Autoimmune diseases have tripled in prevalence over the last 50 years and are still on the rise, with incidences increasing at ranges between 3% and 9% year on year.
What is an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune disease happens when our immune system (which is supposed to protect us from microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and parasites) turns against us and attacks us by mistake. It can attack different cells, tissues and organs in the body. There are over 80 autoimmune diseases that have been identified so far, with some of the more commonly known conditions including:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system, leading to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- Rheumatoid arthritis – cells that line your joints are targeted by the autoimmune reaction, causing joints and surrounding tissues to become swollen, stiff and painful
- Type 1 diabetes – immune system destroys cells within the pancreas that produce the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin
- Crohn’s disease – segments of the gastrointestinal tract are affected causing abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal distension, fatigue and weight loss
- Multiple sclerosis – myelin sheaths which protect the nerve fibres carrying messages to and from the brain are targeted by the immune system, causing scarring (known as sclerosis)
- Lupus – immune system targets healthy tissue, causing inflammation of the skin and joints, and can affect internal organs
Signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease
With unusual autoimmune diseases, patients may suffer years before getting a proper diagnosis because the symptoms may not be specific and can look like other health problems. But even with more common diseases, initial symptoms are often intermittent and unspecific until the disease becomes acute. Some of the signs and symptoms may include:
- Feeling tired, weight gain, hair loss
- Feeling cold when others aren’t, cold hands and feet
- Numbness or tingling sensation in your hands/feet
- Dry skin, mouth and eyes
- Loss of skin pigmentation
- Unexplained weight loss, rapid heartbeat, feeling “wired”, difficulty sleeping, feeling hot
- Joint and muscle pain, muscle weakness or tremors
- Poor memory, “brain fog”, inability to focus or concentrate
- Multiple miscarriages
- Blood or mucus in the stool, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea
- A butterfly shaped rash on the face, hives, or unexplained rashes
How common are autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases affect around 4-6% of people and this percentage is continuing to rise. Many autoimmune conditions are becoming more common, with some such as Coeliac increasing in incidence by as much as 9% each year.
Collectively, autoimmune diseases affect more than 24 million people in the United States and about 4 million people in the UK. It’s estimated that up to a third of the four million people affected in the UK live with more than one autoimmune condition, so having one autoimmune disease increases the risk of developing additional ones.
What causes autoimmunity?
Although the causes of many autoimmune diseases remain unknown, a person’s genes in combination with infections and other environmental exposures are likely to play a significant role in disease development.
It’s understood that three things are required for autoimmunity to develop.
- Genetic predisposition
- Environmental factors which are the triggering events (e.g. bacterial or viral infections, food intolerances, toxins)
- Intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut)
Is an autoimmune disease treatable?
Although medications are available for many autoimmune diseases, autoimmunity is not curable. The medications are used to suppress the symptoms, or the over-active immune system. Sometimes surgery may be recommended to remove badly damaged tissue.
My approach to autoimmune disease
Even though autoimmunity is not curable, there is a lot you can do to improve the situation, regain better quality of life and take back control of your health. Autoimmunity is an immune system problem, hence by addressing the underlying immune system imbalances (environmental factors/triggers, intestinal permeability) it’s possible to balance and improve the function of the immune system. This can lead to improved health or even remission of the symptoms.
There are multiple variables that we will investigate and adjust in order to try and get back to a more normal function of the immune system:
- Chronic stress
- Sleep issues
- Food intolerances and sensitivities, reactive foods
- Nutritional deficiencies
- “Leaky gut” and gut health
- Viral, bacterial, yeast and parasitic infections
- Toxins, pollutants, heavy metals, moulds
- Hormonal imbalances
Where to start?
If you’d like more information or to get started with improving your health, please book a free 30-min call to discuss your situation.