At first glance, someone having an “autoimmune condition” may sound scary and unknown. Or, if you didn’t know any better, it could sound like a super power.
We’re here to uncover the basics: what it is, who it affects, and where is treatment heading?
What is it?
An autoimmune condition is when a body’s immune system attacks and damages its own tissues. The immune system is designed to differentiate foreign substances (bacteria, etc) from the regular cells that exist in the body. Unfortunately, when the body can’t “self-recognize” on what’s good or bad, the immune system may end up attack its own cells.
Common Autoimmune conditions include:
- Systematic Lupus Erythematous (SLE)— People with SLE develop autoimmune antibodies that cannot differentiate self-cells and attach to tissues throughout the body, which can include the kidneys, the brain.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis— antibodies of the immune system attack the thyroid gland, located in the neck area. This gland is vital for producing essential endocrines for the body to maintain a healthy body function.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)— autoimmune antibodies attack the lining to tissues around the joints. This causes damage, swelling and stiffness around joints.
- Graves’ Disease— This is the leading cause of Hyperthyroidism. A person with Graves’ Disease has an immune system that produces way too many antibodies that causes the thyroid to grow (called Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobins, or TSIs). As a result, a over-hyperactive thyroid produces way too many growth hormones.
Who is effected?
Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases are more likely to strike women more than men. Autoimmune conditions affect approximately 50 millions people in the United States. Those 50 million people, 78% of those are women. Autoimmune have been cited as one of the leading cause of death for Women in the U.S. under the age of 65.
But why is it that so? How could there be a gender bias for autoimmune conditions, when we don’t know the exact origin of why it occurs? Prevailing research is still trying to find the root cause for the origin of autoimmune conditions. There are some common patterns/traits we see appearing with people with autoimmune disease.
Estrogen, a naturally occurring sex-hormone in both men and women, could be linked to the rise of autoimmune disease. Women produce more estrogen then men. A study conducted by Ohio State University linked that the presence estrogen may trigger an immune response that could lead to the onset of lupus.
Sounds a little complicated? Normally the endocrine system (how our body regulates itself through hormones) interplays with the immune system to maintain a healthy, physiologically functioning body. However, the role of estrogen-dominance could interplay with the immune system and may be a factor with the rise of autoimmune conditions.
In addition, research has cited that different ethnic groups are more susceptible to certain autoimmune disease. African-American, Asian, and Native American Women are two the three times more likely to develop Lupus than Caucasian women.
Autoimmune diseases are so broad in which category of medical specialties, that the exact underlying cause is still unknown. Diseases can cross into rheumatology, endocrinology, and hematology and much more, and because these categories focus on a particular category of conditions, the general focus of autoimmune conditions within the medical community is ambiguous.
There is hope, however, in the future for treating these condition is evolving.
What are some Autoimmune Treatments? Where is it going?
There is no “cure” for autoimmune conditions. Traditionally, your rheumatologist will instead prescribe you medicine to help with symptoms of autoimmune symptoms. Every lupus case is different (in fact, no two lupus cases are exactly the same), so depending on what symptoms arise, you will get a different mixture of medicines.
Some common medications include:
- Nonstreroidal anti-inflamatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Antimalarial Drugs (like Plaquenil)
- Corticosteroids (such as Prednisone)
Although these drugs are effective in alleviating the symptoms, these methods are often criticized for leaving patients with a number of side effects and symptoms that almost worst to deal with.
For example, If you already have an autoimmune disease, taking oral or intravenous antibiotics can lead to greater problems, like Leaky Gut.
Leaky gut is when the small intestine of the digestive system becomes “leaky”. The small intestestine is the area where your body digests more substances in your food that was broken down in your stomach. There are a number of “friendly” bacteria that live in your gut to aid with the digestive process.
The small intestine becomes “leaky” when microbes, toxins and other unwanted things pass through the small intestines and into your blood stream. This can lead to autoimmune diseases over a long period of time, because your immune responses and lymphatic system becomes overwhelmed in the long run.
The future of treatment for autoimmune conditions are looking towards a “holistic” approach, which is the general term for treatments that do not involve the prescription of drugs and instead treat conditions from other remedies.
To treat cases like Leaky Gut for autoimmune diseases, Doctors instead have been recalibrating the gut health of patients. Essentially, fixing the flora and natural bacteria in the gut.
You can learn more about resetting the natural bacteria flora in your gut through this article written my Dr. Amy Meyers.
The future of autoimmune treatment is looking at a step away from traditional prescribed drugs. Physicians are now recommending patients to incorporate life-style changes that treat autoimmune conditions in the long run.
This life style change includes alternative medicine, which you can read more about in our blog post here
Don’t be surprised about seeing alternative treatments and studies in the future. As science and research progresses, we will see more effectives to treat autoimmune conditions!