My thoughts on autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune disease affects up to 50 million Americans, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). The healthy human body is equipped with powerful set of tools for resisting invading foreign antigenic material, toxins and microorganisms (such as bacteria viruses and parasites.). It is called immune system. Sometimes immune system is misdirected and attacks the body itself. This misdirected response of immune system is called autoimmunity, which is demonstrated in body by presence of autoantibody or T lymphocyte reactivity to host cells.
Autoimmune disease is a major threat to health. There are more than 80 illnesses, caused by autoimmune process. Women constitute more than 75% of the population affected by these illnesses.
Practically all organs of the body can be affected by autoimmune disease. Thus symptoms vary widely and diagnoses and treatment are often difficult. Another problem is that diseases of autoimmune origin are allocated to different medical specialties based on organ system immediately affected. As for example, autoimmune conditions of brain and nerves are treated by neurologist, endocrine system by endocrinologist, joint and muscle by a rheumatologist.
Yet the basic principles governing one autoimmune disease are applicable to others. The common threads uniting the autoimmune diseases are the presence of an autoimmune response based on persons genetic risk factors combined with environmental factors( like food, infection, toxins, allergens, physical or mental stress) and increased permeability of the intestinal tract, called leaky gut.
As autoimmune condition is one in which a misdirected immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissue causing symptoms and diseases.
When you view the body from functional medicine perspective, illness is a process of continuum. It does not suddenly appear one fine morning. At the highest end of spectrum there are people with fully developed autoimmune conditions– like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, rheumatoid arthritis. multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular diseases etc. At the milder and lower end of spectrum, people may present with multitude of symptoms— like allergies, food intolerance, foggy brain, memory problems, fatigue, fibromyalgia, rash, eczema, depression and anxiety, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, migraine, fibrocystic breast disease, obesity, sleep disorder, multitude of digestive issue, B12 deficiency, uterine fibroid, and much more.
Conventional medicine viewpoint is that autoimmunity is genetic condition. As the genes evolve very slowly the incidence of autoimmune conditions should remain constant for a long time. That is not the case. In last 50 years, the incidence of autoimmunity in the United States has tripled, so there must be something in addition to genes causing this increase. Knowing this, it is conceivable to think that these conditions could have been prevented, and if one already has the disease, that can be improved.
. The overwhelming amount of chemicals in our air, water and food–toxins that we are exposed to virtually nonstop at home, and at work and in our environment, infections that we get exposed to with our changing gut microbiome, stress level in our lives, has stressed our immune systems to an unprecedented extent.
But there is hope. Functional medicine looks at autoimmune condition with different viewpoint, tries to find common thread and approaches accordingly.
Principles and mechanism of how autoimmunity happens and what can be done about it, we will be subject of another blog.