The Autoimmune Epidemic
Tautoimmunity is spiraling out of control. It has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that over 50 million people suffer with an autoimmune condition in the U.S. alone. Experts in the field suggest the actual numbers of people suffering are much higher.
So what exactly is autoimmunity? As the term implies, autoimmunity affects the body’s immune system. Our immune systems are naturally meant to protect us and keep us healthy. However with an autoimmune condition the immune system does just the opposite; it attacks healthy tissue and organs mistaking them for invaders.
Autoimmunity is an umbrella term that represents over 100 chronic conditions.
Here are some of the most common:
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Graves’ disease—overactive thyroid gland
- Multiple sclerosis
- Celiac disease
- Pernicious anemia
- Scleroderma and Crest syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Addison’s disease
- Reactive arthritis
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Type 1 diabetes
- Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia – (autoimmune related conditions)
As I mentioned above, there are hundreds of autoimmune and autoimmune related conditions. This is Part One in my autoimmune series. I’ll write more about the specifics of each of these conditions down the road. For now I’ll discuss what’s at the root of the autoimmune process and why these conditions have reached global epidemic proportions.
All Autoimmune Conditions Share the Same Process
Current medical research shows that all autoimmune conditions are essentially the same process occurring in the body: the inflamed immune system, under the strain of continual cellular stress (triggers), mistakes healthy tissue as foreign and begins to destroy it.2 The only difference between various autoimmune conditions is which organ is being attacked. With lupus, it can be the skin, the liver, the joints, etc. With type I diabetes, it’s the pancreas; with multiple sclerosis, it is the brain and spinal cord; and with ulcerative colitis, it is the large intestine and rectum.
In the case of Hashimoto’s and Graves’, the thyroid is the obvious target, but it’s important to note that it’s rarely just the thyroid being affected, and there are typically many conditions happening at the same time.
In the autoimmune process, the cells of the immune system, that ordinarily work to kill harmful invaders and regulate immune response, get overworked, and thus become overproduced, under-produced or confused. They begin, instead, to tag and destroy our healthy cells and tissues.
The Cause of Autoimmunity: Chronic Stress in all Forms
Throughout history people have known that stress makes you sick. While they may have lacked the “science,” ancient healing systems were built upon relieving stress and detoxing the body, thus restoring balance and health. Today, scientists have proven how both acute and chronic stressors directly affect the cells of your immune system resulting in autoimmunity.
Here are just a few examples:
- Acute stress in any form (psychological and physical) can cause a rise in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which suppress T-cell activity. This is why you may catch a cold after a stressful event.
- Chronic stress in any form can cause adrenal fatigue, which causes the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine to become depleted. This can allow immune system T-cells to get out of control, resulting in inflammation and an imbalance between T-cells and B-cells.3
- Chronic stress can impair methylation, which can suppress T-cell production. Impaired methylation of T-cells may be involved in the production of autoantibodies.4
- Chronic infectious stress can cause both B-cells and T-cells to be overproduced resulting in autoimmunity.5,6
- Gastrointestinal stress, perhaps caused by parasites, yeast or an overgrowth of bad bacteria, affects all the cells of your immune system, and disrupts the balance between T-regulator cells and Th1 and Th2 cells.7
- Food allergies and sensitivities, for instance to gluten, can cause B-cells to be overproduced, which may result in an accidental attack on healthy tissues.8
- Nutrient deficiency is a form of stress that can be at the root of an autoimmune response; for instance, selenium and iodine deficiencies have been found to cause thyroid inflammation, thus driving up the production of T-cells and B-cells.9
- Exposure to heavy metals can cause both T-cells and B-cells to be overproduced.10
- Certain medications and vaccinations can be “antigenic,” which means that the body produces antibodies to the substance, thus initiating an immune response. In some cases this can trigger an autoimmune response.11.12
- Literally thousands of environmental toxins from cleaning products and pesticides to dry cleaning fluids and plastics can become antigenic and trigger an autoimmune condition.13
What I really want you to grasp is that the autoimmune process is a “symptom” of several underlying assaults on the body that have gone ignored or untreated for so long that the immune system becomes totally overloaded and begins to misfire.
Our Genes and the Environment: A Mismatch
In 2010, a paper in Science Magazine reported that while risks of developing chronic diseases are attributed to both genetic and environmental factors, 70 to 90 percent of disease risks are probably due to differences in environments.13 What that means is that while genetics play a role in chronic illnesses such as autoimmunity, environment plays a bigger role. Science is now making the connection between, chronic stress, poor nutrition, toxins and infections and the autoimmune process.
You’re doctor might tell you that your autoimmune condition is genetic, especially if someone in your family suffers with autoimmunity, but there is much more to the story. The truth is our environments and lifestyles are becoming less and less hospitable to life – let alone vibrant health.
We all have genetic strengths and weaknesses, and each of us has a maximum limit of how much stress and toxins we can take before we get sick. For some, it’s the cardiovascular system that breaks down after years of chronic stress, and they might have a heart attack. For others, it’s lowered immunity, and there might be a diagnosis of cancer. For those of us with autoimmune conditions, our immune systems become confused and overwhelmed and attack our own tissues.
Scientists in the emerging field of Evolutionary Medicine have been researching how our current lifestyles don’t match those of our ancestors and this mismatch is proving to have some dire consequences. Sedentary lifestyles, lack of exposure to sunlight, chronic stress and processed food substitutes might seem like a “normal” part of modern life – but our bodies and our genes haven’t had the time to adapt to these anti-life conditions. Throw in the 80,000 chemicals we’re exposed to every day such as endocrine disrupting compounds, volatile organic compounds, xenoestrogens, petrochemicals, toxic halogens, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and more, and it’s a wonder we’re doing as well as we are. Additionally, with bodies so stressed out and toxic many people have a compromised ability to fight chronic infections such as viruses and tick borne disease.
The inconvenient truth is that no human on the planet has evolved to be able to handle chronic unrelenting stress, eat junk all day, never work out, and effectively process toxic chemicals and fake hormones. If you’re sick there are likely some good reasons. If you want to get better you have get curios about how your lifestyle and environment is affecting your genetic expression and your health!
What can we do?
Scientists are scrambling to understand the mechanics of the immune system so that they can find a way to chemically manipulate it to function properly while being pushed past its limits. But what if we were to take a different approach? What would happen if the stressors were removed and the immune system was taken off its 24/7 high-alert schedule?
Our immune systems are influenced by everything in our environments from our positive and negative thoughts, the good and bad foods we eat, to the toxins and infections we are exposed to. Once we observe these effects, we can accentuate the positive and reduce the negative so the immune system can come into balance.
When we reduce the burdens on our body and emotions and restore the conditions for wellness, autoimmunity can be reversed. I know this in my heart, and I have witnessed this in my own body and seen it hundreds of times with my clients.
What you need to know:
- Autoimmunity has reached epidemic proportions worldwide!
- All autoimmune conditions share the same process
- Autoimmunity, like all chronic illness, is the result of too much stress on the body!
- Chronic stress, sedentary lifestyles, lack of sunlight, poor nutrition, and exposure to toxins is not healthy!
- To reverse autoimmunity (or any chronic illness) you have to get curios about why you’re sick in the first place and then take action!
- It is possible to change your environment and change your genetic expression!
In my next article I’ll talk about how to heal autoimmunity naturally!
If you or a loved one is suffering with an autoimmune condition it’s possible to find the areas that are stressing your body and your genes. The Thyroid Cure is the most comprehensive and well-researched book on the triggers of autoimmunity and how to heal naturally.
My webinars and personal one-on-one Functional Mind-Body Consults will help you uncover the roots of your condition and begin your path to healing.
- Eggleton P. Stress protein–polypeptide complexes acting as autoimmune triggers. Clin Exp Immunol. 2003 October; 134(1): 6–8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1808840
- Stojanovich L, Marisavljevich D. Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2008 Jan;7(3):209-13. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123739476000477
- Richardson B. DNA methylation and autoimmune disease. Clin Immunol. 2003 Oct;109(1):72-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14585278
- Ercolini A M, Miller S D. The role of infections in autoimmune disease. Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 January; 155(1): 1–15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2665673
- Kivity S, Agmon-Levin N, Blank M, Shoenfeld Y. Infections and autoimmunity – friends or foes? Trends in Immunology – 1 August 2009 (Vol. 30, Issue 8, pp. 409-414) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471490609001252
- Velavan TP, Ojurongbe O. Regulatory T cells and parasites. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2011;201(1):520940. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255565/
- Biagi F, Pezzimenti D, Campanella J, Corazza GR. Gluten exposure and risk of autoimmune disorders. Gut. 2002;51(1):140–141. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1773261/
- Negro R. Selenium and thyroid autoimmunity. Biologics. 2008 June; 2(2): 265–273. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2721352/
- Bigazzi P E. Autoimmunity and Heavy Metals. Lupus December 1994 vol. 3 no. 6 449-453 http://lup.sagepub.com/content/3/6/449.abstract
- Orbach H, Agmon-Levin N, Zandman-Goddard G. Vaccines and autoimmune diseases of the adult. Discov Med. 2010 Feb;9(45):90-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20193633
- Vial T, Descotes J. Autoimmune diseases and vaccinations. Eur J Dermatol. 2004 Mar-Apr;14(2):86-90. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15196997
- Burek C L, Monica V. Talor M V. Environmental Triggers of Autoimmune Thyroiditis. J Autoimmun. 2009 Nov–Dec; 33(3-4): 183–189. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790188/
- Eggleton P. Stress protein–polypeptide complexes acting as autoimmune triggers. Clin Exp Immunol. 2003 October; 134(1): 6–8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1808840/
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., F.M.C., is a Functional Medical Practitioner, Nutritionist and Author. She studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Michelle is an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University, and a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants.
In her groundbreaking book The Thyroid Cure, The Functional Mind-Body Approach to Reversing Your Autoimmune Condition and Reclaiming Your Health, (Vibrant Way Press) Michelle presents readers with the keys to reversing the full spectrum of autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, Graves’ Disease, Lupus, Celiac, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
Michelle offers Total Recovery Programs for patients who suffer from complex autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. These Functional Mind-Body programs are designed to guide people to recover wellness by balancing the core systems of the body through optimizing nutrition and detoxification, practices to release stress, let go of the past, and connect more fully to a life of spirit.