Did you know the second most common cause of chronic illness in the U.S. is autoimmune diseases? There are currently 100-120 identified autoimmune diseases.
And you might be surprised to learn According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA), practitioners diagnosed more than 50 million people in the U.S. with one or more of them.
Autoimmune diseases are sneaky. And symptoms:
- Tend to appear gradually.
- Can mimic an injury or a passing illness.
- Get blown off as a sign of “getting older.”
This situation is unfortunate as it leaves those who are suffering without any opportunities for treatment. More doctors and medical professionals are taking the time to understand the mysteries of autoimmune diseases.
What Is Autoimmune Disease?
When working properly, your immune system protects your body from infection and disease. However, if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune response also destroys your body tissues.
Why Would Your Body Choose to Attack Itself?
Unfortunately, we don’t know yet. The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown. One theory believes the changes in the following confuse the immune system.
- Environmental toxins
- Certain foods
- Microorganisms like bacteria or viruses may trigger
This situation is more likely to happen if you have genes that make you more susceptible to autoimmune disease.
Alessio Fasano, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist, research scientist, and founder of the Harvard University Center for Celiac Research, believes all autoimmune conditions have three factors in common:
- Genetic susceptibility
- Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
- Antigen exposure
Recent evidence indicates interrupting one of the above factors could potentially slow down or even reverse autoimmune disorders. Let’s take a look at how each of these three factors influences your immune system.
1. Genetic Susceptibility
Your genes are the building blocks of your body. They define your:
- Hair and skin color
- Height and body type
- Predisposition for diseases
You cannot change your genes. You are stuck with them whether you like them or not. But not all of these genes have to be “turned on.”
You can take steps to optimize the expression of these genes. This reduces the likelihood of your genes, “turning on”a disease. So, this is where epigenetics comes into play.
“Epigenetics is the study of how the expression of DNA can be changed without changing the structure of DNA itself. Understanding what causes the disease is essential to not only create treatments but also to work towards ways of preventing the disease in the first place.”
Through the study of epigenetics, we are learning your diet and lifestyle (stress, exercise, and toxin exposure) are modifiable factors that can either turn up the genetic risk for disease or turn it down.
2. Increased Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
When it comes to autoimmunity, your gut is ground zero. Your intestines protect your inner sanctum from the exterior environment. Your small intestine allows nutrients to pass into your body while keeping bacteria, toxins, and wastes out.
Damage to your intestine will increase intestinal permeability. This condition is commonly known as leaky gut. Leaky gut can result in incompletely digested foods and your body absorbing bacterial toxins into the body. The presence of these invaders in the bloodstream over-stimulates the immune system.
3. Antigen Exposure
Let’s start by defining an antigen.
“Antigens are substances (usually proteins) on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Nonliving substances such as toxins, chemicals, drugs, and foreign particles (such as a splinter) can also be antigens. The immune system recognizes and destroys, or tries to destroy, substances that contain antigens.”
Early research on autoimmune disease suggested some viruses or bacteria are structurally similar to those in your body.
This can instigate an immune response to your body tissue because your immune system thinks your tissue is one of those viruses. This same reaction can happen with immune responses to foods such as gluten.
Who Gets Autoimmune Diseases?
As you can see, this type of disease is not contagious, and you cannot pass it from person to person. Because genetics connect autoimmune diseases, it is not surprising some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups than others.
Also, certain autoimmune diseases run in families. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every family member will get the disease, but they are susceptible to it.
What Are Some Common Autoimmune Diseases?
The most common autoimmune disorders include:
- Addison disease
- Celiac disease – sprue (gluten-sensitive enteropathy)
- Graves disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Hashimoto thyroiditis
- Sjögren syndrome
- Myasthenia gravis
- Pernicious anemia
- Reactive arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type I diabetes
What Are the Most Common Autoimmune Disease Symptoms?
Although there are many types of autoimmune diseases, many share similar symptoms. They tend to look like common side effects of life, which is one of the reasons autoimmune diseases are so hard to diagnose.
Common symptoms of autoimmune disease include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin problems
- Recurring fever
- Abdominal pain or digestive issues
- Swollen glands
Have You Been Suffering From Symptoms With No Diagnosis?
You are not alone. No diagnosis is very common with autoimmune diseases. There is rarely a single test that can diagnose this disease.
There is so much to cover when talking about autoimmune diseases that we couldn’t include every little detail in this article. We do hope, though, you found the information you were looking for.
If not, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have more questions or if you think you may be suffering symptoms of an autoimmune disorder. We work with clients diagnosed with autoimmune diseases.
Some of our staff members have even gone through their journeys with autoimmune diseases. Lastly, we know there is a road back to a healthy, happy life, and we will help you find it!