Canadians have one of the highest rates of autoimmune disease prevalence in the world. Normally the immune system does not attack the self. In autoimmune disease, the immune system loses its ability to distinguish self vs. non-self molecules and attacks its own cells. The attack can be directed to a specific tissue (eg pancreas with diabetes type 1) or a large number of tissues (eg heart, lung, kidney, etc with systemic lupus erythematosus ).
There are many theories as to how and why autoimmune diseases originate. Some of them include genetic predisposition, microbial infections, heavy metals, vaccinations,and other toxins in the environment (drugs, hormones, toxins).Females are much more likely to develop an auto-immune illness due to higher estrogen levels which can alter immune response. Stress can play a role in the development of an autoimmune disease. Scientific studies have shown that stress-triggered neuroendocrine hormones lead to immune dysregulation which results in AI disease by altering and amplifying cytokine production (messenger molecules that direct other immune cells). Stress can definitely aggravate autoimmune disease so overall balance in the face of stress is incredibly important in the management of any AI disease.
The initial diagnosis of an autoimmune disease may be missed as patients often present with vague or non-specific symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, low grade fever or generalized achiness. It is important as a patient to be persistent with your medical doctor if you just don’t feel right. Often there is something going on so don’t ignore your symptoms even if they are vague. Trust your intuition. The first time I went to my doctor because I didn’t feel quite right, there was nothing found and I was made to feel like I was a hypochondriac. Bloodwork that can help pinpoint an autoimmune disease would include ANA, presence of Rheumatoid Factor, anti DNA antibodies, C-reactive protein amongst others.
One can speculate that somewhere in the history there was a trauma; this is often during childhood. The trauma can be emotional as well as physical specifically involving the gastrointestinal system. With a leaky gut situation, the self and non-self are in contact. All autoimmune disease patients have had a breach of the mucosa of their intestines at some time which has resulted in an immune system that does not react appropriately when an antigen is presented at the intestinal level. I will use myself as an example to illustrate this particular scenario. I had a serious clostridium difficile infection when I was 16 years old which required hospitalization and IV antibiotics for a week. I went on to develop an autoimmune disease in my early twenties (that I did not know about until I was in my 30’s). The point is I had an infection which compromised my gastrointestinal integrity and had I known about the necessity of supporting my gastrointestinal lining back then, I don’t believe I would have developed an AI disease.
There are many factors that can support the gut lining otherwise known as gastrointestinal integrity- the best one being probiotic bacteria. Specific strains of probiotic bacteria can influence the balance of the immune system and help regulate it. Healing the gut is imperative if you have an autoimmune disease.Addressing dysbiosis is crucial and I will talk about this next in part 2. If you have an autoimmune disease and want to discuss complementary approaches to treatment of it, please book an appointment to discuss. I always recommend that my patients also have a medical doctor for co-management of serious disease.