An autoimmune disease is one that is caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells and tissues. Usually, your immune system is designed to protect you from invading pathogens, but with autoimmunity, it is unable to tell the difference between foreign cells and your cells.
Some autoimmune diseases attack only one organ while others attack your entire body.
There is no known reason as to why the immune system misfires and attacks healthy body parts. What is known is that some people are more prone to get these diseases than others. Women seem to develop them more than men, and some are more common among ethnic groupings.
For example, lupus affects African Americans more than Caucasians. The typical Western diet full of fats, sugars, and processed foods has also been blamed for contributing to poor gut health (leaky gut) and chronic inflammation that can contribute to the development of autoimmunity.
The early symptoms of any autoimmune disease are similar.
♦ Chronic fatigue
♦ Skin rashes
♦ Achy muscles
♦ Low-grade fever
♦ Hair loss
♦ Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
♦ Swelling and redness
♦ Trouble concentrating
There is no single test that can diagnose autoimmune diseases so your doctor will usually perform a number of tests and review all your symptoms.
ANA (antinuclear antibody) testing is done first, and a positive test indicates that you have one of the diseases but cannot confirm which one. Additional tests will look for antibodies that are produced as a result of autoimmune disorders to find an accurate diagnosis.
There is no treatment that can cure autoimmune disease. Treatments focus on controlling the overactive immune system and reducing inflammation that attacks your healthy tissues and organs.
Corticosteroids and NSAID medications are used to control inflammation and reduce pain. Other drugs have been developed for specific autoimmune conditions such as the use of biologics for rheumatoid arthritis.
There is no one diet that can work for autoimmune diseases, but there are several that have been developed that provide symptom relief. The common goal of these diets is to reduce the inflammation that is attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
1. The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP)
This has been formulated to work well with IBD, but it can help with other autoimmune diseases too. It is essentially an extreme version of the Paleo diet that limits or removes processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy, sweeteners, and additives. A process of elimination also works where you can remove foods that cause inflammation once you identify them.
2. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
This works for rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis and strongly resembles the Mediterranean Diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats and oils.
3. The Plant-Based Diet
This has been found to benefit most autoimmune conditions and focuses heavily on fresh fruits and vegetables. It has been noted that cooked fruits and vegetables are better tolerated for those with autoimmune diseases.
4. Gluten-Free Diet
This is ideal for those with Celiac disease, but because gluten can cause sensitivity for many people without causing the disease, it works well for overall digestive health. Cutting foods that contain gluten or opting for gluten-free alternatives still allows you to eat many of your favorite foods without the pain.
There are several strategies and therapies you can employ to help you start treating your autoimmune disease more naturally.
♦ Check for underlying infections that could be causing your symptoms, to be sure you treat the right condition.
♦ Get tested for food allergies, and eliminate anything that is identified as an irritant. Allergies to dairy, gluten, and soy are common and can cause chronic inflammation that will worsen your autoimmune condition.
♦ Get checked for metal toxicity, as high levels are known to be a strong risk factor for autoimmunity.
♦ Take care of your gut with probiotics and gut-healthy foods. The bacteria living in your gut influence your immune system, so when they are happy, inflammation is controlled, and autoimmune symptoms can be suppressed.
♦ Exercise regularly, as this naturally reduces inflammation through the body.
♦ Relax more to reduce inflammation with yoga, meditation, massages, Tai Chi, and deep breathing exercises.
♦ Get your sleep, because disrupted sleep interferes with your metabolism making you crave sugary foods that can worsen inflammation.
There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, but here the 10 most commonly diagnosed ones.
♦ Type 1 diabetes: The insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are attacked, which means blood glucose levels cannot be regulated. High blood sugar results in damaged blood vessels, and kidney, heart, and nerve damage too.
♦ Rheumatoid arthritis: The joints are attacked, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness. This can affect people as young as thirty, unlike other forms of arthritis.
♦ Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriasis causes your skin cells to grow too quickly, which causes built up patches of skin. These can also cause inflammation and joint pain as a result.
♦ Multiple sclerosis: The myelin covering on your nerves is damaged, and never cells are unable to transmit electrical signals as effectively. Numbness, weakness, balance issues, and some cognitive changes are common symptoms.
♦ Inflammatory bowel disease: The lining of the intestinal wall becomes inflamed, and there are two common types: Cohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
♦ Lupus: The systemic form of this skin disease affects many organs as a result of autoimmune attacks. Your joints, brain, and heart can be affected, and fatigue and rashes are common.
♦ Addison’s disease: The adrenal glands are affected, which interferes with hormonal production. Too little cortisol affects how your body stores carbohydrates and too little aldosterone causes sodium loss and excess potassium in the blood.
♦ Grave’s disease: The thyroid is attacked, and too many hormones are produced. As a result, the body’s metabolism is impacted, causing nervousness heat intolerance, weight loss, and a fast heartbeat.
♦ Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Thyroid production slows as a result of attacks causing individuals to be sensitive to cold, as well as feeling chronic fatigue, hair loss, and thyroid swelling.
♦ Celiac disease: Those with this disease cannot eat gluten, (a protein in wheat) or attacks are triggered towards the small intestine causing mass inflammation. Symptoms are diarrhea and abdominal pain, but avoiding gluten can bring relief.
♦ There are 50 million Americans currently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
♦ Autoimmune disease is one of the top causes of death in females.
♦ Between 80 and 100 autoimmune conditions have been identified by researchers.
♦ There is a close relationship between genetics and autoimmune diseases.
♦ $591 million is spent on autoimmune diseases, as compared to $6.2 billion that is spent on cancer.
Autoimmune diseases in children are rare, but when they occur, they are challenging to diagnose and treat. The diseases cause the same symptoms as they do with adults, and treatment for children relies strongly on addressing the symptoms. More aggressive treatment is typically followed.
The most common autoimmune diseases seen in children are Addison’s disease, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis.
Treatments cannot cure autoimmune diseases, but they can control your overactive immune system and reduce inflammation and attacks. Additional treatments, both medicinal and natural, can help to alleviate symptoms for the autoimmune condition that you have.
Discuss options with your doctor once you have a diagnosis so you can develop a treatment plan. There is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but you can live more comfortably with them with the right treatment.