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Autoimmune Diseases – What are they? Who gets them?

The immune system is your body’s protector against germs and viruses that can make you sick. 

Immune system action involves lots of complicated pathways, but in general, it works through the production of antibodies. Antibodies are produced to “fight” and rid the body of foreign invaders. 

But what happens when the immune system isn’t in tiptop shape? 

For starters, you may be prone to more frequent illness, like the common cold or seasonal flu. But a chronically compromised immune system – when it’s too active or not active enough – can result in a whole host of health disorders called AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES. 

A healthy immune system can recognize the difference between the body and foreign invaders.  

But in the case of Autoimmune Diseases, the immune system starts mistaking normal, healthy cells as foreign and attacks parts of one’s own body. 

Over 80 conditions have been recognized as Autoimmune Diseases.

Commonly recognized Autoimmune Diseases: 

  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome, including Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
  • Celiac Disease
  • Thyroid Disease

Each one has its own unique symptoms, depending on the body parts that the immune system attacks.

Most Autoimmune Disease begin with the same early warning sign symptoms, such as: 

  • Low energy
  • Soreness
  • Swelling, redness, heat
  • Fever
  • Mental fog and/or difficulty focusing
  • Skin rash and/or breakouts

Autoimmune Diseases can be difficult to diagnose, since these early symptoms are generalized. The severity of symptoms also varies and flare-ups and remissions are common (and commonly frustrating!) in people with an Autoimmune Disease. 

Healthcare Professionals don’t know exactly what causes most Autoimmune Diseases either. Some have a genetic predisposition, meaning having a family history may increase your risk of getting that disease. 

Research has identified several other few factors believed to contribute to the development of Autoimmune Diseases.

Contributing factors to Autoimmune Diseases include:

Western Diet – A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated and trans fats is believed to promote inflammation, damage the lining of the small intestine, and weaken immune system function. 

In contrast, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from plant foods has the opposite effect on the body. 

Compromised Gut Health (i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome) – Diet, alcohol use, stress, and antibiotics all affect the microbiome – the bacteria that lives in your gut. 

Exposure to Toxins – includes environmental pollutants, heavy metals, chemicals in personal care products, and residue on foods (pesticides and chemical fertilizers – eww!) 

Bacterial/Viral Infections 

Hormones – Women seem to develop more Autoimmune Diseases compared to men, especially during their reproductive years. This may be due to hormonal imbalances and/or an excess of estrogen, known as Estrogen Dominance. 

Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases are not curative, but focus is on minimizing uncomfortable symptoms and decreasing the frequency of severe flare-ups.

A combination of treatments may help Autoimmune Diseases:

Medication – targeted at managing pain, reducing inflammation, and suppressing immune system activity. 

Alternative therapies – acupuncture, chiropractic, and natural remedies may be used to manage symptoms. 

Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) – A diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and meat to reduce inflammation. It’s thought to be similar to the Paleo Diet, but more strict.  

RECIPE 

Adding anti-inflammatory antioxidant-rich spices to your diet may help decrease inflammation and promote a healthy gut. Turmeric and ginger contain powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that are safe for most people to consume regularly. 

Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea 

Ingredients 

1 small turmeric root, peeled and sliced

2-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced

1 whole lemon, sliced 

Preparation 

Place ingredients in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. 

Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and let tea steep another 5 minutes. 

Strain tea and enjoy hot or cold.  

REFERENCES 

Autoimmune Diseases, 2014: Autoimmunity and the Gut 

Healthline: Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes and More 

Office On Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Autoimmune Diseases