Autoimmune Disease: Autoimmune Diseases on the Rise: What is Autoimmune Disease and How to Understand the different Types of Autoimmune Disease


A key concept for your immune system to function correctly is Self versus Nonself. Self is good and should be left alone. Self is you.

Nonself is an invader, an enemy. Nonself should be attacked.

Why, then, does the immune system sometimes attack your own body?

Nobody knows, but these autoimmune diseases are becoming more common: rheumatoid arthritis, myasthenia gravis, lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Scleroderma, Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, Pernicious Anemia, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Antiphospholipid Syndrome, under (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or over (Grave’s disease) active thyroid gland, Endometriosis and others — 80 in all. Some of these are more related to chronic inflammation, but all indicate an immune system that is not in balance in its responses.

autoimmunedisorders Most, though not all, victims of these diseases are women, indicating a possible hormonal relationship. One theory is that women are more at risk because they can have fetal cells circulating in their blood for up to twenty years after giving birth. Genetically, the baby was only “half” the woman’s, so these fetal cells are half Self and half Nonself, and eventually confuse the immune system. These fetal cells contain a mixture of human leukocyte antigens (HLAs).

Books speak of these diseases being “triggered” by bacteria and viruses, or hormones or certain foods such as gluten. Yet the immune system should be activated by bacteria and viruses — the problem comes from the immune response not going down when the danger from the external infection has passed.

There seems to be a genetic component too, but it’s not clear. A woman who has one of these diseases is more at risk of getting another one. Some scientists believe that all of them are simply different manifestations of one underlying disorder — autoimmunity.

Everybody with an autoimmune disease produces auto antibodies, biochemical weapons for attacking your own body. Many autoimmune diseases are cell mediated. That is, the T cells do the damage, not antibodies.

T cells that have receptors that react to self-antigens are supposed to be eliminated in the thymus gland. For reasons still unknown, sometimes the thymus gland doesn’t get rid of them, or at least all of them, and so these outlaw T cells roam around your body treating law-abiding citizens as though they were invading soldiers.

When your immune system attacks an invading microbe, part of your body’s response is inflammation — a fever and the swelling of tissues. This is normal and natural, and beneficial for fighting a serious infection.

However, there’s a lot of evidence that a lot of diseases are caused or aggravated by a chronic inflammation in your body. Your body reacts to a serious infection with inflammation, as it should, but once the infection is over, it doesn’t shut down as it should. This results in silent inflammation, aggravated by a diet high in carbohydrates, lack of exercise and chronic stress.

According to this theory, almost all noninfectious diseases are really caused by an out of control immune over-response, though not all of them including T cells attacking other parts of the body.

Those are the autoimmune diseases that are especially prevalent in women.