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 lupus, affect the whole body.
Doctors don’t know what causes the immune system misfire. Yet some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others.
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 14 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 exposures to chemicals or solvents might also be involved.
A “Western” diet is another suspected trigger. ─ Eating high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. However, this hasn’t been scientifically proven.
Another theory is 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 overreact to harmless substances.
What Causes Lupus?
About 1.5 million Americans suffer from lupus. The most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of cases. It’s an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack normal tissue and organs, including the kidneys, heart, lungs and skin.
Lupus can be mild or severe. Although treatment has improved significantly over the past few decades, there is still no cure. It appears that the disease is on the rise, although some scientists suggest that this increase may be due to better diagnosis in recent years.
First identified in the 1850s, lupus is still widely misunderstood. The exact cause is still unknown. However, because this autoimmune condition tends to run in families, doctors believe that genes play a role. About 20 percent of patients having a sibling or parent who has the disease.
Also, according to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), if one identical twin has lupus, there’s an increased likelihood that the other twin will also have it. Even if there’s no family history involved, other autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) in your family could increase your risk of developing lupus.
Lupus occurs more in some ethnic groups, notably people of African, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island descent, according to the LFA.
Even if you’re genetically predisposed to lupus, the disease must be triggered. Some of the possible triggers include an infection, sun exposure, childbirth, stress, injury, or medications such as antibiotics or drugs that increase photosensitivity. Symptoms vary from person to person, and occur at different times, not necessarily all at once. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, it’s important for you to get tested and properly diagnosed by a doctor, usually a rheumatologist.
Also, the LFA indicates that hormones play a role, especially estrogen. Because lupus symptoms increase before menstrual periods and during pregnancy (periods of high estrogen levels in the body), they indicate that this sex hormone may influence lupus.
Some autoimmune disorders that can affect the ear include Cogan’s syndrome, relapsing polychondritis, polyarteritis nodosa, Wegener’s granulomatosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ulcerative colitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune Inter Ear Disease (AIED)
Hearing loss has been viewed historically as the main inner ear effect of an autoimmune problem, but the vestibular system can also be attacked. Several factors determine the type of vestibular symptoms that may be experienced. Those factors include the speed with which the vestibular loss occurred, the degree of loss, whether one side or both sides are affected, and whether the damage has triggered a problem with fluctuating function (for example, if endolymphatic hydrops developed from the autoimmune reaction). The symptoms of autoimmune problems can be similar, even indistinguishable, from other vestibular disorders.
Diagnosing an autoimmune disorder as the cause of inner ear symptoms can be difficult. To succeed, a physician must have training and experience in these disorders. Most otolaryngologists are not trained or experienced in autoimmune disorders in general, and a rheumatologist trained in autoimmune disorders is unlikely to be highly familiar with vestibular function. Thus, gaps exist in diagnosis and treatment. In addition, if vestibular symptoms occur as part of a body-wide problem, simultaneous non-vestibular symptoms may make the diagnosis difficult.
In general, autoimmune disorders occur more frequently in women than men and less frequently in children and the elderly. When the ear is attacked, the progression of damage and functional loss is rapid, occurring over weeks to months and usually progressing rapidly to the second ear.
Autoimmune inner ear disease is the name used to describe the variety of disorders in which the ear is the sole target of an inappropriate attack by the immune system. This disorder differs from other vestibular disorders because medical treatment can succeed when given early and aggressively. (“Early” means days to weeks or months.) An early diagnosis is important because treatment can not only stop the disease progression but in some cases, can reverse the damage.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
There are many immune disorders that affect the human body. Some of the more popular ones include:
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Cells in the immune system attack the joints, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Systemic Lupus: The body attacks and damages its own healthy tissues. Lupus affects the lungs, joints, eyes, nerves, kidneys, and blood cells.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS): The immune system attacks the nerves cells that result in pain, poor muscle coordination and sometimes blindness.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus: Antibodies attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Myasthenia Gravis: Antibodies bind nerves and make the body unable to stimulate muscle activity normally.
Celiac Disease: Inflammation of and sensitivity of the lining of the small intestine (villi) when foods containing gluten are consumed (wheat, rye, barley, etc.)
Grave’s Disease: Increased/excess amounts of the thyroid hormone in the blood (Hyperthyroidism).
Hashimoto’s Disease: Inflammation of the thyroid gland resulting in low levels of the thyroid hormone being produced (Hypothyroidism).
Psoriasis: The immune system stimulates skin cells to produce more rapidly than normal causing the skin to become scaly.
Pernicious Anemia: Decrease* in red blood cells caused by the body’s inability to absorb vitamin B-12.
Addison’s Disease: Insufficiency of the adrenal hormone.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): The immune system attacks the lining of the intestines, (colitis, chron’s disease) causing bouts of diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss*.
Gillain-Barre Syndrome: The immune system attacks the nerves that control muscles in the leg and sometimes the arms and upper body.
Vasculitis: Attack and damage to the blood vessels which can affect any organ in the body.
Reactive Arthritis: This is a group of conditions that may affect the joints, eyes, urinary and genital systems, resulting in swelling and inflammation. It is said to affect more men, especially those younger than 40 years old.
Sjögren’s Syndrome: destroys the glands that produce tears and saliva causing dry eyes and mouth, and may also affect the kidneys and lungs.
Ankylosing Spondylitis: Inflammatory arthritis which affects the spine and large joints.
Alopecia Areata: Sudden hair loss which results in bald patches on the scalp.
Polymyalgia Rheumatic: An inflammatory disorder which causes stiffness and pain in the shoulders and joints.
Medical research suggests that treatment for an autoimmune disease (a chronic condition with no cure) may involve various interventions that will help manage and control the symptoms during flare-ups. Autoimmune diseases, patients need a variety of supplements (with the guidance of their physician) to help replace deficiencies in the body and support its major functions. These will include fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E) and water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C, and B group), minerals and antioxidants that help regulate hormonal levels and improve immune support.
Any efforts to eat well, reduce your exposure to toxins, along with adequate rest and regular exercise, provide your best chances of protecting your body from the onslaught of disease, degeneration and premature aging; all risk factors in autoimmune deficiency and disorders.
Numerous studies suggest that a diet rich in nutrient dense foods, probiotics, supplements, among others, may greatly assist in helping the body to reduce* inflammation, repair damaged tissues and regulate hormonal and metabolism levels, while promoting good health. Let’s look at some of these suggestions:
Avoid and Eliminate: Known Triggers in Your Diet (foods that cause allergic reactions)
Avoid Grains: (wheat, corn, and rice) and pseudo-grains (genetically modified) amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
No Alcohol and Sodas.
Eliminate: Vegetable Oils and saturated fats (corn, canola, sunflower, soybean, safflower, peanut, sesame, lard, etc.)
Avoid: all Products with Natural and Artificial Sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, saccharin, stevia, etc.)
Eliminate: Additives from Foods, e.g. monosodium glutamate (MSG,) benzoic acid, lecithin, corn starch, salt and vinegar for pickling, emulsifiers, thickeners, etc.
Avoid Processed Foods: (fried foods, processed meats such as salami, sausages, etc.)
Eliminate* Refined Carbohydrates: (white rice, white pasta, sausages, snacks, junk foods, etc.)
Avoid: poultry meats and eggs.
Eliminate Nightshade Foods from the Diet: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, chili, etc. Limit Your Intake of nuts, legumes, and seeds (choose those that are heart healthy, low acid forming)
Reduce Causes of Inflammation in the Body: stress, how and when we eat, poor/low exercise habits, etc.
Consult Your Physician before taking medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin.