What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
At its core, autoimmune disease is a chronic malfunction that causes your body’s own defenses to attack healthy tissue. When working as intended, our immune system protects the body through various methods, including antibodies. If the immune system perceives a threat, such as a virus or harmful bacteria, it produces antibodies explicitly designed to attack and eliminate it.
However, in the presence of autoimmune dysfunction, the immune system may incorrectly identify beneficial organisms and structures as a threat thereby motivating the immune system to produce agents to attack healthy cells and tissues. Often, such action results in irreparable damage to the body, bringing a wide array of chronic symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of an Autoimmune Disease & How Do I Know If I Have One?
Autoimmune disease is a collection of conditions that can have a dramatic impact on wellness.
Symptoms of autoimmune disease vary depending on your condition, however, if you struggle with seemingly insurmountable issues such as difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, endless fatigue, and persistent aches and pains it is possible that you are living with an autoimmune condition.
Learn more about signs and symptoms here
What Are The Most Common Autoimmune Diseases?
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: immune system attacks the joints
- Type 1 Diabetes: immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
- Psoriasis: immune system disrupts skin cells, causing them to multiply too quickly and the extra cells build up and form inflamed red patches.
- Multiple Sclerosis: immune system attacks central nervous system
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: inflamed intestinal lining due to immune response
- Addison’s Disease: adrenal dysfunction
- Celiac Disease: immune response triggered from gluten
- Graves’ disease: condition of the thyroid explained below
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: condition of the thyroid explained below
*The above conditions are not listed in any particular order
Is Thyroid Disease An Autoimmune Disease?
Thyroid disease can be an autoimmune disease, it depends on the type of thyroid dysfunction you are experiencing.
Hypothyroidism is the most common form of thyroid disease in which the thyroid is underactive. This can exist on its own or be caused by an autoimmune condition of the thyroid such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
In patients with Hashimoto’s, the immune system incorrectly identifies proteins in the thyroid gland as an invader. This prompts the release of thyroid antibodies in the form of thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin. These militants attack the thyroid, which causes irreparable damage and inhibits thyroid functionality. As the assault progresses, symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and weight gain, may develop and continually increase in severity.
Unlike typical hypothyroidism where bodily function slowly degrades, Hashimoto’s can cause temporary increases in thyroid hormone levels. When thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid tissue, the damaged cells release stored thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. Such events cause abrupt hormone spikes that produce symptoms similar to those seen in hyperthyroidism. This is known as Hashitoxicosis and is often accompanied by symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, racing heartbeat, sweating, jitteriness, diarrhea, and sudden weight loss.
Graves’ disease is another autoimmune condition of the thyroid in which the immune system produces too many thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins. These antibodies falsely attack healthy thyroid cells instead of a specific pathogen or invader. This leads to the thyroid creating too much thyroid hormone, which results in a state of hyperthyroidism.
Common symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Weight loss
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Tremors in the hands or fingers
Learn more about the difference between Hashimoto’s and Gaves’ disease and here
Is There An Autoimmune Disease Diet?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for those with an autoimmune disease. The best thing to do if you are suffering from an autoimmune condition is to receive in-depth food sensitivity testing.
Although you may not be allergic to certain foods, you may have sensitivities that are triggering an immune response, worsening the symptoms of your condition and leading to symptoms such as inflammation, digestive issues, brain fog, skin problems, and more.
By eliminating foods that may be causing these minor annoyances, your immune system will be less overworked and the symptoms of your autoimmune condition may subside.
With all that being said, there are some general guidelines for foods to avoid with an autoimmune disorder:
Gluten is a pro-inflammatory that can trigger an undesired immune response leading to greater symptom flare-ups. Those with a sensitivity or outright intolerance to gluten can suffer a significant immune reaction after consumption resulting in symptom intensification.
Lactose is a sugar that is most prevalently found in milk and dairy products. Approximately 65 percent of humans become incapable of digesting lactose after infancy. Therefore, dairy can produce a significant amount of inflammation in a large percentage of the population. Limiting dairy intake is another method of reducing immune stress.
Alcohol is also not advisable for those with an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid as wine, beer, and liquor, contain phytoestrogens, which increase estrogen levels in the body. Elevated estrogen levels or estrogen dominance suppresses thyroid hormone production. Furthermore, alcohol promotes the activity of an enzyme known as aromatase. This enzyme increases the conversion of androgens such as testosterone into estrogen, further contributing to estrogen dominance and therefore blocking thyroid function. Over-conversion of testosterone into estrogen due to excess aromatase is a predominant cause of reduced testosterone levels among thyroid patients.
Learn more about alcohol and thyroid function here
Can You Cure An Autoimmune Disease?
Unfortunately, autoimmune disease is currently not considered “curable.” This is because the problem with an autoimmune disease lies within the immune system. Unlike cancer or an infection, where the goal is to rid the body of diseased or “bad” cells, we must maintain an immune system. Destroying immune cells that are contributing to the condition would mean destroying cells that are also vital to our health and well-being.
The key when treating autoimmune is to control the immune response, specifically the inflammatory response. Systemic inflammation can take a significant toll on your health in the long run and make your condition more difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Interested in an anti-inflammatory diet for your autoimmune disease? Consider these ingredients
There are also more tips on combatting chronic inflammation here
How Do I Treat My Autoimmune Disorder?
Autoimmune disease is a large topic and there is still much to learn about these hugely impactful conditions. Identifying a specific condition requires familiarity with a multitude of autoimmune issues.
If you are suffering from common signs of autoimmune dysfunction such as chronic fatigue, persistent aches and pains, difficulty thinking clearly and gastrointestinal dysfunction, consider speaking to one of our board-certided experts at the Holtorf Medical Group about testing and treatment of autoimmune disease.