What is an Autoimmune Disorder and Could You Have One?

Posted on by Paula Gallagher

autoimmuneI was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis over 15 years ago. This type of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid tissue, resulting in decreased production of thyroid hormone. It is estimated that Hashimoto's is just one of possibly hundreds of autoimmune disorders, which include lupus, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia and psoriasis. What exactly is an autoimmune disease? When people with healthy immune systems get a cold, a cut or any virus, the body's natural defenses/immune system kicks in to help restore balance. But in the case of an autoimmune disease, the immune system begins mistaking healthy cells and tissues within the body for antigens (bacteria and viruses), resulting in auto-antibodies attacking those healthy tissues and cells. This leads to inflammatory responses, and to wide-spread inflammation throughout the body. The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is not clearly understood, but there are suggestions that they may be the result of chemical pollution. Infection, tissue injury or emotional trauma may also set off autoimmune reactions in people with a genetic predisposition to them. Food allergies, poor digestion, vaccinations, mercury fillings and drugs may also cause subtle changes. Unfortunately, because the symptoms for many of these diseases are similar and usually involve a general lack of well-being, they sometimes can be difficult to medically diagnose. If you have fatigue, painful joints, anemia, dry eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome, these can all be signs of an autoimmune disorder. Extremely dry skin and digestive issues are also common. If you suffer from any of these symptoms chronically, consult with a naturopath to determine if you might have an autoimmune disorder. A naturopath will help treat the whole body and help deal with the body's reactions to the disorders to bring the immune system into balance. Removing all stresses from the immune system is extremely important to keep it functioning optimally. General recommendations for anyone with an autoimmune disorder include: • Eat healthy, "clean" food and minimize consumption of foods of animal origin. • Consume foods rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as nuts, seeds, evening primrose oil and cold water fatty fish. EFAs may help by slowing stomach emptying; improving digestion, and by building better cell membranes. • Cut down on sugar, as sugar has an immune-suppressing effect. Many people with autoimmune conditions show improvement after following an anti-candida diet. • Exercise helps reduce stress and build a stronger immune system. • Practice relaxation techniques. • Try adaptogenic herbs. Herbs like licorice and Siberian ginseng help the body adapt to stress, whether it is from physical stress, such as illness or intense fatigue, or mental stress, such as relationship problems or coping with your illness. Herbs with an adaptogenic action also stimulate the body’s natural defense mechanisms, helping to support and sustain the immune system. Photo from here, with thanks.