What Leads To Autoimmune Disease?
There are four factors that come together before an autoimmune disease happens.
A normal part of our immune system is that we all have antibodies as a key part of our immune system, whose job is to look for invading organisms.
In a normal healthy functioning immune system, when a foreign invader comes in, a normal healthy antibody spots the invader. The antibody sticks itself to the invader and that sends out a signal to the immune system, saying “Take action, there’s an invader.’
So – that’s what should be happening.
#1 – A Normal Antibody Makes A Mistake
The first stage towards getting an autoimmune disease is that a normal antibody makes a mistake. (One reason it might make the mistake is because it’s learnt a particular amino acid sequence in an actual invader, which is very similar to an amino acid sequence in one of our own tissues and cells.)
A normal antibody makes a mistake because it sees something it thinks it recognises, and identifies it as a foreigner, but it’s actually us. This means it has become an auto-antibody, which means an antibody against yourself, against your own tissues, rather than against an invader.
When an auto-antibody identifies a cell that is part of us as a problem, this means the rest of the immune system is called on to come to that cell.
#2 – The Policing Systems That Would Normally Correct This Error Fail
Then the second stage comes into play. We have two systems in our body, whose job it is to make sure the cells that have made mistakes so are making auto-antibodies are dealt with. It’s not uncommon to make auto-antibodies, which is why we have two systems to control this.
The job of these systems is to eliminate the cells that are wrongly making auto-antibodies. I see these systems as being like school prefects – they look for cells that have fallen out of line and are starting to make trouble.
When these prefects find a cell that is making auto-antibodies (because the cell made a mistake), the prefect either kills the cell, or stops it functioning, so it can’t keep making auto-antibodies. So their task is to police rogue antibodies.
This is the second step towards autoimmunity: firstly, your cells have started making auto antibodies and then the prefect system which is meant to stop this continuing does not do its job. The system to eliminate these cells has failed.
#3 – Our Immune System Is Triggered Into Action
The third stage towards auto immune disease is that the immune system is stimulated to attack. This can happen from a number of triggers.
Factors which are known to stimulate our system towards autoimmune disease are:
• Particular infections, which have been connected with autoimmune diseases
• Exposure to certain toxins and chemicals, including smoking, pesticides, silica dust and heavy metals
• Problems with our gut and digestion which allow particles from inside the gut to get inside the body and provoke our immune system
• Chronic stress
• Insufficient sleep
• How we exercise – whether we do too little or too much
• Nutrient deficiencies, which have been linked with numerous autoimmune disorders
• Compounds in foods which have been shown to stimulate the immune system
While this is a long list, the good news is that out of these eight factors, we can influence at least six. This means we can intervene in the process and stop progression towards autoimmunity.
This is where the work I do comes in – to help you understand the aspects that you can influence, and change them. This change interrupts the autoimmune cycle and promotes recovery and healing instead of disease progression.
#4 – Steps 1, 2 and 3 create enough damage to cause us symptoms
The fourth stage is that from the cumulative effect of the first three stages, enough damage occurs to tissues and cells in the body to manifest as symptoms of an autoimmune disease.
If I apply this to myself as an example, a number of factors acted as stimulants to my immune system – infections, stressful life events and work, insufficient sleep over a long period, stomach and gut problems, nutrient deficiencies, and eating gluten and other foods that I now know don’t agree with my system.
All these things stimulated my immune system, which had already gone wrong by making autoantibodies, and then my prefect systems had failed, so these rogue cells were not eliminated.
My immune system went into overdrive because it mistook the cells in the lining of my joints as not part of me, and therefore as a foreign invader to be attacked.
Because of all the immune system activity, my joints swelled and became stiff, I had a lot of pain and fatigue, and lost mobility, so my body was manifesting what was going on inside due to cells going wrong, as the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Happily, from all I’ve learned, I’ve now managed to control and recover from this.
So what can we do about it?
It can be very helpful to understand the different stages, because then we can see where our own choices and actions can fit into this process.
Knowing that additional factors stimulate our immune system to go into attack, and stay in overdrive when it should stand down, means that we can take action to remove these sources of stimulation so our system can calm down.
This puts us back in control and is key to being able to move in a positive direction.
Research into these factors has show that there are many things we can do that make a difference, and autoimmune disease does not have to be a hopeless diagnosis.