Many of us have heard the word “auto-immune” but what does this really mean? Basically it means that a person has a condition where their immune system cannot separate a “bad” invader from their own body tissue. How does this work? When the body identifies a foreign substance, it recognizes proteins, called “antigens.” The role of the antigens are to alert the immune system so that it can neutralize their “harmful” effects. In a healthy person’s body, serve to quickly locate foreign invaders and debris, such as viruses, bacteria and toxins. In an autoimmune disorder, the immune system becomes overwhelmed because it has to do extra work besides fighting foreign invaders, and in the process the body damages its own tissue. Also, there can be an overaggressive or insufficient response to an antigen.
It is commonly believed that in an “autoimmune disorder”, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. The general misconception is that the body is attacking itself due to some rogue immune system problem. Actually, the body is mostly doing what it is supposed to do. The body is trying get rid of something called “Immune Complexes” (IC’s) by using every available resource, any way possible, no matter what. The body is trying to reach all those IC’s, even if normal tissue is “in the way” of what it needs to do. The side effect is that a person then experiences the common autoimmune flare ups and remissions.
Immune Complexes are part of a normally occurring process of the Immune System, initially triggered by a threat (antigen). The problem begins to occur when there are too many antigens that overwhelm the process. Not all of these antigens are things like viruses, bacteria, molds and pollen; some of it is undigested food in your blood. When this happens, the response that follows can lead to a hypersensitivity reaction similar to the response in allergic conditions. In allergies, the immune system reacts to an outside substance that it normally would ignore. With autoimmune disorders, the immune system reacts to seemingly “normal” body tissues that it would normally ignore.
An autoimmune disorder may result in abnormal growth of an organ or changes in organ function. It can affect one or more organ or tissue types. Organs and tissues commonly affected by autoimmune disorders include your blood vessels, connective tissue, endocrine glands such as the thyroid or pancreas, joints, muscles, red blood cells and skin.
A person may have more than one autoimmune disorder at the same time. Examples of autoimmune (or autoimmune-related) disorders include:
- Addison’s disease
- Bullous Pemphigoid
- Celiac disease – sprue (gluten-sensitive enteropathy)
- Graves disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Pernicious anemia
- Psoriatic Arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Type I diabetes
People with autoimmune conditions may experience a wide range of health problems, varying in duration and intensity that can include: fatigue, digestive complaints, skin problems, joint discomfort and a general feeling of malaise just to name a few. A person’s individual response depends on what part of the body is experiencing autoimmunity. When autoimmune conditions exist, usually there is more than one tissue, organ or gland that is being affected.
Identifying Autoimmune conditions
There are various laboratory tests that can help uncover signs of an autoimmune condition, and even more importantly, unhealthy trends occurring in your blood that can be found before the autoimmune condition begins to affect your quality of life.
Current Model for Managing Autoimmune Conditions
Conventional healthcare for autoimmune conditions focus on reducing symptoms by suppressing the entire immune system, leaving a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections and other health problems as a result of decreased immunity.
Functional Approach to Auto-immune Conditions
Without suppressing the immune system, we help direct a normal immune response by helping the body clear a major underlying cause of autoimmunity- Immune Complexes. Furthermore, we bring in other tools to help normalize over and under active parts of the immune system, needed to restore balance.