Autoimmune diseases may just be some of the most infuriating health conditions out there. With more than 80 different types resulting in an array of symptoms, autoimmune diseases can be tricky to diagnose, especially given that there are no direct identifiable causes or cures. (1)
Despite all this, autoimmune diseases can be managed. Here we will discuss what autoimmune disease is, what it means for your health, and what you can do to manage your symptoms.
1. Autoimmune diseases indicate an unhealthy immune system
Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks the body. (2) When the immune system is healthy, it is able to do its job and defend the body against infections. However, if the immune system is unable to function correctly, instead of preventing disease, it can cause disease by mistakenly attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs. (1)
Well-known examples of autoimmune diseases include: (3)
- rheumatoid arthritis
- type 1 diabetes
- Graves’s disease (hyperthyroidism)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (hypothyroidism)
2. Autoimmune diseases can attack almost any part of the body
When the immune system malfunctions, it can attack any of the following parts of the body:
Symptoms that arise from the misfiring of the immune system are dependent on where the body is being attacked. For instance, if your joints are being attacked, there may be pain and stiffness in the joints and a general loss of function. If the thyroid is being attacked, symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and muscle aches may occur. For autoimmune diseases of the skin, rashes and blisters may appear. (4)
3. Repair deficit and autoimmune diseases are linked
While there are no clear-cut causes of autoimmune diseases, there are associations between chronic inflammation, repair deficit, and the development of autoimmune diseases. The immune system has 3 main jobs:
- Defend the body against foreign invaders
- Direct repair
The immune system of a healthy person functions as follows:
This process is called acute inflammation.
If a person has a repair deficit, the processes of the immune system can malfunction. In particular, the repair process is usually the first to be sacrificed. When the immune system is consistently bombarded by threatening foreign invaders like wide-ranging toxins and pollutants, and weakened by poor diet, weak digestion, leaky gut, nutrient and antioxidant deficit and the like, the defense mechanism of the immune system tries to keep up as best it can by constantly sending for pro-inflammatory cells to neutralize the perceived threats. If the immune system needs to spend much of its finite energy for defense, this means that it was not equipped well enough to fight off these invaders in the first place (i.e., there is a repair deficit). This continual call for pro-inflammatory cells causes chronic inflammation. The presence of chronic inflammation is indicative of a persistent repair deficit that has disrupted the homeostasis of the immune system. Because the immune system is exhausting its resources towards defense, it is unable to perform the necessary healing process and inflammation persists. (5)
Chronic inflammation is associated with practically all chronic conditions, including autoimmune diseases. (6)
A repair deficit can also lead to delayed immune reactions, which can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases. The existence of delayed immune responses indicates repair deficit. For example, with a leaky gut the intestines allow undigested food particles to pass into the bloodstream. This occurs because the gut is in a state of disrepair or has a “repair deficit.” A leaky gut also contributes to repair deficit by creating a higher demand on the immune system to attack the undigested particles and ultimately increases the risk of the immune system attacking the body. (5)
To learn more about delayed immune reactions and their health indications, check out our blog, Are Your Mystery Symptoms a Delayed Immune Response?
4. There are risk factors for autoimmune diseases
The risk factors that we and others (7) have identified for developing an autoimmune disease are as follows:
- Nutrient inadequacy and antioxidant deficit
- Weak digestion and intestinal repair deficit
- Chronic emotional and mental distress
- Chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis
- Chronic inflammation
- Smoking and other toxic exposures
- Specific medications
- Family history (genetics)
5. There are steps you can take to manage your symptoms!
For 30 years, the director of Alkaline for Life, Dr. Susan Brown, PhD, has helped many individuals with autoimmune diseases. It’s been our experience that there are numerous action steps to alleviate the burden of autoimmunity:
- Consume a plant-centered Alkaline for Life diet. Learn more about the Alkaline for Life diet with our webinar, The Alkaline Diet — Step by Step.
- Supplement with a wide range of nutrients, including key antioxidants and anti-inflammatory supplements. Check out our blog, 7 Nutrients for Managing Autoimmune Disease.
- Avoid foods that you do not digest well, or food to which you have an allergy or hypersensitivity.
- Develop a plan for creating resilience and reducing emotional and mental distress. This can include acupuncture, visualization, breathing exercises, therapy, engaging in a regular program of exercise (outdoors if possible), getting in touch with nature, and keeping your body moving.
- If you really want to identify the foods and chemicals that are causing delayed immune responses, that is, white blood cell activation, Dr. Brown suggests the ELISA/ACT Biotechnologies Lymphocyte Response Assay. Having used this sensitive and accurate test for decades, Dr. Brown uses this as a basis for developing a personalized alkalizing diet for autoimmune disease.
- NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2022. Autoimmune diseases. NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website. Accessed June 2022.
- Sampson, S. 2019. Autoimmune diseases: Types, symptoms, causes, and more. Healthline website. Accessed June 2022.
- Orbai, A. M. 2022. What are common symptoms of autoimmune disease? Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Accessed June 2022.
- NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2016. Autoimmune diseases. NIH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Accessed June 2022.
- Welton, J. 2022. Rethinking health: Inflammation is repair deficit. Perque News website. Accessed June 2022.
- Duan, L., et al. 2019. Regulation of inflammation in autoimmune disease. Journal of Immunology Research 2019:7403796.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2022. Disease development: How do autoimmune diseases unfold? Johns Hopkins Medicine Pathology website. Accessed June 2022.