Autoimmunity occurs when our immune system loses tolerance of self and begins attacking our tissues. In layman language, our antibodies confuse our own body tissue with that of an invader( toxins, infections, stressors and harmful bacteria). One of the worst things about auto immune condition is feeling as if some weirdo has taken over your body. You are trembling, your body aches, panic, sleep issues, brain fog, fatigued and muscle weakness. You feel totally out of control. If you cannot relate to this feeling, imagine that bad flu you once had. Remember you felt weak, out of breath, no energy, dizzy and exhausted? Now, imagine feeling like that throughout the day, weeks and months!
Think of your immune system as a security team or army. Every time there is danger- bacteria, virus, parasites, the body senses and releases these soldiers to fend off attackers and neutralizes the threat. Our immune system has 2 levels of security. The first line of defense is known as the innate system. The same line of defense that plants, insects and multi-celled organisms have. These soldiers are fast to attack, they don’t keep history of previous attacks so they start a fresh every time there is a threat, rushing off to your defense as if they had never seen them before. The innate immune system works through a mechanism known as acute inflammation (a hot reaction that represents the bodys efforts to fight off infections) Acute means that the inflammation has a time limit as opposed to chronic which is ongoing, persistent response.
Our 2nd line of defense is called the adaptive system. These soldiers take time to kick into action unlike the innate system that doesn’t learn anything. This system evolved because as human beings we may encounter multiple environments with wide variety of threats. Our adaptive immune system allows our bodies to recognize some of the threats and develop permanent protection against them. A good example is when we have an open wound (bacterial infection), the innate immune system takes care of it by sending a team of killer chemicals to the site of the infection. It creates the acute inflammation ( redness, swelling, heat and pain) which is a process of healing. When we get diseases like measles on the other hand, the adaptive immune system springs into action. It figures out how to give you long term immunity so that you don’t have to face the same problem again. That’s how vaccination works.
The main issue comes when our immune system is put in a position where it has to keep responding to these invaders and threats. We are overworking our security squad and what happens when you are fighting constantly without a rest? The inflammation reaction is supposed to flare up in response to a specific threat, attack, eradicate and then subside so as to give your body a chance to heal and get back to normal. So when the body is constantly facing threats, the inflammation is constant, hence never completely subsides. Your immune system therefore remains on high and permanent alert which makes the inflammation chronic. When you have overworked soldiers (immune system) guarding your gate (body). They are tired and are likely to put your body at risk! The overworked immune system might go rogue and start attacking your own tissue. This is dangerous and can lead to development of autoimmune condition and if you develop one condition, it is highly likely to develop another if the chronic inflammation continues. Our goal should be to have a strong immune system – a state of no inflammation which means your immune system is at rest, it is strong, responsive and ready to do its job.
Conditions associated with chronic inflammation include; back pain, muscle pain, arthritis, cancers of all types, heart diseases, digestive disorders like ulcers, gallstones, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome. Emotional and cognitive disorders like anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, dementia. Hormonal disorders like fibrocystic breasts, fibroid, and endometriosis. Metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. Respiratory disorders like sinusitis, allergies, asthma. Skin conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea.
Some of the factors that put your immune system on permanent alert are;
1. Gluten-saturated diets- The type of gluten to which we are exposed is not the same protein our ancestors knew of but a new substance that has turned out to be dangerous to our health
2. Leaky gut (diet, toxins, stress and medications all contribute to leaky gut, a condition in which your intestinal walls become too permeable. As a result, partially digested food leaks through, ramping up stress on your immune system in many ways and causing other health issues.
3. The toxic burden- Chemicals in the air that we breathe, water and food has stressed our immune systems to an unprecedented extend.
4. Our stressful lives- stress has been shown to trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders. We need to learn to manage stress better, take time to rest and heal our bodies.
We have been led to think that auto immune disorders are genetic, cannot be reversed, and we have to be under medication throughout regardless of the side effects. Well, studies show that autoimmunity is only 25% heritable, which means 75% is environmental- Lifestyle which is more significant. So diet, gut healing and reducing toxic burden can restore your immune system.
Some of the medications used to treat these autoimmune conditions have huge side effects like depression, acne, allergies, skin cancer high blood pressure, increased blood sugar, anemia, psoriasis, hair loss, anxiety, TB etc. Instead of seeking for only medication that suppress the immune system, research shows that food and supplements together with reducing stress and healing infections can strengthen and support the immune system.
I hope this gives a clear picture of what an autoimmune condition is, while there is no permanent cure of these conditions, autoimmune conditions can be resolved, the symptoms can be treated. And we have the power to choose, so let’s not become prisoners of our genetics. Ultimately if you clean up your diet, eliminate gluten and some of the food culprits that trigger these conditions like grains, heal your gut, eliminate toxins, heal infections and ease stress load, you can defeat this and live an excellent quality of life. Please remember that excessive body fat especially belly fat triggers inflammation.
To your health.