You may have heard of the most common autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Type 1 Diabetes. But autoimmunity can impact any organ system and tissue throughout the body. The symptoms are wide-ranging and cut across all medical specialties. Thus, they may be difficult to diagnose. Currently, there are 100 diagnosable autoimmune diseases and at least 40 others that are suspected to be autoimmune related.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, 50 million of those have autoimmune disorders. Furthermore, according to the NIH, autoimmune disorders are the number one chronic health issue facing most Americans. Statistically there are more people with autoimmunity than there are with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Autoimmunity in its many forms is the “underlying cause of more than 100 serious, chronic illnesses. It targets women 75 percent of the time.” In some cases of autoimmunity such as with lupus, 9 out of 10 people who have lupus are women.
What is Autoimmunity?
Simply defined, autoimmunity is an immune response directed at the body – glands, organs, tissues, hormones, and enzymes. The immune system is designed to recognize the body tissues as “self.” But, somehow the immune system misdirects itself to attack our own tissues. Basically, the immune system gets confused. Autoimmunity can start without any symptoms, just an increase in antibodies directed at self-tissue. This is known as “silent autoimmunity.” These can be identified through lab testing and are known as “predictive antibodies.” We recommend a panel from Cyrex Labs that measures antibody reactivity to 25 different tissues. These antibodies can be positive for up to 12 years prior to a diagnosis. The second stage of autoimmunity occurs when there are elevated antibodies along with symptoms. The third stage occurs when there are elevated antibodies, significant symptoms, labs and special studies that are positively associated with a suspected autoimmune condition.
For example, with thyroid autoimmunity, especially Hashimoto’s thyroid autoimmune disease (which is one of the most common of all autoimmune conditions), in Stage 1 there will be positive antibodies, little to no symptoms and the thyroid markers on lab tests will be normal. In Stage II, as the autoimmunity progresses, symptoms start to emerge which may include fatigue, depression and/or anxiety, weight gain, cold hands and feet, mental sluggishness, heart palpitations, and nervousness. The symptoms may come and go and not all will be experienced at any one time. The antibodies are still positive, but the thyroid lab tests are still normal. At this point, the patient may be labeled as a chronic complainer, even though they have a diagnosable autoimmune condition. For some patients, since medical professionals are unable to diagnose any medical condition, they become frustrated and disheartened and may begin to question their own sanity. As the condition progresses further, the antibodies are still positive and the lab tests finally indicate a low thyroid. Then, hypothyroidism is diagnosed and medication is prescribed. The diagnosis is now Hashimoto’s Autoimmune Hypothyroidism. It has progressed from autoimmunity into an autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, the autoimmune process may be still actively destroying the thyroid. The medication may only provide palliative relief.
General Autoimmune Symptoms
Before an autoimmune condition is diagnosed, there may be months or years in which symptoms emerge that may not relate directly to any particular autoimmune condition. Those symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, low energy, a low grade fever, dizziness, and a general malaise. Or there may be symptoms of a recognized autoimmune condition, but the lab tests are normal or inconclusive. The symptoms may come and go and there will be times when they are more pronounced than at other times. What I often hear from my clients is that they just don’t feel well, but their doctors can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with them. One of my clients told me that his doctor had called him a hypochondriac because he had been to his doctor multiple times trying to find some answers. He was not fully expressing the major symptoms associated with any particular autoimmunity, but he was already experiencing some of the symptoms common to autoimmune issues. When tests were run for several different types of autoimmune antibodies, he was definitely positive for one of them. He was demonstrating predictive antibodies that could eventually lead to more discernible and aggravating symptoms. As you can see and as was described before with the stages of autoimmunity, you can experience a general set of symptoms prior to being diagnosed with a recognized autoimmune condition.
Since autoimmunity is the number one chronic health issue in the U.S., you may wonder why it is not being diagnosed more often.
What You Can Do to Prevent and Relieve Autoimmunity
If you know you are susceptible to autoimmunity you can ensure that you are less likely to experience it by eliminating gluten from your diet. You should find a nutrition oriented health professional who can order tests for gut permeability, cross-reactive foods, chemical sensitivities, and any predictive antibodies. All of these tests can be found at Cyrex Labs. You should also request a comprehensive blood test to look for any underlying metabolic imbalances that can be rectified through diet, lifestyle, and nutritional supplementation. The nutrition oriented health professional should be well schooled in providing a functional assessment of your blood test.
If you already have a diagnosed autoimmune disease, then your greatest hope for relief may just be the food you eat and the lifestyle you live. You should also have the same comprehensive battery of tests run as well. By improving your vitality, undertaking an anti-inflammatory diet, making changes in your lifestyle, regulating your immune system, and mitigating the environmental triggers, you can go a long way towards experiencing less exacerbations and improving the quality of your health and your life.