What Are Autoimmune Disorders?

Autoimmune DisordersAutoimmune disorders are inflammatory conditions in which antibodies, protein molecules produced by the body’s immune system, attack and destroy healthy body tissue.

Doctors recognize more than 100 types of autoimmune disorders, including:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic Lyme disease
  • Acid reflux
  • Psoriasis
  • Lupus
  • Scleroderma

Women are three times as likely to develop an autoimmune illness.

Estimates from the NIH and the Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) are that 23.5 – 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disorder.

Currently, no reliable tests are available to determine whether someone has an autoimmune disorder.

In a healthy individual, antibodies respond to and attack only alien substances, such as bacteria and viruses, or anything they view as an invader.

In immune-compromised individuals, however, antibodies cannot distinguish between “alien” and “self,” and target “self” by accident, producing antibodies called auto-antibodies.

This process is similar to “friendly fire” in a military battle, where soldiers inadvertently kill members of their own armies.

Auto-antibodies can be created in healthy bodies; when this happens, the body’s natural backup system attacks them as invaders, destroying or suppressing them.

Auto-immune disorders result when one or more of the following occurs:

  • The immune system is triggered by a pathogen or other alien invader, creating  auto-antibodies that attack the “self”.
  • Auto-antibodies are not destroyed or suppressed by the body’s backup system, resulting in an overabundance of them.
  • Once the immune system begins to attack itself, the body finds it more and more difficult to differentiate between self and invader. As a result, additional triggers can cause the formation of more auto-antibodies, and a vicious cycle begins.
  • As the number of auto-antibodies increases, significant inflammation causes organ and system damage, resulting in an autoimmune disorder diagnosis.

Interestingly, research has linked auto-antibodies not just to physical disorders, but to a variety of learning and developmental disorders, such as ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and chronic mood ailments.

Learn more about autism as an autoimmune condition:

[The Impact of Neuroimmune Alterations in Autism Spectrum Disorder.]

[Systemic auto-antibodies in children with autism.]

Symptoms of autoimmune disorders can range from very mild and vague to severe:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory problems
  • Swollen glands
  • Yeast infections
  • Sleep disturbances

What Your Doctor Will Tell You About Auto-immune Disorders

Doctors generally explain that autoimmune disorders result when the immune system has turned itself on and gone into overdrive from an unknown trigger.

Recommended treatment will be to suppress that mechanism by gathering information utilizing case histories, symptom checklists, physical exams, blood tests, radiography results and biopsies.

Blood tests may include:

  • Antinuclear antibodies
  • Autoantibodies
  • CBC with differential
  • C-reactive protein
  • ESR
  • Food sensitivities/allergies
  • Hormone levels
  • Organ function
  • IgA antibodies

Doctors commonly believe that the causes of autoimmune disorders are largely unknown.

For some of the specific disorders, they might blame genes, medications, chemicals, infections, and unknown triggers. For example:

  • Chronic bronchitis: Caused by air pollutants, cold air, respiratory infections, pollen, animal dander, and dust mites
  • Lupus: Caused by sunlight, infections, and medications
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Caused by genes, obesity, and unknown environmental triggers
  • Colitis: Associated with medicines, chemicals, and infections
  • Psoriasis: Genetic
  • Autism: Caused by abnormalities in the brain

Treatments offered by doctors are usually limited to pharmaceutical management of symptoms, including pain and behavioral abnormalities.

These include hormone replacement, corticosteroids, strong immune-suppressants, pain suppressing medications, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, and injections.

Another Way to Think About Autoimmune Disorders

Those interested in treating possible causes, not masking symptoms, believe that autoimmune disorders are not separate, unrelated conditions.

Rather, they are all autoimmune disorders occur when the body is overburdened by the cumulative effect of a toxic load from various sources.

One third of the cause is thought to be related to genes; two-thirds of the autoimmune factors come from the environment, diet, and lifestyle, all of which affect gut health and the diversity of the gut microbiome.

Symptoms occur when the body is overburdened. This overburdened condition is caused by a blend of:

  • Genetic susceptibility from a number of genes – the more you have, the more of a chance you’ll be vulnerable.
  • Environmental triggers, including exposures to heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, petroleum products, silica, cigarette smoke and ultra-violet radiation.
  • Dietary and lifestyle choices, including consumption of foods containing gluten, casein, too much sugar and sugar substitutes, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, too little sleep, exercise, contact with nature and dirt.
  • Infections from bacteria and viruses, which can be low level and chronic, such as Epstein Barr, Herpes, candida, Lyme and Strep that continuously challenge and activate the immune system.

Autoimmune Disorders Checklist to Start

  • Have you removed possible toxic exposures in the home, school, and office, such as detergents, soaps, lotions and personal care products?
  • Have you identified and treated underlying food or environmental allergies and sensitivities (besides mold, dust, pet dander, etc.)? Common sensitivities include wheat, dairy, corn and soy.
  • Have you supported the body and the immune system with basic nutrients like Vitamin D, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients?

If You’ve Addressed These Issues and Are Still Dealing with Autoimmune Disorders

  • Have you modified the child’s diet?
  • Have you assessed the health of your child’s gut bacteria?
  • Is your child feeling stressed, anxious or upset?

Still Looking for Answers?

Visit the Epidemic Answers Provider Directory to find a practitioner near you.

For further information:

de Goffau MC, Luopajarvi K, Knip M, Ilonen J, Ruohtula T, Harkonen T, et al. Fecal microbiota composition differs between children with beta-cell autoimmunity and those without. Diabetes. 2013;62(4):1238-44 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23274889

Stagi S, Bertini F, Cavalli L, Matucci-Cerinic M, Brandi ML, Falcini F. Determinants of vitamin D levels in children, adolescents, and young adults with juvenile idiopathic arthritis.J Rheumatol. 2014;41(9):1884-92 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25086083

Watt T, Hegedus L, Bjorner JB, Groenvold M, Bonnema SJ, Rasmussen AK, et al. Is Thyroid Autoimmunity per se a Determinant of Quality of Life in Patients with Autoimmune Hypothyroidism? Eur Thyroid J. 2012;1(3):186-92 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24783018

Whittaker F. Rheumatoid remedies: a collection of more than 70 pages of nutritional and drug-free options to promote recovery from rheumatoid arthritis and associated inflammatory diseases. 1st ed. Kaitaia, N.Z.: Dancing Lion Press; 2009. 84 p. P. http://dancinglion.co.nz/collections/all


Galland, Leo.  Superimmunity for Kids: What to Feed Your Children to Keep Them Healthy Now, and Prevent Disease in Their Future.  Dell , 1989 https://www.amazon.com/Superimmunity-Kids-Children-Healthy-Prevent/dp/0440506794