What is an Autoimmune Disease?Our immune system protects us from disease and sickness. It attacks foreign cells that are harmful to the body. An autoimmune disease occurs when this defense system breaks down, and our immune systems starts attacking our own, non-harmful cells. Proteins call autoantibodies attack our normal, everyday cells instead of the cells associated with harmful bacteria and viruses. There are more than 100 types of autoimmune diseases which can impact the skin, joints, organs and everything in-between. There’s no conclusion on why autoimmune diseases occur, but research suggests that diet, chemical exposure, genetics and other factors all play a role.
Common Examples of Autoimmune DiseasesThere are far too many autoimmune diseases to list, but here are details on the fourteen most common or noteworthy examples out there. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis was discovered by a Japanese doctor in 1912, and was later identified as the first organ-specific autoimmune disease in 1957. It targets the thyroid gland located in the throat area. The thyroid can enlarge through swelling which forms a painless growth called a goiter. Other symptoms often develop later on and include weight gain, fatigue, constipation, and hair loss. Graves’ disease – Graves’ disease is another disease that affects the thyroid gland. The hormone production from the thyroid becomes hyperactive which speeds up metabolic activity. This results in nervousness, heartbeat irregularities, heat sensitivity and weight loss. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – Inflammatory bowel disease impacts the colon and small intestine. IBD is used to classify two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. These conditions can be confirmed through colonoscopy results. Lupus – Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect different areas of the body such as joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. Lupus often presents as joint pain and swelling, and is usually accompanied by fatigue, weight loss and fever. A facial rash can also form which is commonly associated with a lupus condition. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – Rheumatoid arthritis is the inflammation and possible deformation of joints, most commonly the wrist and hands. It’s a long-term disease with symptoms gradually developing over weeks or months. Fever and low red blood count are common signs. It also happens to be one of the more common autoimmune diseases. The CDC estimates 26% of the U.S. adult population (78 million people) will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis by 2040.
Type 1 diabetes – Type 1 diabetes develops because the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, which creates the blood sugar regulating hormone, insulin. This can cause damage to blood vessels and various organs from the heart and kidneys to the eyes. Symptoms include frequent trips to the bathroom and constant thirst and hunger urges.
Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis – Psoriasis is a disease which causes patches of abnormal skin similar to a rash or burn mark. Skin will become dry, itchy and scaly. There are five main types of psoriasis, all of which are autoimmune diseases. It’s known to have strong genetic ties but environmental impact can also play a role. There’s no cure, but several treatments such as creams, ultraviolet light, and nutrient repletion can alleviate symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis – Multiple sclerosis is one of the most well-known and widespread autoimmune conditions. This condition affects the central nervous systems and leads to muscle weakness, and difficulty with balance and walking.
Addison’s disease – Addison’s disease arises from autoantibodies attacking adrenal glands, which make important hormones such as cortisol. When our cortisol balance is thrown off, it affects our carbohydrate and glucose process. Weakness, fatigue, weight loss and low blood sugar are all common symptoms.
Sjögren’s syndrome – Sjögren’s syndrome affects the glands which lubricate the eyes and mouth. This causes dry eyes, dry mouth and can lead to issues with joints or skin.
Myasthenia gravis – Myasthenia gravis is a condition resulting in muscle weakness. Repetitive muscle movements that control eye movements, eyelid function, swallowing and facial gestures are most affected. It’s caused when nerve impulses are interrupted from communicating with the brain.
Autoimmune vasculitis – Autoimmune vasculitis is caused by inflammation in the arteries and veins which disrupts blood flow. The damaged blood vessels create palpable purpura, which are dark red/purple splotches, on limbs
Pernicious anemia – A protein deficiency prevents the small intestine from absorbing the B-12 vitamin from food. The resulting B-12 deficiency creates issues that can become serious, even fatal if untreated. Symptoms include tingling sensations, tongue soreness, fatigue, cracked lips, dark circles around the eyes, brittle nails and pale complexion.
Celiac disease – For people with celiac disease, the immune system attacks gluten in the digestive tract, which causes inflammation, damage to the intestinal lining and prevents proper digestion. Weight irregularity, malnutrition, inflammation, diarrhea and rashes are common symptoms of celiac disease.
What are the Natural Treatments?
There are several natural treatments for autoimmune conditions that range from easy to find supplements, lifestyle decisions and diet. Many suggest a gut bacteria test as a first step.
Microbiome Test – These gut bacteria tests have become popular in recent years. It analyzes the ecosystem of microorganisms living within your body. People with the same diet will have different gut bacteria profiles, therefore individual decisions are required. The microbiome test can inform diet decisions relating to your immune systems. For instance, you might see the need to cut down on dairy or high salt foods.
Beyond just diet, gut microbes can influence things like anxiety, depression and hypertension. A study published in PLOS Biology by Carlos Robeiro and colleagues from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Portugal showed how gut bacteria influenced nutritional cravings and decision-making in flies.
Research has found focusing on microbiome health can reduce or slow progression of autoimmune diseases such as osteoarthritis, functional bowel diseases, and multiple sclerosis.
Supplements such as glutathione can treat autoimmune symptoms and provide immune system preventative care. Other examples include:
Vitamin A: Research suggests a deficiency in Vitamin A increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
Vitamin D: A healthy amount of Vitamin D is believed to assist with inflammation prevention which is a symptom of many autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin K2 – Another anti-inflammatory vitamin, vitamin K2 proved to prevent spinal cord and brain inflammation with rats who had multiple sclerosis in one study.
Fish Oil/Turmeric/Resveratrol: Supplements to reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system in order to reduce symptomology.
Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies: It’s also wise to avoid an iron deficiency and other micronutrient deficiencies such as selenium, magnesium and zinc. Being diligent about getting the proper nutrition to satisfy these needs will promote gut and digestion health.
Optimizing Hormones: It’s important to make sure hormones are within functional ranges in order to ensure the body’s metabolism, reproductive functions, sleep cycle, blood sugar regulation, and nervous system are all working effectively.
Detox: Periodic detoxes can also be beneficial to help reduce the toxic load within the body and unburden the liver. Combine proper nutritional intake with any detox regimen.
De-stress, exercise and sleep – Natural remedies that can’t be overlooked are stress reduction, regular exercise and a healthy amount of sleep. There’s an abundant amount of research on how all three of these factors can have major impacts on our immune system and overall health.
Find more ways to improve immune system health: 5 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Dr. Kellen Shade NMD – LIVV Natural Health | Naturopathic Medical Doctor specializing in Autoimmune disease, Gastrointestinal health, PRP Facials, IV Vitamin Therapy, Men’s and Women’s Health, and Optimal Living.