In my clinic environment, I am hearing the word or term, ‘auto-immune’ so much more. Is this because as a population, we are becoming increasingly aware of this physiological state, or is it because it’s on the rise? I believe it’s a bit of both, but statistics reflect auto-immune disorders are on a rise. This must be an indication and reflection of modern society and how far we have come from the diets and lifestyles that our bodies were designed for.
In this post I wanted to explore exactly what auto-immune disorder is. There are over 80 recognised auto-immune conditions but fundamentally they share the same root.
Our immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.
Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells and when working correctly it is amazing!
However, disorders in this system can lead to a whole range of different conditions, with varying degrees of severity.
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.
In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign. It releases proteins called auto-antibodies that attack healthy cells.
Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas (although complications can affect most of the organs in the body). Other diseases, like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), affect the whole body.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes the immune-system misfire. Yet some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others.
According to a 2014 study, women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men — 6.4 percent of women vs. 2.7 percent of men. Often the disease starts during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).
Some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects more African-American and Hispanic people than Caucasians.
Certain autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families. Not every family member will necessarily have the same disease, but they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.
Because the incidence of autoimmune diseases is rising, researchers suspect environmental factors like infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents might also be involved.
A “Western diet” is another suspected risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease. Eating high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is thought to be linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. However, this hasn’t been proven.
A 2015 study focused on another theory called the hygiene hypothesis. Because of vaccines and antiseptics, children today aren’t exposed to as many germs as they were in the past. The lack of exposure could make their immune system prone to overreact to harmless substances.
The bottom line is that researchers don’t know exactly what can cause an auto-immune disorder in an individual. However the list below is a summary of things that either affect our bodily functions at a cellular level (all auto-immune conditions carry this trait) or can trigger this systemic malfunction.
- Other illnesses/conditions
- Poor lifestyle
- Poor nutrition
- Sex (women are statistically at higher risk of developing an auto-immune condition)
It’s another important reason that we need to focus on our nutrition and lifestyle, avoid unnecessary toxins and take care of our bodies. As someone who has to manage Type 1 diabetes, psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, I am more aware of what I put into my body than ever before. There is more and more research being done, but my conditions are all managed with medication that I have to take, in conjunction with a diet totally free of any processed foods, good nutrition and lots of exercise and activity. It’s a way of life. I just wish that my parents had instilled this in to me in my younger years.