What is autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune disease is an immune system problem that causes your immune cells (your defense system against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens) to attack the healthy tissues they are supposed to protect.
There are over 100 autoimmune diseases. Some you may have heard of are:
- Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.)
- Type I Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjögren's syndrome
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn's Disease
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (Hypothyroidism)
- Graves' Disease (Hyperthyroidism)
In addition there are 40 more diseases that have autoimmune involvement. In fact autoimmune disease affects 25 million Americans a year - almost as many as heart disease and cancer combined.
What symptoms are related to autoimmune disease?
The symptoms of each autoimmune disease are different, depending on which type of tissue is being destroyed. General autoimmune disease symptoms are fatigue, pain, brain fog, and the feeling that something isn't right.
Many patients experience health problems on the autoimmune spectrum and suffer from chronic inflammation and autoimmune activity despite having a negative Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) blood test to screen for autoimmune conditions.
Autoimmunity should be considered in all inflammatory chronic illnesses, especially for women over 30 years old.
Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Hypothyroid Symptoms: fatigue, constipation, depression, inability to lose weight.
Hyperthyroid Symptoms: difficulty sleeping, anxiety, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss.
Digestive Problems (note: lack of digestive problems does not exclude Celiac Disease - the most common symptoms of Celiac are neurological NOT digestive).
Neurological problems: anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, ataxia (loss of control of body movements).
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn's Disease: Abdominal pain, diarrhea, canker sores, arthritis. Symptoms may come and go.
Ulcerative Colitis: Abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, weight loss.
Type I Diabetes
High blood sugar, weight gain, increased thirst, and increased urination due to the autoimmune destruction of the pancreas.
Symmetric joint problems and arthritis, especially involving the wrists and joints in the hands
How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?
Diagnosing autoimmune disease requires a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and history. From there, a diagnosis can be confirmed by ordering a the right lab tests.
Conventionally, an Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) blood test and disease specific antibody tests are used to screen for autoimmune conditions. For example, in our office we screen all patients for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, because it is the most common autoimmune condition. In addition to these tests, there are specialized blood tests that screen for a much broader spectrum of antibodies.
What are triggers of autoimmunity?
Leaky gut (intestinal permeability) is an inflammatory condition which causes destruction of the small intestine lining and allows food particles, pathogens, and immune cells to escape the small intestine into the blood. Once circulating in the blood, the immune system responds to neutralize the threat. This process creates an overstimulation of the immune system and circulation of inflammatory immune complexes throughout the body, which either causes or exacerbates chronic inflammatory conditions including autoimmune diseases.
The health of our gut microbiome includes the absence of pathogens and the presence of healthy bacteria that help us digest our food and absorb nutrients. A pathogen is considered and infection. An imbalance of normal flora is called dysbiosis.
Patients with autoimmune diabetes (diabetes type 1) have been shown to have intestinal dysbiosis (a greater Firmicutes:Bacteroide ratio) compared to patients with celiac disease and healthy patients. The higher level of Firmicutes in relation to Bacteroides is associated gut inflammation.
Stealth infections are chronic pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites) that cause or exacerbate antigen production to healthy tissue. Specific pathogens are not exclusive to any one autoimmune disease, however there have been several pathogens that have demonstrated a correlation with certain autoimmune diseases.
Stealth infections can be anywhere in the body including the mouth, stomach, small or large intestine, urinary tract, or other organs and tissues in the body.
Some of the most notable connections between stealth infections and autoimmune diseases are:
Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Blastocystis hominis, Epstein-Barr Virus, Helicobacter pylori, Human herpesvirus (HHV-6), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis): Klebsiella pneumoniae.
*In addition to the connection between Klebsiella and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), there are some studies that suggest that up to 80% of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may be caused by Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus mirabilis, Porphyromonas gingivalis.
Environmental toxicity including exposure to unhealthy water, food additives, plastic, pollutants, conventional self care products (perfumes, shampoos, lotions), and conventional household cleaners negatively impact our health threefold. Consistent exposure to toxics increase leaky gut, burden our detoxification pathways, and increase inflammation - creating a perfect storm for autoimmunity.
Click here to learn more about environmental toxicity and how to clean up your home.
Stress alters our immune response by suppressing cellular immunity (first line of defense, T Cells) and boosting humoral immunity (second line of defense, B Cells that produce antibodies). This imbalance perpetuates the immune over-reactivity that characterizes autoimmunity, because cellular immunity is responsible for perpetuating tolerance and tagging healthy tissue as safe. When cellular immunity is suppressed and unable to keep the humoral immune cells in check, the B cells are able to tag healthy tissue for an immune attack.
Halting the autoimmune process, healing the damaged tissue, and resolving chronic symptoms is absolutely possible if you identify and heal YOUR root cause(s).
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