Most everyone has heard the term autoimmune disease; however, many do not understand the depth and breadth of this diagnosis. Autoimmune diseases impact every area of one’s life. They often cause inflammation, widespread pain, fatigue, and a plethora of other symptoms.
What are autoimmune diseases and how do they impact your health? Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system erroneously thinks your healthy cells are foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Normally, when these germs enter the body, the immune system sends out immune cells to fight these microbes to help prevent illness and disease. The immune system begins attacking healthy cells, causing damage to tissues and organs that results in diseases like systemic lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Risk Factors for Autoimmune Diseases
Researchers are unsure why the immune system sometimes attacks healthy cells. However, some people are at an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases than other people. Common factors that increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases include-
Women are 50 percent more likely to develop autoimmune disease symptoms than men. Additionally, during a woman’s childbearing years (15 to 44 years old), the risk increases even more.
Certain ethnic groups are at an increased risk of developing certain autoimmune disorders. For example, Hispanic and African Americans are more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.
The increased incidence of autoimmune disorders may be linked to environmental factors. Researchers are trying to determine if chemical and solvent exposure or increased infections may be involved.
The foods you eat may increase your autoimmune risk. Eating processed foods or those high in fats and sugars have been linked to systemic inflammation, which may cause an immune response.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders. Some of the common autoimmune diseases include-
Both rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are caused by autoimmune diseases. In rheumatoid arthritis, immune cells attack the body’s joints. When this occurs, you will experience stiffness, redness, warmth, and soreness in your joints. Conversely, psoriatic arthritis occurs when skin cells develop too quickly. The overabundance of skin cells can cause stiffness, pain, and swelling of your joints.
- Celiac Disease
Individuals suffering from celiac disease cannot eat foods that contain gluten or use products like cosmetics, medicines, and other items that contain gluten. When gluten is consumed, it activates the immune system, causing it to attack the GI tract.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease encompasses a variety of digestive disorders that inflame the intestinal wall lining. Two of the most common inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Inflammatory bowel diseases cause digestive discomfort, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.
- Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the coating on your nerve cells becomes damaged. When this occurs, it can alter the messages between the body and the brain/spinal cord. This damage can cause a number of symptoms like balance issues, difficulty walking, numbness, and weakness.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
One of the most common signs of lupus is the butterfly rash that occurs across the nose and cheeks. Systemic lupus erythematosus also affects the brain, heart, joints, and kidneys, resulting in fatigue joint pain and swelling, headaches, anemia, hair loss, and more.
- Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system begins attacking and destroying the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. When the body does not produce enough insulin, high blood glucose levels increase. High blood glucose levels damage blood vessels and organs like the eyes, heart, and kidneys. Furthermore, the nerves can become damaged, leading to neuropathy.
Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of autoimmune disorders vary based on the individual disorder; however, some of the most common symptoms include-
- Concentration difficulties
- Digestive issues
- Hair loss
- Low-grade fevers
- Muscle aches
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Skin rashes
Diagnosing Autoimmune Diseases
If you are experiencing symptoms of autoimmune diseases, it is recommended you find a doctor who understands how the immune system works and how it impacts the different systems in the body. Our functional medicine doctors embrace the fact that the body has the innate ability to heal itself. Functional medicine seeks to determine the root cause of your illness and then works to correct the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.
Although there is no single test that can diagnose autoimmune diseases, a variety of tests along with a detailed family history and a physical examination can help with a diagnosis. Autoimmune doctors will also discuss symptoms, how long the symptoms have been present, diet, and lifestyle choices. This information will help the doctor determine if you have an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune Disease Treatment
Treating autoimmune diseases requires a multipronged approach that not only addresses the symptoms you are experiencing but also supports the immune system so it can function properly. Your autoimmune disease treatment plan may also include steps to provide immediate relief, and work to correct imbalances to promote your health. Some common methods include an immune system booster, an autoimmune protocol diet, and a variety of healthy lifestyle choices that provide immune support.
- Autoimmune Protocol Diet
An autoimmune protocol diet is designed to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and help relieve the symptoms of autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus. The diet works by eliminating pro-inflammatory foods like gluten, peanuts, nightshade vegetables, dairy products, processed foods, refined sugars and carbs, artificial sweeteners, food additives, alcohol, caffeine, and eggs. These items are replaced with whole foods like lean proteins, healthy fats, probiotic-rich foods, natural sweeteners, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Getting plenty of exercises that includes aerobic activity, strength training exercises, and flexibility exercises helps reduce inflammation and promote health. It is recommended you get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to improve your overall health, flush toxins from the body, and enhance the immune system naturally. At first, it can seem impossible to exercise a half of an hour each day; however, once you begin experiencing the positive effects of exercise, you will wonder why you didn’t begin years earlier.
Proper hydration supports the immune system. The lymph fluid, which is primarily made up of water, carries immune cells throughout your body. When you are dehydrated your immune system can become impaired. Adequate water intake based on weight and activity levels enhances the immune system.
- Immune System Booster
Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system no longer functions properly. It begins attacking healthy cells, organs, and tissues instead of only attacking dangerous microbes like viruses and bacteria. An unhealthy, weak immune system will not function properly, which is why an immune booster may help to correct immune disorders.
Sleep is vital to your health. When you sleep, your body recovers, hormones are produced, memories are consolidated, and infection-fighting substances are created. Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep boosts your immune system.
- Stress Relief
Chronic stress has been associated with systemic inflammation and increased risk of illness and disease. You can lower your stress levels, improve your health, and boost your immunity by incorporating stress relief practices into your day-to-day life. Some of the top stress relief techniques to use include daily journaling, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing techniques.
How to Boost Your Immune System
Our functional medicine doctors understand how to boost your immune system, address underlying health problems, and utilize the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Some of the treatment protocols used for autoimmune diseases include immune-boosting techniques like diet, exercise, stress relief, detoxification, and proper hydration. These methods help to reduce inflammation, correct problems in the immune system and treat autoimmune disorders.