Did you know that rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, coeliac disease, heart disease, diabetes (type 1), lupus, colitis, eczema, Crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, some thyroid diseases, Alzheimer’s, dementia and many others are in fact autoimmune diseases?1,3
These and many other autoimmune conditions (more than 80) can destroy your life. They can cripple and imprison mature people while stealing happy childhoods from many kids. They can take away important things from you, like time, health, memories and loved ones.1.
What triggers autoimmune diseases?
The triggers of autoimmune diseases are unknown. Your diagnosis depends on the parts of your body affected by symptoms and identified by your doctor via appropriate testing procedures. However, it doesn’t mean that these diseases are completely different to one another, they are all called autoimmune conditions.2
In fact, all these conditions have the same underlying issue in which the body’s natural defence system, the immune system, is attacking itself. This means that your body can’t tell the difference between your own cells and external invasive organisms (virus, bacteria, parasites, etc.). Therefore, your immune system is mistakenly “auto” attacking its own cells, tissues and/or organs. This results in inflammation and great health damage.
So, whether you are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease, you will get told that your symptoms are “idiopathic” (meaning that the doctors do not know what is causing them).2
The disturbing silence about autoimmunity
Many people have lived with autoimmune diseases for several years, consulting many doctors and receiving wrong opinions before receiving a correct diagnosis. This problem is attributed to disease prevalence reports which are indicating that many autoimmune diseases are rare but, unfortunately, according to the latest registered literature, that is not the case.3
Global statistics about autoimmunity are not easily available, but experts indicate that countries which are becoming more industrialised, with big changes in economics, environmental factors, and in diet, as well as changes in toxicity levels, are also developing the same rates of autoimmune disease as the Americans are experiencing: It’s estimated that anywhere from 9 million to 50 million people in the United States have an autoimmune disease. 4
Many countries, like Australia, seem to meet the mentioned criteria for abundant autoimmunity as in the American case. Several books and reports are explaining the alarming and unforeseen connection between autoimmunity and the countless environmental triggers you are exposed to every day: heavy metals, toxins, pesticides, viruses, chemicals in the foods, and more.5,2
Therefore, between 80 and 140 recognised autoimmune and autoimmune-related diseases3 can be creeping over the local population as you look through this article. Those autoimmune diseases are likely to continue for the lifetime of the affected person and will require continual or intermittent care.
What are the alarming symptoms for autoimmunity?
Common symptoms of autoimmune disease include6:
- Abdominal pain or digestive issues
- Joint pain and swelling
- Recurring fever
- Skin problems
- Swollen glands
These symptoms can come from other common conditions and therefore it is difficult for doctors to diagnose autoimmunity. Usually, there is not a single test to diagnose it, so the combination of certain symptoms with specific blood tests and in some cases, a tissue biopsy or a scan, can help with disease identification and diagnosis.6
Who is more likely to get autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune conditions have a genetic component as they tend to be found throughout families. However, during the last twenty years, after an increasing rate of autoimmune conditions, studies are now demonstrating that these issues are not restricted to genetics alone.7
Science and practitioners now consider the field of Epigenetic’s, which is investigating how environmental factors can affect your DNA. They find that your bad and good genes are turned on and off by the world around you and the choices you make in life. 7
For example, research investigating the immune systems of twins found that 77% of the immune system was determined by things we can control. Stress levels, the foods you choose to eat, toxins, exposure to germs, and medications. They are the determinants of much of your health. 7
What can you do?
You can prevent and improve many symptoms of autoimmune diseases and expand your current and future quality of life by addressing your stress levels, diet, toxins, germs and medications exposure. For example, places like the SA Wellness Centre can:
- Diminish your stress levels via remedial massage. It involves the assessment and treatment of muscles and other soft tissues to help relieve pain, restore function, and reduce muscle tension and/or muscle spasm.
- Help you manage and recover from many painful and limiting musculoskeletal conditions via Physiotherapy, which is an effective, proven form of manual treatment.
- Give you preventative advice and diagnose about chronic health problems via experts Chiropractors.
- Teach you natural techniques for improving your health and wellbeing considering your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual environment. They can restore your balance via Yoga and Naturopathy services.
It is fundamental to act, prevent or reduce possible autoimmunity triggers. This is because the likelihood that a person with an autoimmune condition will eventually get another autoimmune disorder is high. Different autoimmune diseases can co-occur or progress into connected autoimmune manifestations in different organs.8
- Autoimmune Secrets (2018). Can Autoimmune Disease Be Reversed? https://autoimmunesecrets.com/. (Accessed on the 4th of April, 2019).
- Wahls, T. L., & Adamson, E. (2014). The Wahls protocol: a radical new way to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions using Paleo principles. Penguin.
- Autoimmune Registry, Inc. List of Autoimmune Diseases. ARI website. http://www.autoimmuneregistry.org/the-list-1 (Accessed on the 4th of April, 2019).
- Bingham Memorial Hospital (2017). Autoimmune Diseases Around the World. https://www.binghammemorial.org/Health-News/autoimmune-diseases-around-the-world. (Accessed on the 4th of April, 2019).
- Nakazawa, D. J. (2009). The autoimmune epidemic. Simon and Schuster.
- The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System (2019). What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease?. Health. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease. (Accessed on the 1th of April, 2019).
- , C. (2019). How Much Of Autoimmune Disease Is Genetics Vs. Environment? Mindbodygreen website. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17918/how-much-of-autoimmune-disease-is-genetics-vs-environment.html. (Accessed on the 1th of April, 2019).
- Healio (2016). Staying Ahead of Multiple Autoimmune Disorders. Healio Rheumatology. https://www.healio.com/rheumatology/rheumatoid-arthritis/news/print/healio-rheumatology/%7Bed6a292b-402b-402b-82ca-c2c2e9c01e3b%7D/staying-ahead-of-multiple-autoimmune-disorders. (Accessed on the 4th of April, 2019).
* The author thanks and acknowledges the valuable feedback provided by Lauryn Pountney.