What Are Autoimmune Disorders?
Autoimmune 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
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:
Symptoms of autoimmune disorders can range from very mild and vague to severe:
- Muscle or joint aches
- Digestive problems
- Memory problems
- Swollen glands
- Yeast infections
- Sleep disturbances
What Your Doctor May Tell You About Autoimmune 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
- CBC with differential
- C-reactive protein
- 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 addressing possible causes, not masking symptoms, believe that autoimmune disorders are not separate, unrelated conditions.
Rather, they can 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
Make dietary changes:
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing the Feingold diet
Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
Remove vegetable oils such as:
Include plenty of high-quality proteins with every meal, such as:
- Pasture-raised eggs and chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish
Heal the gut with special diets such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Paleo diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods.
Use digestive aids with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Betaine hydrochloric acid
- Vitalzyme Complete with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
- Proteolytic enzymes
Clean up your environment:
- Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
- Remove carpets
- Use non-toxic cleaners
- Use non-toxic building materials
- Green your home
Avoid exposing your child to chlorine, fluoride, and bromine because all three are in the same family as iodine and can displace iodine in the thyroid gland.
Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests for:
- Possible food sensitivities and allergies
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG, IgA, IgE and IgM
- Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. The NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas:
- Cellular energy
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Neurotransmitter metabolism
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Toxin exposure
- Detoxification need
- Bacterial and yeast overgrowth
- Gluten and casein sensitivities
- Organic acids: The organic acid test by Great Plains Laboratory for yeast overgrowth and Candida, oxalates, and other microbial infections
Add fermented foods and probiotics daily:
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Some good probiotics are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
- Micelized A (water soluable vitamin A)
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC): prevents upper respiratory infections for those prone to chronic infections
- MSM transdermal cream
- Epsom salts bath
See a well-trained acupuncturist:
Acupuncture can help strengthen the lungs, kidneys and liver.
See a NAET or BioSET practitioner for an allergy elimination treatment:
NAET and BioSET can help eliminate food and airborne allergies.
See a homeopath or naturopath:
These practitioners can diagnose and treat asthma naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.
Ionic foot bath:
The ionic foot bath can help detox unwanted pathogens and are easy to do with children.
An infrared sauna can detox through the skin and help strengthen the lungs.
However, this form of detoxification may not be suitable for young children who lack the ability to sweat.
Hypnotherapy can lessen or completely prevent allergic reactions and assist the immune system in responding in a different way.
Still Looking for Answers?
Sources & References
de Goffau, M.C., 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
Stagi, S., Bertini, F., Cavalli, L., Matucci-Cerinic, M., Brandi, M.L., Falcini, F. Determinants of vitamin D levels in children, adolescents, and young adults with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. J Rheumatol. 2014;41(9):1884-92
Watt, T., Hegedus, L., Bjorner, J.B., Groenvold, M., Bonnema, S.J., Rasmussen, A.K., 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
Whittaker, Faye. 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, New Zealand: Dancing Lion Press; 2009.