A healthy immune system is a critical component to the health of every individual. Health really begins in the gut and so do autoimmune conditions. Upwards of 80% of your immune system is found in your intestinal tract. It can be said that you are only as healthy as your intestines are healthy. Your immune system is designed to act as a soldier ready for battle, it protects the body against pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, toxins and an army of foreign invading organisms. The immune system is equipped with cellular immunity in the form of white blood cells such as monocytes, lymphocytes and neutrophils. The immune system relentlessly hunts down and destroys harmful invaders that pose a threat to our bodies. It also produces antibodies to further protect against foreign invaders. When the acquired and innate immune systems are healthy and strong, it can even eliminate cancerous cells.
However, if your immune system becomes compromised or confused, it will begin attacking or even trying to destroy normal, healthy cells and tissues throughout our body, which it unfortunately and mistakenly now begins to recognize as foreign. In this situation, our body soldiers not only attack the bad invaders they’re intended to, but will also attack the very cells we need to keep us healthy and enable our organs to function properly. This abnormal chain of events is exactly what occurs with an auto immune disease.
Essentially all autoimmune conditions are the same thing…the immune system has decided that was once a normal part of your body no longer belongs in the body and ties to attack and destroy it. The unfortunate consequence of this is that specific autoimmune diseases affect different people in different ways. For example, it might start in your thyroid gland as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Grave’s Disease. The unfortunate consequence if this is that if you do not get this autoimmune problem under control it may spread to other glands, organs and organ systems in the body in a cascading effect. In other words what started in your thyroid may spread to your intestines, pancreas or liver etc..
What Are the Types of Autoimmune Conditions?
Over 200 diseases (and climbing) are now recognized as falling into the category of an autoimmune condition, including but not limited to:
- Addison’s Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Grave’s Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (the most commonly diagnosed autoimmune problem)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Pernicious Anemia
- Reactive Arthritis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Ulcerative Colitis
What Does Cause an Autoimmune Condition?
Currently there is only one autoimmune disease where science know positively without a doubt the cause, that being Celiac Disease caused by eating or exposure to gluten.
According to some leading medical researchers there are three conditions necessary to develop an autoimmune disease:
- Genetic predisposition (genes you were born with)
- A trigger such as toxins, poisons, chemicals, heavy metals, infections, stress, foods (primary suspects but not limited to these are peanuts, dairy, corn, soy, gluten), dysbiosis, trauma, aging, pregnancy
- Having a leaky gut (see our topic on leaky gut)
While there are various factors that come into play, all three of the above mentioned conditions may be necessary to develop autoimmune problems. Additionally, autoimmune diseases generally do not happen overnight, but can result overtime and often we see these conditions develop in the later years of life after decades of exposure to many triggers.
We live in a toxic world and there literally are thousands of chemical stressors present in our air, water, food, soil, skin care products and environment. These chemical stressors often mimic the natural hormones produced by our bodies. Some of them are referred to as SERMS (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators). We seem to be swimming in a sea of estrogen in our daily lives. When this occurs, it can confuse the messaging system our body uses (sort of like spam email for the body) into making hormones and oxidants that weaken our immune system in its ability to fight off everything from the common cold to cancer. In turn, our bodies become more susceptible to all sorts of diseases and premature aging.
What Are The Symptoms of Autoimmune Conditions?
The symptoms of autoimmune conditions are many and varied. In fact two people with the same autoimmune condition may have very different symptoms depending on the state of their immune system, their exposure to toxins and their overall health status. A majority of these conditions may cause fatigue, fever, general malaise. Other common symptoms may include:
- Digestive issues
- Brain Fog
- Inability to handle stress
- Muscle and joint aches
- Neurological symptoms
Since an autoimmune condition can attack any organ and cell, it’s imperative to find the source of the attack in order to properly treat the condition and restore one’s health. A visit to a functional medicine doctor such as Dr. John Podlaski at the Natural Medicine Institute in The Villages, FL can help.
Please contact Dr. Podlaski at (352) 801-0021 today if you would like to schedule a consultation about how to better handle your autoimmune disease.