What is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease affects over 50 million Americans and this number is on the rise. Some studies estimate that women make up 75% of this population. This makes it very likely that you yourself or someone you are close to experiences some form of autoimmune disease .
Depending on the type, an autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue. There are over 80 types of autoimmune conditions identified today. Some common ones include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. You may not “fit in” to one of these disease categories but might experience general symptoms of system wide inflammation such as fatigue, chronic low-grade fever, overall feeling of malaise (feeling sick and tired), joint pain and rashes that could be indicative of an underlying autoimmune disease process.
What Causes Them?
Autoimmune conditions occur when your immune system begins to attack healthy cells in your body. Your body is always fighting invaders, whether it’s battling infections, allergens from food or the environment, or a response to high stress levels. In the case of autoimmune diseases, your immune system army redirects its attack against you and your joints, skin, organs and brain.
Genetics play a large role in the development of autoimmune conditions, but symptoms can often times be triggered by environmental or dietary irritants that we can modify and control. A lot is still unknown in this field, but whether these genes for autoimmunity get turned on is actually influenced by a host of other factors, such as underlying infections, chronic inflammation tied to food sensitivities and even our stress levels.
How Can We Treat Them?
The conventional medical approach is to suppress symptoms such as joint pain, fever and swelling using steroids or medications that work to turn off parts of the immune system. This approach can be hugely beneficial and is necessary for some people at certain points in their treatment to reduce pain, inflammation and debilitating symptoms. We have to understand, however, that these treatments are largely suppressing symptoms and aren’t getting at the root cause of why the body is directing it’s attack against its own tissues and organs. Like Sidney Baker, M.D., a well-known preventive medicine specialist said,“If you are sitting on a tack, the answer is not to treat the pain. The solution is to find the tack and remove it.” You get the picture.
The good news is that in order to figure out what’s really going on, to find the “tack” and to bring the body back into balance there are many things we can do! We can start by identifying food sensitivities and removing inflammatory foods, restoring gut health, identifying disease triggers, and mindfully reducing stress and anxiety. Many of us have visited the doctor knowing something is wrong and have been told to "come back when symptoms get worse" when our blood work or complaints don't fit into a neat and tidy disease category. This leaves many people high and dry, still suffering in a broken system without any help. In my opinion, that's not good enough. So trust yourself, and what your body is telling you because you know it better than anyone else. And know that it is possible to live well with chronic disease.