An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.
The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.
Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells.
In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.
Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), affect the whole body.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes the immune-system misfire. Yet some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others.
According to one study, women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men — 6.4 percent of women vs. 2.7 percent of men. Often the disease starts during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).
Some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects more African-American and Hispanic people than Caucasians.
Certain autoimmune diseases, like Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus, run in families. Not every family member will necessarily have the same disease, but they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.
Because the incidence of autoimmune diseases is rising, researchers suspect environmental factors like infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents might also be involved.
A “Western diet” is another suspected risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease. Eating high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is thought to be linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. However, this hasn’t been proven.
There is another theory called the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. Because of vaccines and antiseptics, children today aren’t exposed to as many germs as they were in the past. The lack of exposure could make their immune system prone to overreact to harmless substances.
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases. Genetics, diet, infections, and exposure to chemicals might be involved.
At LifeStyle Medicine, we help find the causes of your auto-immune conditions and create personalized treatments that work for you.