Autoimmune Diseases - When Your Body Attacks Itself.

Autoimmune diseases affect over 20% of Americans. Although there are over 80 different diseases that are classified as autoimmune, they all have one thing in common - they are caused by an inappropriate immune system response. Your immune system is designed to protect your body from invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In an autoimmune disease (or autoimmune disorder), your immune system gets confused and attacks your own cells, mistaking them for invaders.

Immune System Concept

Depending on the particular disease, your immune system attacks (and potentially destroys) particular body tissues, glands, organs, skin, joints, muscles or vessels. Most of these diseases are chronic, but typically have periods of remission (or few symptoms) alternating with flare-ups.

While there are over 80 very different autoimmune diseases, Type 1 Diabetes, Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus), Crohn's disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Celiac Disease are a few of the most common and recognizable ones (to read more about these diseases, refer to my short list of autoimmune diseases.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?

While there does seem to be a genetic predisposition to these immune system dysfunctions, that doesn't necessarily mean that if your parent has lupus you will too. It seems that other factors need to exist in order to "set off" the autoimmune reaction.

Physical and/or emotional stress, a poor diet, or an overstressed immune system are just a few of the other factors that may trigger the initiation or flare-up of an autoimmune disease. Recent studies have also found a possible link between low Vitamin D levels and a number of autoimmune diseases (check out my page on the benefits of Vitamin D for more details).

Food allergies also trigger an autoimmune response, so therefore must be considered an autoimmune disease. While many people are sensitive to certain foods, such as in lactose or gluten intolerance, a true food allergy is an adverse response of the immune system.

Food allergies are being diagnosed at rates faster and more far-reaching than at any other time in the world's history. Research is underway to determine why this is so. The patients and their physicians/allergists often must use trial and error to determine the best course of treatment.

Women Are More Susceptible.

Your sex may also play a role in whether or not you develop one of these disorders. 75% of all autoimmune diseases are in women. This seems to be because women have more developed immune systems than men. This is a real benefit for women - provided their immune systems don't turn on them. Unfortunately, due to a variety of triggers in this modern world, their immune systems often do turn on them, resulting in disease.

Many Different Diseases
with Common Symptoms.

Despite the fact that there are dozens of distinct autoimmune diseases, the following symptoms seem to be present in almost all of these diseases:

  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Muscle and Joint Pain and/or Muscle Weakness
  • Swollen Glands
  • Susceptibility to Infections
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Difficulty going to or staying asleep
  • Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain
  • Digestive Problems
  • Difficulties with Memory
  • Candida Yeast Allergies
  • Low-Grade Fevers

The Best Defense
Is a Healthy Lifestyle.

As for preventing these diseases, living a healthy lifestyle is the best defense. This includes eating a healthy diet (free from damaging and engineered ingredients) and getting plenty of healthy exercise. Supporting the immune system with quality sleep and managing stress are also crucial.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

The usual treatment for an autoimmune disease typically has two purposes - first, to replace any hormones that may be lacking due to the immune system's attack on a hormone-producing gland, and second, to suppress the immune system. Corticosteroids are the drugs of choice for suppressing the immune system, but come with severe side-effects, such as making you more susceptible to infections and potentially causing steroid-induced osteoporosis.

  "I Highly Recommend...
"Living Well with Autoimmune Disease" by Mary Shomon. This wonderful book, written by a woman living herself with an autoimmune disease, goes beyond the conventional by showing you how to work on your underlying autoimmune dysfunction with natural and alternative therapies. A must read!

Natural Treatments For
Autoimmune Diseases
Can Help!

Certain natural treatments have been found to be just as, if not more effective than pharmaceuticals for many people in managing their autoimmune diseases. Here are some of the best:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Dr. Andrew Weil, my favorite integrative medicine doc, has a wonderful page on this type of eating plan - click here and print it out! Based on Dr. Weil's anti-inflammatory diet, he also suggests the following:
    • Eliminate cows' milk products.
    • Consume more plant protein.
    • Consume less animal protein (no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake).
    • Eliminate trans-fats.
    • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables ( organic, if possible).
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques - hypnosis, meditation, breathing exercises and guided imagery are just a few. Click here to go to a wonderful yoga website that offers a free online yoga breathing exercise e-book. Or, click here for another link to Dr. Weil's website - he gives instructions for doing 33 powerful breathing exercises.
  • Exercise - yoga has been found to be especially effective for people who have a lot of pain associated with their autoimmune disease.
  • Supplements: Vitamin D, ginger, turmeric, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Watch the video below to hear what one of my favorite integrative docs, Mark Hyman, MD, has to say about autoimmune diseases.

Keep checking back as I add more information on autoimmune diseases - new discoveries are being made every day. I'll do my best to keep you informed. Now, get out there and start living the healthy lifestyle you deserve.

RN, Certified Wellness Coach

Related Articles
on Autoimmune Diseases:

Symptoms of Lupus - Learn About The Symptoms of Lupus and How To Treat It.
Lupus Treatment - Here Are The Natural Ways To Treat Lupus!
Lupus and Diet - Learn What To Eat To Control Your Symptoms.
Lupus and Exercise - Learn What Exercises Will Help.
Herbs for Lupus - Relieve Your Lupus Symptoms Naturally!
Drug Induced Lupus - Know The Drugs That Can Trigger Lupus Symptoms.
Types of Lupus - Learn To Identify the Different Types of This Autoimmune Disease.
Neonatal Lupus - A Type of Lupus Passed From Mother to Baby.

Other Links of Interest!
Arthritis natural treatment - Learn about the differernt foods and drinks you can take to fight this inflammatory illness.

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