Autoimmune Disease Support
Your body is like a country at war. It’s under siege daily, attempting to hold off a continuous assault by enemy agents like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. In fact, the battle plans adopted by a country’s government and by your immune system are remarkably similar:
- Border control: Keep out the insurgents by setting up effective external defence lines
- Defence: If the rebels do break through the front, catch and execute them rapidly, using the ready and waiting army
- Suppression: If they elude capture, deploy special armed forces to track and identify enemy spies; mark them for disposal; and retain their files on a central filing system for future detection
- Recognition: At the same time, take care not to confuse and mistakenly shoot one of your own troops.
Most germs are kept at bay by your skin, deflected by the natural 'pesticides' of sweat, saliva, tears and urine, dissolved in your stomach or trapped by mucus of your nose or mouth and later, expelled via a cough or sneeze. Unfortunately, these unwelcome microorganisms are not easily discouraged and attack repeatedly, some eventually breaching your outer defences and entering your bloodstream and tissues. Once inside you, thriving in ideal breeding conditions, they multiply at an alarming rate and start destroying vital body cells. The dying cells trigger an automatic response called inflammation, which is associated with increased blood flow to the area to try and minimise the damage. Inflammation is the body’s equivalent to an air raid siren.
This is when the immune system rides to the rescue. Inside your body, billions of highly specialised cells, regulated by dozens of proteins, launch an unending battle against these invaders. It’s the cellular version of high-pitched biological warfare.
Because there are so many kinds of alien microorganisms that are constantly wanting to invade your body, the immune system has developed a variety of battalions, each with its own weapons and method of attack. Some cells were born knowing how to locate and destroy the enemy, while others don’t actually engage in battle. Instead, they are the backroom personnel, storing information on the opponent and its characteristics, or managing and directing other troops into action.
Part of the immune system’s defence involves a 'scorched earth' policy. This is when the immune system’s recognition apparatus breaks down and the body begins to manufacture rogue soldiers that attack its own troops.
Your immune system has a very difficult balancing act to maintain. It has to recognise and ignore all the normal cells and tissues in your body, while at the same time, attack all pathogens or germs. Too little reaction and your body could be overrun by the enemy. Too much reaction and it can turn on itself. The correct response, essentially, is programmed into you from birth. A vital part of the education your immune system receives occurs within the first hour of your life.
A baby is born with a 'sterile' gut which accepts, immuno-logically speaking, bacteria passed on from the mother’s gut via her breast milk. It learns to recognise these foreigners and accept them. This immunity that’s 'borrowed' from another source only lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in breast milk provide a baby with temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to. But modern life is often too clean and with the prevalence of caesarean sections, sterilisation of bottles and teats, lack of breastfeeding and infants’ use of antibiotics, babies’ immune systems don’t get this essential programming. Without this training, it starts to react inappropriately, such as developing allergies to food, bee stings, pollen and so on.
Taking the military analogy one step further, the lymphatic system is like the UN peacekeeping troops who come in to restore some semblance of order. Your body produces almost 100 billion white blood cells, called lymphocytes, every day that work to protect its defence system. There are many types of lymphatic cells, including the T cells and B cells.
When antigens, foreign substances that invade the body, are detected, the B cells are prompted into producing antibodies, which are specialised proteins that lock onto specific antigens. However, they’re not capable of destroying them without help. That’s the job of the T cells, which annihilate the adversaries that have been tagged by the antibodies. However, not all T cells are 'killer cells'. Some are 'helper cells', involved in signalling other cells to do their job.
The lymphatic system also involves a transportation system, conveying toxic waste and invading organisms away from the cells.
Once produced, antibodies will continue to live in your body, which means that, should an antigen attack once again, the antibodies are already there to do their job. This is adaptive immunity which instils an immunological memory. So, if you contract German measles, for example, you (typically) won’t get sick from it again.
This is also how vaccines and immunisations prevent certain diseases. The medicine introduces an antigen in a way that shouldn’t make you sick, but allows your body to produce antibodies that will protect you from future attack by that germ. Fascinatingly, a few years ago, the notion of deliberately becoming infected with a mild case of the notorious swine flu to be protected from a more virulent strain was widely debated. However, although most infectious-disease specialists said they understood the logic, they contended that it wasn’t a good idea to dive headlong into the unknown. Flu specialist at Cornell University, US, Dr Ann Moscona, even referred to it as 'vigilante vaccination – taking immunity into your own hands.'
And here’s the rub. Sometimes, the immune system is inappropriately switched on and becomes confused, creating rogue cells that attack normal cells, tissues and organs. It’s the body’s own version of an internal rebellion and mutineers run amok, resulting in an autoimmune disease (AD). Unfortunately, though, just as certain turncoats infiltrate and are difficult to detect, so this cornucopia of diseases is tricky to identify.
AD begins with vague and confusing symptoms, all of which could be a sign of any number of illnesses. They can run the gamut: fatigue, exhaustion, joint pain, weight gain, depression, heart palpitations, hair loss, numbness and more. Not uncommonly, doctors usually prescribe medicine to match the specific complaint. This is usually just the beginning of a very long road. In 2001, a survey conducted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), found that people with an AD, on average, visited four doctors over a five-year period before being properly diagnosed.
There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases and an additional 40 diseases that are suspected to be autoimmune-related. The diseases themselves can affect almost any part of the body and, as a result, they cut across various medical specialties. The more common diseases include type I diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis (the degeneration of muscles) and lupus (which may affect virtually any organ of the body, especially the skin, kidneys, joints, heart, gastrointestinal tract, brain and linings of organs, joints and cavities of the body). Typically, like lupus, most ADs are made up of a baffling assortment of various conditions.
Statistics show that approximately 50 million Americans are living with AD. Almost 80% of sufferers are women, making AD one of the top 10 leading causes of death in women under 65. Studies have found that AD affect men and women differently. Women show symptoms earlier, but the disease seems to progress faster in men. Women tend to develop AD during their childbearing years, while men are affected much later in life. AD in men can also lead to sexual problems. For instance, impotence may occur as a result of damage to the nerves or veins caused by diabetes. Studies have also found that people with one AD are more susceptible to developing another.
AD doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who it attacks. Princess Caroline has suffered for years from alopecia, which is associated with hair loss. Actress Kathleen Turner lives with arthritis. Former US President George Bush has thyroid disease. Actor Richard Pryor, now deceased, had multiple sclerosis. These are celebrities you’ll have heard about, but not many people realise that their conditions are related.
Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of these diseases. It’s the process whereby the immune system mistakenly sees the body’s own proteins as rivals and begins producing misguided T cells and autoantibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues.
What exactly activates this is still not clear but environmental, hormonal and genetic factors are considered to be important triggers. The immune system is constantly under attack by environmental toxins and chemicals, including insecticides, heavy metals, industrial compounds, pollutants and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Foreign materials implanted in the body may also inappropriately switch on the immune system. Jewellery and piercings are a common cause of metal allergies, specifically to nickel, and a debate still exists about the role of silicone implants, for example, for breast enlargement, in provoking scleroderma (a tissue disease that involves changes in the skin, blood vessels, muscles and internal organs).
External microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, are big culprits known to induce and exacerbate AD, particularly as some can mimic the body’s own healthy cells. Some scientists have questioned whether vaccines actually initiate AD. The same mechanisms that act to infect the body apply equally to the body’s response to the vaccination and, again, trigger the immune system to overreact.
Sex hormones, too, are considered a factor, as seen in the dominance of AD among women. Researchers have looked into the association of pregnancy with autoimmunity and have noticed that it can worsen or suppress a disease. Usually, if it does go into remission, AD will flare up again after pregnancy.
Although much less causative than the environment, genetics play a big role in whether you’re prone to developing AD. If there’s one case of AD in the family, there’s likely to be another. However, it doesn’t have to be the same disease. One family member may have lupus, another family member may have thyroid disease, and a third member of the family may have arthritis.
So, it’s important to know your AQ. “AQ is a play on IQ and stands for autoimmune quotient,” explains Virginia Ladd, president and executive director of AARDA. “It’s about knowing how likely you are to develop an autoimmune disease, given the prevalence of these diseases in your family.”
Finally, autoimmunity can develop as a result of malnutrition, disease, certain medications or the decline in immune function over a lifetime, called immune senescence.
Note: Immunodeficiency diseases occur when the immune system is less active than normal, resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections, such as those seen in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) that’s caused by the retrovirus HIV. In contrast, autoimmune diseases result from a hyperactive immune system attacking normal tissues as if they were foreign organisms.
Currently, doctors have no way to assess the overall health of a person’s immune system. Yet, it declines precipitously with age, leaving older people far more vulnerable to infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders such as arthritis. However, Stanford researchers have launched the largest clinical trial to date to find a common biomarker to assess immune system health. Biomarkers typically are blood cells that reveal a person’s status for a particular health condition and give doctors the tool to tailor vaccination strategies to deliver quick intervention at the first sign of illness. But the $9 million study will only have results available in a few years, so what can you do now if you’ve got an AD? According to many experts, what you eat, drink and how you live are key factors in keeping your immune system in shape. Illness is also directly tied to stress, as it breaks down the defences of the immune system and opens the door- way to a host of aggressors. The stress hormone cortisol plays havoc on the immune system, destroying the natural killer T cells and effectively demolishing the first line of the immune system’s defence. Studies have revealed that as many as 80% of people who develop AD reported uncommon emotional stress before the onset of the disease.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that have long been known to influence the immune system. Numerous studies have shown the nutrients that are highly effective to include amino acids, essential omega fatty acids, vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and zinc, selenium and iron. Vitamins A and D have received particular attention in recent years as these have been found to have an unexpected and crucial effect on the immune response. Also to find their way into the spotlight are selenium – which promotes the formation of antibodies – and zinc, which fuels the killer T cells.
Research has also found that regular exercise strengthens the blood vessels, directing blood to parts of the body where it stimulates the immune system. It also increases the production of myoglobin, an iron-bearing protein, which transports oxygen from the blood to the cells to strengthen defence systems. Other obvious factors are not smoking, staying involved with family and friends, allowing time for relaxation, getting enough sleep, staying active through work and play, and avoiding the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.
The strongest natural defence against AD is a clean, rested body, biologically balanced with proper food and active elimination channels. If you’re susceptible to being attacked, it makes sense to fortify your defences and ensure your troops are equipped for any onslaught thrown at them by the enemy. In fact, it makes sense for everyone to withstand attack. Vive la immunité!
PLEASE NOTE: Products are ranked in decreasing order of potency. Products listed nearer the top of any particular health need are the most effective and have the most scientific research to support their use in respect of such health need. Multiple products, one from each bullet (•) can be combined with products from other bullets for added effectiveness, if needed, since products from different bulleted lines have different mechanisms of action. However, where more than one product is listed within a particular bullet (•), then only one of these products should be used, since all products listed within the same bullet share an identical or similar pharmacology (mechanism of action) for that condition. This is because whenever a particular condition is treated via multiple different mechanisms of action, the result is generally improved effectiveness. However, when products are combined that work via exactly the same mechanism of action, then no extra benefit is obtained.