Autoimmune disease can be simply defined as when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake, a dysfunction of the immune system. Autoimmune diseases have been found in virtually every organ system in the body. There are differing schools of thought as to how many conditions there are, but well over one hundred would not be exaggerating, and it’s rising. Some estimate that up to one in ten suffer from an autoimmune condition in the United States and many of them are unaware of their condition. Women are most likely to be affected. In some cases modern pharmaceuticals and medical practices do a good job of masking these conditions, treating the symptoms or keeping them under control, in other cases people just live with them and while no major organ is involved, they remain chronic.
The most common of the one hundred or more autoimmune conditions are:
- Graves’ disease.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).
- Type 1 diabetes.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
Other conditions include ones like Pernicious Anaemia – B12 deficiency – where the immune system destroys stomach cells that make intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine. Eczema has recently been included in the growing list of autoimmune conditions. In this case the immune system causes changes to lipid formation in the skin which affects the skin’s barrier. Vasculitis is one of the connective tissue disorders and another of the autoimmune conditions. It damages blood vessels, weakening them which can lead to aneurysms. Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed which leads to cirrhosis, increasing the risk of cancer and liver failure.
Interestingly, the predisposition to develop or suffer from an autoimmune condition runs in the family. It may be hereditary, but if one member of the family has one condition, it doesn’t mean another member of the family will develop that same autoimmune condition.
What triggers an autoimmune response? There are a number of triggers and they range from a simple infection, bacterial or viral, to a chemical in the environment, a permeable gut lining and stress. When the condition has been diagnosed, most doctors will look at suppressing the immune system or treating the symptoms but it is critical to identify the trigger(s). For example in the case of type 1 diabetes the immune system has destroyed the function of the pancreas, but that’s not necessarily the end of it. Other autoimmune conditions develop, such as type 1 diabetes and celiac, because of a shared gene that predisposes for these conditions. About 25% of people with one autoimmune condition are likely to develop another.
My advice to someone diagnosed with an autoimmune condition is to reduce exposure to potential triggers. This means they should adopt a strict nutritional program, known as the Autoimmune Protocol, avoid stress and look at improving sleep hygiene, take steps to improve digestion and micronutrient absorption i.e. take enzymes and apple cider in water before a meal and take supplements, avoid exposure to environmental toxins and finally take exercise. Some of these steps are easier said than done so careful preparation is necessary. The autoimmune protocol needs to be followed rigidly for at least a month before considering which foods to re-introduce. Foods like wheat however should never be reintroduced, but thats another story.
Please contact me if you would like some meal ideas for the autoimmune protocol, ways to improve sleep or how to avoid some of the toxins we’re exposed to everyday.