What Are Autoimmune Diseases (And How Are They Affected By Diet)?
Some types of diseases occur when an outside pathogen or toxin enters the body and causes certain systems to become negatively affected. These types of foreign pathogens affect how the immune system functions, and without a healthy immune system, the body cannot perform the way it needs to.
In some cases, chronic diseases can arise from within. This is especially true if a person doesn’t take care of themselves in terms of the diet they consume and how much they exercise. For example, heart disease can occur because a person eats poorly throughout their life, and lung cancer can arise from smoking. Some diseases, however, don’t have a direct cause and develop within the body for no apparent reason. This is the case with autoimmune diseases. So what are autoimmune diseases, exactly? And how can diet affect autoimmune disease?
What are autoimmune diseases and how do they occur?
Autoimmune diseases are a type of chronic ailment that occurs when the immune system, tasked with attacking foreign pathogens and invaders, mistakes healthy cells in the body for unhealthy ones. Instead of seeking out bacteria or virus cells that are there to make the body sick, the immune system essentially becomes confused and creates antibodies to attack something that is meant to be there.
For example, many people with certain types of autoimmune diseases experience joint issues because the immune system mistakenly sends immune cells to the joints, where healthy cells are then destroyed. Some autoimmune diseases will attack one specific organ, whereas others don’t discriminate and wreak havoc across the entire body.
Medical professionals aren’t entirely sure why the body begins to attack itself, but there are some theories that suggest autoimmune diseases have different drivers. For example, researchers have found that women are far more susceptible than men to experience autoimmune diseases. Ethnicity may also play a role in the development of specific types such as lupus, which tends to occur more often in African American or Hispanic groups. Some types of autoimmune disease may also be inherited from family members, as is the case with multiple sclerosis.
Another factor has been considered by researchers investigating the development of autoimmune diseases because of the rise in their prevalence. That factor is diet – specifically, the “Western diet.”
What are the most common autoimmune diseases?
There are many types of autoimmune diseases, some of which are more common than others. The most common autoimmune diseases include:
- Type 1 Diabetes: In type 1 diabetes, the immune system begins to attack and destroy cells in the pancreas that are designed to produce insulin. This leads to lower levels of insulin, resulting in dysregulated blood sugar levels.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the joints.
- Psoriasis: This skin condition occurs when new skin cells multiply faster than the body can shed old ones. It causes inflamed patches of redness on the skin and silver-white scales of plaque.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): The protective coating that is around nerve cells, known as the myelin sheath, becomes damaged in those with MS. This causes the messaging system between the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body to become hindered. Message transmission slows and symptoms such as numbness, weakness, balance issues, and trouble walking can occur.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): Lupus was first thought to be a skin disease, but it can also affect the joints, brain, heart, and kidneys, causing joint pain, fatigue, and rashes.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: This type of disease occurs when the immune system causes inflammation in the intestinal wall throughout the gastrointestinal tract. There is more than one type of IBD, and the most common symptoms are gastrointestinal upset, abdominal pain, and bathroom issues.
- Addison’s disease: When the immune system causes problems with the adrenal glands, Addison’s disease can occur, causing low production of hormones such as cortisol. Symptoms of this disease include fatigue, weight loss, and low blood sugar.
- Grave’s disease: When a person has Grave’s disease, their immune system is attacking the thyroid gland, which leads to an overproduction of certain hormones that help to regulate metabolism. It can lead to nervousness, an increased heart rate, and weight loss.
These types of autoimmune diseases all present with different symptoms and outcomes, but they are all caused by the same thing: the body attacking itself.
What foods are bad for autoimmune disease?
Food plays a significant role in the health of the body, even without an autoimmune disease. Foods that promote inflammation and exacerbate symptoms of autoimmune diseases should be avoided completely. There is a specific diet known as the Autoimmune Protocol that is designed for people with these types of diseases to help lessen the pain, inflammation, and symptoms of autoimmune disease.
Foods you might want to avoid as they may make the symptoms of an autoimmune disease worse include:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Dairy products
- Some types of vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Refined sugars
- Processed foods
- Food additives
- Red meat
There are very few studies in the way of foods that should be avoided in general for autoimmune diseases. However, some of the above foods have been shown to encourage inflammation in those with autoimmune diseases.
Having an autoimmune disease can make life challenging, but luckily, most are manageable conditions. If you eat the right foods, and follow the proper diet, you can help lessen the pain and symptoms that are associated with your condition.