I often wonder why there is the exponentially increasing tide of autoimmune diseases in our modern society. Is it because we are getting better at diagnosing than we were 100 years ago? Have there always been multiple autoimmune diseases that just went undiagnosed in the past? Where are all these illnesses coming from?
Believe me, I saw many immune problems during my time in the clinic; the most heart-breaking being an infant with an almost non-existent blood platelet count. I also had the unpleasant job of announcing to the mother of a 5 year old girl that her daughter's blood glucose level was over 700mg/dL and she most likely had Type I Diabetes.
The most common Autoimmune condition I encountered was Hypothyroidism. The newly hired Endocrinologist and her Nurse Practitioner were very busy with our referrals. I asked them if they pondered about why so many people were coming in with this disease. There was no clear cut answer.
Unfortunately, one of the short-comings of Allopathic Medicine is this 'thing' about not asking why. We look for symptoms, do tests, give a diagnosis and treat with pharmaceuticals.
I admit, when I was diagnosed with Lupus, I never questioned why it happened. The thought never crossed my mind about the possibility of existing alternative treatments. There was no such thing on my radar. I probably would have dismissed the idea if it had presented itself.
In Autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks and damages parts of the body, mistaking them as foreign. Now why would such an intelligently designed system fail in such a way, you might ask? In all my reading and lecture-listening, I've learnt that injury to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, leads to absorption of partially digested food into the blood stream. Simply put, the immune system (being hyper-stimulated in an attempt to prevent damage) attacks these substances in the blood, then turns around to attack body tissues with similar composition. Factors causing injury to the intestines include nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins and excess sugar.
In Type I Diabetes, the immune system develops antibodies to the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas. The person usually has to take insulin by injection. Thanks to modern medicine, insulin pumps are available for those who need very precise insulin doses in response to continuous glucose monitoring.
In primary Hypothyroidism the thyroid gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormones. Some causes include insufficient iodine in the diet, presence of bromine in the diet and the immune system antibodies to the thyroid gland itself. In secondary hypothyroidism, the pituitary gland or hypothalamus do not put out their hormones (TRH and TSH respectively) that stimulate the thyroid gland to work effectively.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is characterized by red hot painful joints especially in the morning upon waking up. Initially, the pain, which makes its debut in the hands, improves with motion. As the disease progresses, the pain can be present throughout the day in multiple joints. The immune system develops antibodies against the synovial membrane of joints, the part of the joint that holds synovial fluid, present for lubrication and nourishment.The bones and cartilage can also erode, leading to deformities.
Celiac Disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the small intestines. T cells in the intestines are activated when the person ingests wheat, barley or rye. Antibodies attack the proteins in these grains and cause a myriad of symptoms: Fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, weight and appetite loss and depression. Some people even get an itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis that occurs on the elbows, knees and buttocks.
People with Multiple Sclerosis initially have transient attacks on the Central Nervous System. The antibodies to the myelin sheaths of nerve cells cause destruction and disruption of nerve impulse transmission. Symptoms range from balance problems, vision loss to painful stiffness and mobility issues. Fatigue and insomnia are major debilitating aspects of this disease. Eventually many people lose the ability to walk. On average, a person can expect to live seven fewer years than one without the illness.