Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system becomes imbalanced, recognizing healthy tissues within the body as problematic.
The immune system then launches an attack that causes tissue damage. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association states that roughly 50 million Americans are suffering from autoimmunity (1). This estimate does not include the countless people suffering from autoimmune diseases that have been misdiagnosed or are still lying dormant. There are over 190 named autoimmune conditions and combined together they are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. Autoimmunity continues to rise, in line with previous decades. While some autoimmune responses have a genetic link, current research points to multiple environmental triggers that can instigate and perpetuate a dysregulated immune system.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease
The symptoms of autoimmune diseases are vast. If the immune system becomes imbalanced, it may attack one type of tissue as it spirals out of control, it may attack many tissues. For this reason, people with one autoimmune disease are at greater risk for developing additional autoimmune diseases. In over half the people that have one AI disease, they have multiple. Depending on the tissue(s) that are being destroyed, symptoms can range from:
- Weight gain
- Temperature dysregulation
- Joint pain
However, symptoms can span every organ system causing conditions related to the neurological system, cardiovascular system, hormone producing glands, digestive track, metabolism, skeletal system & more.
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Causes of Autoimmunity
Most autoimmune conditions have some genetic risk associated, but it is widely accepted that environmental triggers instigate disease development and progression. While overt factors like smoking, stress, or heavy metals can affect health at the genetic level, other triggers interact directly with our immune system and can teach it to recognize healthy cells as pathogenic. Infections, toxins and inflammatory foods are examples of this type of trigger. Environmental triggers can also be caused by lack of sleep, lack of food (low-calorie diets), lack of nutrients (deficiency), high blood sugar, imbalanced hormones, or lack of activity.
The Intestinal Permeability Link
Intestinal permeability is a primary dysfunction in those with autoimmunity (2). Intestinal permeability happens when the digestive cells, which should create a continuous barrier between the outside and inside world, begin to break apart. There are areas between intestinal cells called “tight junctions” which are meant to bind cells closely together. This prevents undigested foods or foreign particles from entering the bloodstream. When damage occurs to the tight junctions, microscopic spaces open, rendering our circulation and internal organs exposed to dangerous molecules that trigger chronic immune response and inflammation. This condition is also referred to as “leaky gut” syndrome.
The Functional Medicine Approach
While conventional medicine is focusing on suppression the immune response with drugs like Prednisone, Humera, and low-dose Chemotherapy, Functional Medicine looks at the underlying why. Why is the body going haywire and how can we uncover these factors and help them naturally heal. AI conditions truly require the practitioner to get out their detective hat and turn over every stone that could be hiding the issues causing the Autoimmune disease.
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