Autoimmune Diseases

February 1, 2017

An immune system is a highly regulated biological mechanism that identifies and reacts to antigens from various foreign substances found in the human body and reacts to these possible foreign threats by producing certain types of lymphocytes such as white blood cells and antibodies that have the ability to destroy or neutralize various germs, poisons and other foreign agents. Generally, the immune system is able to distinguish the foreign agents from the organism’s own healthy cells and tissues.

Autoimmune diseases occur when there is interruption of the usual control process, thereby allowing the system to malfunction and attack healthy cells and tissues. Autoimmunity, on the other hand, describes a diseased condition in which an organism fails to recognize its own cells and tissues, thereby enabling the immune system to trigger a response against its own components.

More than 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified. The most common of these diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid diseases (Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), myasthenia gravis, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the immune response toward self can affect any organ or organ system, resulting in a wide variety of autoimmune diseases.

Collectively, autoimmune diseases are thought to affect approximately 14–22 million people in the United States and represent a significant physical, emotional, social, and fiscal burden to the country’s health care system.

Types of Autoimmune Diseases

Systemic autoimmune diseases are characterized by the involvement of many different organs and organ systems.

The most common examples of systemic autoimmune diseases are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica
  • Lupus
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Goodpasture’s syndrome
  • Wegener’s granulomatosis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome

Localized autoimmune diseases are characterized by the involvement of only a single organ, organ system or tissue.

The most common types include –

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or Graves’ Disease
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Psoriasis
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus
  • Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis, Sclerosing Cholangitis, Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Temporal Arteritis / Giant Cell Arteritis


Who gets Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases can affect anyone. Yet certain people are at greater risk, including –

  • Women of childbearing age — More women than men have autoimmune diseases, which often start during their childbearing years.
  • People with a family history — Some autoimmune diseases run in families, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. It is also common for different types of autoimmune diseases to affect different members of a single family. Inheriting certain genes can make it more likely to get an autoimmune disease. But a combination of genes and other factors may trigger the disease to start.
  • People who are around certain things in the environment — Certain events or environmental exposures may cause some autoimmune diseases, or make them worse. Sunlight, chemicals called solvents, and viral and bacterial infections are linked to many autoimmune diseases.
  • People of certain races or ethnic backgrounds — Some autoimmune diseases are more common or more severely affect certain groups of people more than others. For instance, type 1 diabetes is more common in white people. Lupus is most severe for African-American and Hispanic people.



Genetic Factors

Studies suggest that genes predispose individuals to develop autoimmune diseases. The cells that control antibody production—for example, B cells (a type of white blood cell)—may malfunction and produce abnormal antibodies that attack some of the body’s cells. A predisposition to autoimmune disorders seems to run in families. However, family members can be affected by different disorders; for example, one person may have diabetes, while another has rheumatoid arthritis. It seems that genetic susceptibility alone is not enough to trigger an autoimmune reaction, and other factors must contribute.

Environmental Factors – Exposure to various synthetic chemicals and metals in the initiation of autoimmune disease may also increase susceptibility to autoimmune disorders. Generally, metals inhibit immune cell proliferation and activation; mercury, gold, and silver, for example, can induce lymphocyte proliferation and subsequent autoimmunity. A broad range of synthetic chemicals, including hormone supplementation, hormone blockers, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and food and herbal products, may elicit estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity.

Infections & Bacteria – Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and mycoplasma appear to provoke the initiation of systemic AD in genetically predisposed individuals. Moreover, a severe bacterial or viral infection may trigger an increase in autoreactive antibodies or conventional T cells that leads to a flare-up of quiescent AD or an exacerbation of existing symptoms.

Leaky Gut – Another growing hypothesis of the cause of autoimmunity is called intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’. The hypothesis is that through various reasons the health of the intestines degrades. The villi that line the intestines become damaged and as a result very small food particles are leaked from the intestines into the blood stream. The body sees these as foreign entities and marks them as antigens (remember those ghosts in Pac-Man). While the leaky gut theory is growing, it is not entirely accepted within the western medicine community.



Symptoms vary depending on the disorder and the part of the body affected. Some autoimmune disorders affect certain types of tissue throughout the body—for example, blood vessels, cartilage, or skin. Other autoimmune disorders affect a particular organ. Virtually any organ, including the kidneys, lungs, heart, and brain, can be affected. The resulting inflammation and tissue damage can cause pain, deformed joints, weakness, jaundice, itching, difficulty breathing, accumulation of fluid (edema), delirium, and even death.

Common symptoms include –

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General ill-feeling (malaise)
  • Joint pain
  • Rash
  • Anxiety, Irritability, or Depression
  • Hair Loss
  • Low or High Blood Pressure
  • Infertility or Low Sex Drive (Reduced Libido)
  • Leg Cramps & Muscle Twitching
  • Acne
  • Dizziness
  • Ichthyosis
  • Sweating
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold in the hands and feet
  • Exhaustion & Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Inflammation
  • Malaise
  • Elevated fever and High Body Temperature
  • Weakness and Stiffness in Muscles and Joints
  • Weight Changes
  • Digestive or Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Blood sugar changes
  • Hormone fluctuation which worsen menstrual cycles



Treatment may involve control of the autoimmune reaction by suppressing the immune system. However, many of the drugs used to control the autoimmune reaction also interfere with the body’s ability to fight disease, especially infections.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Corticosteroids – to reduce inflammation. They are sometimes used to treat an acute flare of symptoms
  • Pain-killing medication – such as paracetamol and codeine
  • Immunosuppressant drugs – to inhibit the activity of the immune system. These drugs include – azathioprine, chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, mycophenolate, and methotrexate.
  • Physical therapy – to encourage mobility
  • Treatment for the deficiency – for example, insulin injections in the case of diabetes
  • Surgery – for example, to treat bowel blockage in the case of Crohn’s disease
  • High dose Immunosuppression – the use of immune system suppressing drugs (in the doses needed to treat cancer or to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs) have been tried recently, with promising results. Particularly when intervention is early, the chance of a cure with some of these conditions seems possible.

Alternative Treatment

  • Essential Fatty Acids – GLA (GammaLinoleicAcid) & Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA from fish oils). The daily consumption of fish oil, omega-3 reduced both inflammation and anxiety in a group of young healthy people.
  • Probiotics – The gut contains “good” bacteria, which help with digestion and offer protection against “bad” bacteria. Consumption of antibiotics results in insufficient supply of good bacteria. Probiotics are live bacteria that are similar to beneficial bacteria that normally reside in the intestines. Under normal circumstances, beneficial bacteria keep the growth of harmful bacteria in check. If the balance between good and bad bacteria is thrown off, causing harmful bacteria to overgrow, diarrhea and other digestive problems can occur. Probiotics are used to restore the balance of these “good” bacteria in the body. They are available in the form of dietary supplements (capsules, tablets, and powders) or foods (yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices and soy beverages).
  • Antioxidants – Acai, blueberry, cranberry, grape seed, green tea, hesperidin, lycopene, mangosteen, pomegranate, quercetin have has anti-allergy, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antihistamine properties.
  • Minerals – Calcium,magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium are powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient.
  • Vitamin D – The increased levels of vitamin D was shown to improve muscular function, control blood pressure and improve levels of glucose in the body.
  • Vitamin C – A hardworking antioxidant, vitamin C offers two added bonuses: it helps the body deal with stress, and it boosts the activity of another outstanding anti-inflammatory, vitamin E.
  • Vitamin E – While vitamin E is commonly known as a fat-soluble antioxidant, it is also becoming a more popular choice to use as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Trace Minerals – Boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silver, zinc help in inflammation.


  • Harpagophytum procumbens – also known as devil’s claw, wood spider or grapple plant comes from South Africa and is related to sesame plants. European colonists brought devil’s claw back home to treat arthritis, fever and pain.
  • Ginger, also known as ginger root, is the mass of roots (rhizome) of the Zingiber officinale plant. It is used as a medicine or a spice. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat dyspepsia, constipation, colic, other gastrointestinal problems, as well as rheumatoid arthritis pain.
  • Curcumin a powerhouse anti-inflammatory, curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, the spice used in curries and other Indian foods.
  • Boswellia (frankincense). Similarly, the boswellia plant, from which the aromatic resin frankincense is derived, contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds known as boswellic acids.
  • Spirulina – This increasingly popular blue-green microalgae variety is poised to become the next big thing as far as “superfoods” are concerned, and for good reason.
  • Cannabis contains a cannabinnoid called cannabichromene, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.


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