The Autoimmune Disease Series Part 1: Overview of Autoimmunity-
The term “autoimmunity” is used to describe a vast array of seemingly unrelated diseases & conditions and is becoming an increasingly prevalent phenomenon (1.) Put simply, it is the “loss of tolerance to self” of the immune system to any tissue in the body- from the myelin that covers your neurons to skin cells, to the thyroid gland and everything in between. Autoimmunity is found normally in healthy individuals as part of physiological processes at a low level, however, when the immune system becomes hypersensitive and loses the ability to recognize “self,” autoimmune diseases can develop, such as:
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
IBD: Crohn’s disease & Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)
What is “loss of tolerance?” When the immune system is functioning normally, it is responsible for identifying and eliminating foreign invaders in the body, such as bacteria and viruses. Baby immune cells, also called white blood cells are made in our bone marrow and are “trained” in other organs of the body to become “tolerant to self.” This means that immature white blood cells are normally only allowed to graduate from their training academy if they are able to differentiate a foreign invader from a cell that belongs to us (self.)
When the cells of our immune system become hypersensitive or confused (as a result of poor diet, environmental exposures, chronic infections, and more) they may develop a tendency to attack the cells of our own organs and tissues. For example, in Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system is aberrantly attacking thyroid cells, causing secondary hypothyroidism. When it comes to autoimmune disease, it is ESSENTIAL to understand that symptoms and patterns (like hypothyroidism) are NOT the fault of the organ that is “under attack.” Saying that Hashimoto’s is a disease of the thyroid gland is analogous to an employee getting in trouble from their boss for decreased activity because their computer and supplies were stolen.
Development of autoimmune disease is multi-factorial and often cumulative. A key component of alleviating symptoms associated with autoimmunity is uncovering the conditions that lead the immune system to become hypersensitive and confused in the first place.
Want to learn more about what Naturopathic medicine can offer for autoimmunity?
Check out our page on autoimmunity: http://www.anwnaturopathic.com/autoimmunity
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