What is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune diseases are a group of conditions in which the immune system attacks certain cells and organs in the body, mistaking them for foreign cells.
Do you know that Researchers have identified between 80 and 100 different autoimmune diseases
The immune system is our body’s security system; it protects us from infections and diseases. This was done by releasing a group of proteins called antibodies that destroy harmful microbes that invade the body. These proteins can recognize and distinguish between our normal cells and those of harmful germs. In autoimmune diseases, however, the antibodies mistake some normal body cells for foreign cells. This causes them to misfire and attack these cells in the process.
In this situation, these antibodies are referred to as autoantibodies.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.
Autoimmune disease can affect any part of your body and the symptoms that result depend on the organ that is attacked. In some autoimmune diseases, the immune cells attack only one organ, such as the joints, skin, or stomach; and in other types, all parts of the body are affected.
But the question is what causes this dysfunction in the immune system?
Causes of Autoimmune Disease
The causes of autoimmune diseases are largely unknown. Scientists and doctors are still studying this phenomenon to have a better understanding of it. However, there is a growing consensus that an interplay of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to this phenomenon.
The genetic factors that contribute to autoimmunity may explain why it runs in some families. Although not every member of such families gets the same autoimmune disease, each inherits this tendency for his or her immune system to misfire.
More so, a finding that supports the role of genes in autoimmunity is the high risk of autoimmune disease in certain ethnic groups. For instance, systemic lupus erythematosus (or simply called lupus) affects more Hispanics and African-Americans than Caucasians.
Furthermore, for reasons not clearly understood yet, women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases than men, typically beginning during a woman’s reproductive age. As a result, some findings suggest that the female reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone – may play a role in autoimmunity.
Scientists have begun to uncover several substances from the environment that can trigger an auto-immune response in our bodies. Some of these factors include:
- Infectious agents including certain viruses and bacteria can trigger an auto-immune reaction by our immune systems.
- Solvents, which are found in several industrial products including paints, nail polish, and cleaning agents, may increase your risk of systemic sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and connective tissue.
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun has been linked with an autoimmune condition that affects muscles, myositis.
- Heavy metals such as mercury, which can be passed to us when we eat contaminated fish, can also cause autoimmune diseases.
- Exposure to industrial materials, also, such as silica and asbestos can promote the development of autoimmune diseases involving the lungs. These chemicals deposit in the lungs, setting off extensive inflammatory responses.
- Tobacco smoke also increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Food is also a major culprit. Eating gluten, which is found in some grains, can contribute to Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine.
- The average “Western diet”, comprising high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods, is also thought to be a risk factor for dysfunctional immune response.
Examples of Autoimmune Diseases
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, with varying symptoms that depend on the organ(s) that are affected. Some of these diseases may be life-threatening while others may be long-standing and debilitating.
Common autoimmune diseases include:
1. Type I Diabetes
The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. When your blood sugar levels rise after each meal, insulin is released to drive the excess sugar into cells and keep the blood levels normal. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. Consequently, your blood sugar levels will continue to rise without control.
People with this disease experience excessive thirst and hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss, and slow-healing wounds. The complications of type 1 diseases include kidney damage, high blood pressure, blindness, and stroke.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis
In rheumatoid arthritis, antibodies target the joints. The antibodies primarily attack cartilage, a tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. This leads to severe joint pain, swelling, redness, and warmth.
3. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
There are two major forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In both conditions, the immune cells mistakenly attack the lining of the intestines. This produces fever, altered bowel habits, bleeding through the anus, and recurrent abdominal pain.
4. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
In systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, the antibodies attack almost all tissues in the body – the joints, heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and nerves are all damaged by the immune system. Therefore, people with SLE may experience generalized symptoms including joint pain, hair loss, rashes, shortness of breath, and nerve pain.
In psoriasis, the immune system stimulates the skin cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. This produces raised patches with silvery-white scales on the skin. People with psoriasis also experience severe itching and burning sensations around the patches.
The autoantibodies in psoriasis may also extend their effect to the joints, resulting in a condition known as psoriatic arthritis. With psoriatic arthritis, you may experience severe joint pains, swelling, and difficulty using the affected joint.
6. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a specific immune system malfunction that causes damage to healthy nerves, disrupting the flow of nerve signals. immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers nerves.
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects nerve cells. The antibodies attack the nerve cells, damaging the fatty coat that helps speed up nerve signals.
People with MS experience symptoms caused by nerve damage and impaired nerve signaling, such as blindness, muscle weakness, numbness, poor coordination, cognitive problems, and problems with urination and defecation.
7. Grave’s Disease
The hyperactive immune system, in Graves disease, releases antibodies that overstimulate the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is a small organ located in front of the neck that produces the thyroid hormone. This hormone regulates a lot of processes in the body. In Graves’ disease, the antibodies overstimulate the thyroid gland to produce large amounts of this hormone, and excess of thyroid hormones dysregulates almost all activities in the body. This results in weight loss, nervousness, rapid heart rate, and bulging eyes.
8. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Unlike Grave’s disease, in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid gland produces low amounts of thyroid hormones. This is because, in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system releases antibodies that destroy the thyroid tissue. As the thyroid cells that produce the hormone become depleted, blood levels of thyroid hormones drop.
Symptoms of the ensuing low thyroid hormone include fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation, and cold intolerance.
Autoimmune diseases are usually chronic and may be life-threatening
Autoimmune Diseases Treatment
There are no established cures for autoimmune diseases. However, since autoimmune diseases are caused by a hyperactive immune system in our bodies, a good way to treat them is to reduce immune activity. This means doctors may prescribe a certain class of drugs called immunosuppressants to help you control your symptoms.
Furthermore, your doctor may also prescribe other medications depending on the type of autoimmune disease. For instance, pain relief medications for autoimmune arthritis, and insulin for type 1 diabetes.
How to Prevent autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases have been linked to excessive inflammation. One way, therefore, that you can lower your risk of autoimmune disease is by avoiding factors that trigger excessive inflammation. How can you do this? By eating right!
Focus more on whole food, plant-based diet, as this is packed with antioxidants and vitamins that help to mop up toxins that may incite an immune response. This diet includes lots of veggies (leafy greens, squash, onions, carrots, turnips), spices (ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic, turmeric), and fruits (apples, mangoes, berries, etc).
Furthermore, avoid foods that trigger inflammation such as red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined sugars, refined grains, and refined oils.
Immune system – An Ayurvedic View
According to Ayurveda the power of the body which overpowers the detrimental effects of the disease and stops the initiation of the disease is known as Vyadhikashamatwa. The modern concept of immunity can be compared with the concept of Vaydhikshamatwa in Ayurveda. It consists of two words Vyadi and kshamatwa. Vyadhi means disease, to harm, to injure or damage and kshamatwa means ability or resistance.
So the word Vaydhikshamatwa means the ability to resist the disease. In Charka Samhita chakrapani explains vyadhikshamatwa as vyadhibalavirodhitvam means the ability of the body to fight against the manifested disease and Vyadhyutapadaparatibandakatva means the ability of the body to prevent the process of disease manifestation. The ability of the body to resist the occurrence of any disease or the power to resist the progression of the manifested disease is known as vyadhikshamatva or immunity in Ayurveda.
The term Bala is also considered a synonym for immunity. Bala means the strength of body resistance. It is classified into three types namely
- Sahaja Bala (Innate Immunity) – The physical and mental strength present naturally by birth.
- Kalaja bala (Acquired Immunity)- Strength due to favorable season, age, etc…
- Yuktikruta Bala (Artificial Immunity) – is the strength attained by following a proper diet and lifestyle, etc…
Diseases of the Immune system
When the immune system works in an abnormal way either overactivity or low activity will lead to immune system disorders. The overactivity of the immune system attacks or damages the body’s own tissues by losing its differentiating power and leading to various disorders are known as autoimmune diseases. The low activity of the immune system or immune deficiency reduces the body’s ability to fight against the diseases, causing vulnerability to infections.
Autoimmune diseases are one of the 10 leading causes of death for girls and women in all age groups (up to 64 years of age)
Ayurvedic Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases
As modern science states that there is no cure for autoimmune diseases and can only control them by suppressing the overactive immune response. Ayurvedic Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases are aimed to correct the immune system through various processes.
Causes for autoimmune diseases according to Ayurveda
Various factors are responsible for the development of autoimmunity. Here are a few reasons that are responsible for autoimmunity.
Aggravations of All the doshas can occur when a person consumes food during indigestion, does not follow the dietic rules, consumption of incompatible food and drinks, eating when the previous food is not digested or without feeling hungry, the wrong combination of foods can cause increases in the aggravation of all the dosha’s
Impairment of the biological fire (Agni) – When the deistic rules of Ayurveda are ignored repeatedly it will lead to the impairment of the digestive fire. The optimal level of digestive fire is required to maintain the normalcy of the body. When the digestive becomes impaired it hampers the process of digestion and nourishment to the tissues. The weak digestive fire leads to the improper digestion of the food and causes a toxic metabolite called ama. This is a form of toxin which can not be digested accumulates in the body and leads to the formation of autoimmunity.
Unwholesome habits and activities can lead to the formation of toxic materials. Depending on the severity of the toxins can directly impact the tissues causing the process of autoimmunity or the toxins can aggravate the dosha’s which intern disturbs the tissues and immunity causing the process of autoimmunity.
Repeated consumption of unwholesome or incompatible food habits leads to the alteration in the tissues. The altered tissue in the body considers itself as an antigen and an altered immune response takes palace leading to autoimmunity.
Accumulation of toxins or dosha’s in the tissues can also cause autoimmunity as they do not get metabolized and stay in tissues as less potent toxins.
Researchers also suspect that at least another 40 diseases have an autoimmune basis.
Treatment principles followed in treating autoimmune diseases
- Correction in the diet
Our health depends on what we eat. The consumption of unwholesome food, having food without considering the appetite, having food at an improper time, etc…. will hamper the digestive fire. The weak digestive fire worsens the digestive process leading to the production of toxic metabolites which is known as ‘ama’. The ama which circulates all over the body starts impacting the functions of the immune system. So the first step in treating an autoimmune disease starts with correcting the diet itself.
- Lifestyle changes
Sedentarily lifestyles and lack of physical activities also reduce immunity through various modes like reducing metabolism, and digestive power. Physical activities like exercise are also known as karmaja bala. The reduction in karmaja bala also decreases the immune system.
- Psychological changes
Being in a happier state also enhances immunity by releasing certain hormones. The latest researches also state that persons who are happy can fight better against diseases compared to others.
There are certain ayurvedic medications that can help to boost immunity. But one thing that you need to keep in mind is it will work only other parameters are followed like the right diet, lifestyle modification, purification, etc…
- Purification of the body
Purification of the body through certain therapies like panchakarma will also help to eliminate the factors that are responsible for reducing immunity. Removal of the aggravated doshas, and accumulation of toxins will help the body to function effectively to enhance immunity.
- Rasayana Treatment
Rasayana therapy is the one that helps to nourish all the tissues to work optimally. They are administered only when the body is purified. Rasayana treatment also works as a protective shield to prevent the reoccurrence of the diseases again and again,
Who will have strong immunity?
Immunity depends on the equilibrium of the doshas, the health status of the tissues, and the proper formation and expulsion of waste from the body. In the same way, the health status of the body is also maintained by the stars of immunity. There are various factors that are responsible for having a good immune system are
- Balavat pursue deshe janma – The birth of a person in a place where the people have a strong immune system.
- Balavat kale janma – Birth of a person in a healthy season like hemantha (Pre-Winter/Cool Season) and shishira rutu’s (Winter/Cold Season). These seasons are considered the healthiest season among all the six seasons.
- Sukakara kalayoga – When a person lives in a happier state this is a natural booster of the immune system. During the happier period, positivity boosts the immune system.
- Beeja guna Sampath – The healthy sperm and ovum give birth to a person who will be healthy. Born being healthy is also a natural immune booster.
- Kshetra guna Sampath – The healthy status of the uterus is also responsible for the status of immunity through proper nutritional supply and healthy intrauterine life.
- Ahahara Sampath – Choosing the right food and following the deistic rules will keep the digestive power at an optimal level. Good digestive power enhances immunity by fulfilling all dietary needs.
- Sharira Sampath – A well-built body is the indicator of the proper nourishment of the body and its function is a natural strength enhancer.
- Satmya Sampath – Indulgence in the food substances that are accustomed to the body is a natural strength enhancer. Using all the six tastes helps to balance the dosha’s in the body and thus improves bodies strength.
- Satva Sampath – One has a satva predominant psyche that will boost the strength of the body to fight against the diseases. One can choose the right decisions to keep one healthy when the person has the satva predominant mind.
- Swabhava samsiddi – It means that the person’s efforts in strength increase measures.
- Yauvana – The young age is a natural strength enhancer. Young age is considered to be Strengthiest among all ages.
- Karma – Karma means action. Karmaja bala means the immunity attained in indulging in exercise or physical activities.
- Samharsha – Being happy boosts the strength of the person through biochemical reactions. Research has found a link between immunity and happiness.
Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders that result from the destruction of cells and organs in the body by its own immune system. Although, scientists are yet to understand its cause, what is known is that genetics and environmental factors may play a role. Since there is no cure for autoimmune disease, it is best to learn how to lower your risks, especially using a healthy diet and lifestyle.