Autoimmune disease is a state when your immune system, which normally defends against infections (viruses, bacteria, etc.), turns the table attacks your own cells of the body and believes they are foreign. Simply, your immune system attacks healthy and normal body cells. There over 50 million Americans affected by autoimmune disease (per AARDA), and many do not even know that they are. A person can have just one autoimmune disease or have more than at a time.
Medicine has cataloged about 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. The clinical symptoms of one autoimmune disease can be like another. Diagnosing based just symptoms can be misguiding; especially if someone has more than one at the same time. To make matters worse, a person with autoimmune disease can wax and wane in symptomatology. Flare-ups can occur at any time. Traditional medical approach focuses only on relief of symptoms, and not the root cause.
Much of autoimmune diseases are genetic (run in the family), and most of the people affected are women (~75%). Also at higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases are African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.
Why The Attack On The Body By The Immune System?
Research seems to show that there is a cross-reaction between certain body proteins (say proteins of the joint as in Rheumatoid Arthritis) and proteins of bacteria or viruses, or the proteins found in the foods we eat. There comes a point when the body "flips a switch", and begins to attack our bodily proteins. The immune system employs T-helper cells to attack proteins. Depending on the type of autoimmune disease, the immune scale can tip to a more Th1-dominant response, or Th2-dominant response. There is also a complete subset called Th17.
What are the Most Common Type of Autoimmune Disease?
Addison's disease (no/low adrenal hormones)
Alopecia areata (loss of hair in certain areas or all together)
Celiac sprue disease (reaction to gluten and grain lectins causing intestinal damage)
Graves’ disease (overactive thyroid gland)
Hashimoto’s disease (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
Inflammatory bowel disease (a group of inflammatory diseases of the colon and small intestine)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) (affects the brain and spinal cord)
Pernicious anemia (decrease in red blood cells caused by inability to absorb vitamin B12)
Psoriasis (a skin condition that causes redness and irritation as well as thick, flaky, silver-white patches)
Reactive arthritis (inflammation of joints, urethra, and eyes; may cause sores on the skin and mucus membranes)
Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues)
Scleroderma (a connective tissue disease that causes changes in skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs)
Sjögren’s syndrome (destroys the glands that produce tears and saliva causing dry eyes and mouth; may affect kidneys and lungs)
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (multi-organ; affects skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs)
Type 1 diabetes (destruction of insulin producing cells in the pancreas)
Vitiligo (white patches on the skin caused by loss of pigment)
What Can Trigger or Cause Autoimmune Disease?
There are multiple pathways of developing autoimmune disease. Current research is focused on:
Bacteria and Viruses
Foods (grains, dairy, legumes, citrus - see about ALCAT testing for food hypersensitivities)
Most of the time foods and stress are implicated.
Is There A Cure?
It depends how far along a person is in terms of their disease. Some people cross a point of no return or experience too much organ or tissue damage that neither traditional or holisitic medicine can help. But the best prevention for developing autoimmune disease is to avoid certain foods, reduce stress, get appropriate amounts of sleep, have a regimen of physical activity, eat a balanced diet, and supplement with vitamin/minerals - especially Vitamin D3. Certain botanical herbs can be very helpful in autoimmune disease.