Did you know that autoimmune diseases affect MORE than 50 million Americans? That’s more than 10% of the population!
But what exactly is autoimmunity and how does it differ from the normal immune system response?
The immune response
The immune response is how your body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful. We can break the immune response down into four main components:
- Immune cells such as lymphocytes invade the area
- Inflammation is then created by the cells to help contain the infection
- Meanwhile, some immune cells are branching out and presenting on the surface of other cells to induce an immune response
- T lymphocyte cells (cells which function to eliminate any type of intruder) then coordinate to create a targeted immune response with B lymphocyte cells (cells which produce antibodies that specifically target the threat)
However, if you suffer from an autoimmune condition, the response is slightly different…
Your immune system will create antibodies that attack your own cells. This can occur for a number of different reasons:
- The immune system recognizes altered body cells as “non-self” (such as ones altered by a virus)
- The immune cells that make antibodies malfunction and make abnormal antibodies that attack normal cells in the body
- A substance in the body that is normally hidden from the immune system (such as the fluid within the eye) enters the bloodstream (such as with trauma).
4 Key Risk Factors for Autoimmunity
When you look at the fast-paced lifestyle and unhealthy diet which many of us adopted, it’s no wonder that more of us are experiencing an overburdened immune system. And with a weaker immune system, our bodies not only struggle to fight off infections, but the immune system can actually turn against us.
This creates ideal conditions for an autoimmune disorder to creep in. In order to reduce your risk of autoimmune diseases and infections, it’s essential to take control of these four risk factors:
- Insulin resistance.
This condition stops your cells from absorbing glucose, which causes it to build up in the blood. This can not only lead to diabetes, but also increase your risk of infections.
- Hypometabolism (slow metabolism).
This can occur from an underactive thyroid, aging, or high levels of toxicity. A slow metabolism lowers your body temperature and makes you more prone to infections.
- Chronic inflammation.
This can be caused by many factors, some of which include: a poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress and environmental toxins. Inflammation causes your immune system to suffer, allowing infections and autoimmune conditions to make their way in.
- Unbalanced hormones.
Unbalanced hormones can arise from natural events such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause; or other sources like thyroid issues, estrogen dominance, and insulin resistance.
And if you’ve already been diagnosed with one autoimmune condition, you may be at risk for another…
Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and hashimoto’s thyroiditis affect more than 50 million Americans EVERY YEAR.
At the time of diagnosis, you are likely to hear about causes, symptoms and treatment for your condition, but NOT that you’re at high risk for developing another disease altogether.
Around 25% of patients that are diagnosed with one autoimmune condition actually end up being diagnosed with two or three.
This raises the question: Why are you more likely to have more than one autoimmune condition?
The answer? It’s mostly down to 3 factors:
Most people who have several autoimmune diseases have a particularly susceptible gene pool. For example, diseases such as type 1 diabetes and celiac occur together more frequently because of a shared gene that makes someone highly likely to have both diseases.
Environmental factors can play a huge role in the development of autoimmune conditions. Environmental triggers such as toxic chemicals and dietary components can push the immune system in the direction of autoimmunity.
Some autoimmune conditions commonly occur with others. For example, multiple sclerosis is associated with autoimmune thyroid disease and psoriasis. Depending on your already diagnosed disease, it’s likely there is a close link between it and another condition.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be diagnosed with another, but taking care of yourself to prevent another diagnosis and regain your health should be a top priority.
The Reality of Living With An Autoimmune Disease
Those with autoimmune diseases not only struggle with physical symptoms.
When leaving the doctor’s office after being diagnosed, many people find that they’re suddenly asking themselves the question:
“Who am I now?”
The emotional and social impact of living with an autoimmune disease is something that’s less commonly spoken about, but is incredibly important. Let’s change that!
Many individuals that develop an autoimmune disease share the feeling of being alone with their illness. Typically, family and friends are available and supportive initially, but that support fades over the long run.
Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease can be extremely stressful. Visible rashes, scars, pigment issues, hair, teeth, and weight loss are all symptoms of certain conditions, all of which can affect the individual’s body image.
Although self image issues can occur at any age, studies have found that they’re more common with younger, single individuals with factors such as severity of the disease and stage of life when diagnosed coming into play.
A common issue with people who are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease is emotional trauma, specifically from disease diagnoses. Many individuals experience flashbacks and unwanted memories of such events.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety is typical in those living with autoimmune diseases. The uncertainty of flare-ups and initial uncertainty around symptoms can cause anxiety to kick in even more after diagnoses. Similarly with depression, many are left feeling defeated and purposeless due to diagnoses.
The bottom line: Autoimmune diseases aren’t just they’re symptoms, they’re so much more.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an autoimmune condition and want support, please schedule a consult: