Autoimmune diseases are fast becoming an epidemic in developed nations, with over 70% of the millions of people suffering across the globe being women. Although the reason for this is still unclear, some doctors have speculated that it’s due to the interaction between oestrogen and androgens in the body. In addition, a person’s genetic disposition, exposure to environmental toxins and lifestyle can also leave them at risk. Many celebrities have spoken of their battles with autoimmune disease, including Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana, who recently revealed her struggle with Hashimoto’s disease, a condition that leads to an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism).
What is an autoimmune disease?
When your immune system, which is responsible for fighting infection, starts attacking the cells in the body instead of foreign invaders, it can wreak havoc on your health and lead to an autoimmune disease.
The most common autoimmune diseases include:
Addison’s disease – when the immune system attacks the adrenal gland and disrupts the production of aldosterone and cortisol.
Coeliac disease – when the immune system attacks substances found in gluten and damages the wall of the small intestine.
Multiple Sclerosis – when the immune system attacks nerve fibres, which leads to tiredness, muscle weakness and mobility problems.
Rheumatoid arthritis – when the immune system causes joints and tissues to become inflamed, painful and stiff.
Type 1 diabetes – when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Grave’s disease – when the immune system attacks the small thyroid gland, which leads to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Hashimoto’s disease – when the immune system attacks the small thyroid gland, but results in an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
While there are problems specific to each condition, many autoimmune diseases share common symptoms. Alert your health practitioner if you’re concerned about:
- Joint pain
- Skin rash
- Trouble focusing
- Weight changes
- Abdominal pain
- Blood and/or mucous in stools
Doctors can perform a number of tests to find out whether you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease.
There’s no one cause behind autoimmune diseases, but it is often reported that allergens, infections, environmental toxins, stress and a poor diet can contribute towards their development.
While many doctors may prescribe powerful immune suppressants or steroids to treat the symptoms, there are steps you can take to address the root of the problem. These include eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising, reducing stress with activities like yoga and meditation, and taking supplements.