death, especially for women.         Around 12 million people suffer from cancer and 25 million from heart disease. Autoimmune disease is the 3rd leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. They run in families but not all members of a family will have the same disease and women are more likely to have one than men. 

3.)  Autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks your cells (self) instead of protecting you from invaders (non self) like it is supposed to do. What happens is that your immune system develops autoantibodies against your own cells. Antibodies are a very important part of your immune system. It is their job to attach to certain proteins in cells that are foreign to the body (non self) like viruses, parasites or bacteria. This signals other cells in the immune system that an attack should be launched. In autoimmune disease the body attacks the foreign proteins (non self) but also creates antibodies against the body’s own proteins (self). These are called autoantibodies. You can develop them and still not develop an autoimmune disease. In order for that to happen, your body needs to not have destroyed or suppressed autoantibodies like it is supposed to. Your immune system then needs to attack and there must be so much damage to your cells and tissue that symptoms of a disease have developed. Why does this happen?  There are a lot of similarities (and a lot of differences but we are focusing on similarity here) between some proteins in all species and this is where the problem lies. Sometimes these triggers cause the body to make a mistake. That is it. It can really just happen by accident. 

4.)  You don’t have a lot of control over the genetic component to autoimmune disease. There can be inherited mutations and one person may inherit many autoimmune genes or gene mutations and someone else can inherit only a few. Whatever you inherit really is affected by whether or not your environment turns those genes on. Did you or do you have an infection?  What kind of toxins are you exposed to daily? Do you have exposure from amalgam fillings? How about prescription or non prescription drugs? What about your hormones? Do you have an imbalance in your beneficial bacteria? 

Removing environmental triggers that promote the production of autoantibodies is crucial. It can be a bacterial infection like those that cause pneumonia or kidney stones that will make you more susceptible to an autoimmune disease in your future. It can be consuming gluten that causes an autoimmune disease. It is, of course, the major factor in celiac disease but gluten plays a large role in many autoimmune diseases. If you have an autoimmune disease, gluten should be one of the first things you look at. 

Genetics may play a role in how likely you are to get an autoimmune disease but how you live your life can determine whether or not those genes get turned on. 

5.)  Once you have an autoimmune disease you are more likely to develop another one. The reason for this is not fully understood but it is thought that genetic factors and/or environmental triggers play a role. After the immune system has started attacking a protein in the body it can learn much easier how to launch an attack on another one. If the immune system is overwhelmed and can’t tell the difference anymore, it will more than likely create another or different autoantibody

6.)  Getting a diagnosis can be challenging. Many of the symptoms for any given autoimmune disease are so similar. They are things like headaches, muscle aches/pains, joint pain and fatigue. These kinds of symptoms can be related to stress, working too hard or lack of sleep. The other problem is that autoimmune disease affects several systems in the body and it affects everyone differently. This means that two people with the same disease can present completely different symptoms. Finding a good practitioner who knows what to do with a diagnosis of autoimmune disease is fundamental to your healing especially if you don’t know where to start. 

7.)  Managing inflammation in autoimmune disease is key. In many cases, treatment for managing inflammation has been done with immune suppressing drugs like corticosteroids. They can be helpful for some for a short period of time but are not without side effects like weight gain and depression. They also interrupt your bodies own mechanisms for managing inflammation. 

Diet and lifestyle factors are often overlooked and play a huge role in managing inflammation. You can manage inflammation by removing inflammatory foods from your diet, taking a look at the toxins you are exposed to daily, heal your gut and manage your stress. 

8.)  Leaky gut is the one thing all autoimmune diseases have in common. About 80% of your immune system lies in your intestines. The lining of your intestines is a single layer of cells that protect the rest of your body from anything entering your digestive tract. The space between each cell in the lining is like a door that occasionally opens to allow communication with the environment. Our intestines have the largest amount of contact with our environment because the average adults gut when laid out measures around 3000 square feet. So, besides digesting your food, the gut is also responsible for moving molecules between the cells- but only for a moment. The cells open to allow the communication and then close right away. A protein called zonulin is what regulates the permeability of the junctions between the cells. It acts almost like a key unlocking a door so it can be opened. The two most important factors in zonulin unlocking those doors are gluten and gut bacteria. So consuming gluten based products regularly, having something like Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth,a parasite or an overgrowth of Candida can be a contributing factor to higher levels of zonulin and therefore more permeability. This permeability allows for undigested proteins to enter your blood stream and/or lymphatic system where the immune system then begins the process of developing antibodies against the foreign invader and sometimes your own cells. When you have leaky gut (intestinal permeability) your under constant attack.  

9) You can heal your gut. It takes time and effort but is so worth it. Healing leaky gut is important for managing your autoimmune disease. There are many things that contribute to leaky gut and all must be considered when creating a health plan with a practitioner. How clean is your diet? Eating whole foods, and organic when possible is extremely important. I recommend going to www.ewg.org and looking at their list of the  Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen to know which foods you can buy non organic with reasonable safety. 

Find the root cause or the source of your leaky gut and remove it. Doing so will calm down the immune system so your body has a chance to repair and rest. Find out if you have an infection or parasite that is wreaking havoc on your immune system. One of the most important things you can do is take a look at the role stress plays in your life. Are you in a constant state of stress? Do you have down time? Do you have any hobbies or do anything fun?

10.)  There is help for you no matter your condition or autoimmune disease. Nutritional Therapy can help you on your path to wellness. We work with each patient individually and tailor a program that is just for you. You may be put on herbal therapies tailored to your bio individuality and your specific condition and your adrenal glands and nervous system will be supported with nutrients and herbs because stress plays such an important role in managing autoimmune disease.  Contact us today for an appointment.