Autoimmune Disease

When someone has an autoimmune disease, the body is attacking itself instead of going after the infection or virus. Multiple sclerosis, arthritis and thyroid disease are some examples of autoimmune diseases.

How do you define autoimmune disease? And what criteria need to be met for something to be classified as an autoimmune disease?

Dr. Harry Schick: Okay, that is a great question and it is a very important question as autoimmune disease is on the rise. An autoimmune disease is a situation where a person’s body, unfortunately, is attacking itself. For example, if a person has a bacterial infection, we expect the immune system to go ahead and kill the bacteria and resolve the problem; same is true with viruses. However, in an autoimmune disease, that same immune system, which goes out to attack a foreign invader like a bacteria or a virus, takes aim at a person’s own tissue. For example, if a person gets sick and the immune system gets activated and they attack the bacteria, at the same time, their immune system may go ahead and attack the thyroid, or a digestive organ, or their joints.

When this happens, this is called an autoimmune disease, auto having to do with oneself. It is the immune system attacking oneself. The way that we know this happens is generally through blood work. There are certain blood tests, which show us that there are what are called antibodies that are visible in the blood to a level that shouldn’t be there to a specific organ or part of the body. So we know for certain when this happens that the body is attacking that part whether, again, it be the thyroid or the spleen or whatever part of the body that it might be.

What are the names of some common autoimmune diseases?

Dr. Harry Schick: Well, the common autoimmune diseases that people think about, for example, would be rheumatoid arthritis where the joints are involved; Hashimoto’s syndrome which involves the thyroid; multiple sclerosis which involves the myelin or part of the nerve covering. There are other ones which are not always thought of as autoimmune, but we know now that they are. For example, with Parkinson’s, there is definitely an autoimmune component as well as with irritable bowel syndrome and also with certain types of infections like hepatitis. There is often an autoimmune component.

Is it possible to avoid getting an autoimmune disease by living a healthy lifestyle?

Dr. Harry Schick: That is a very good question. If a person has a genetic tendency towards an autoimmune disease, it is likely that at some point it is going to show up because it’s just waiting to be triggered by some type of infection or toxin. For most people, and we see this often where there is a hereditary component to it, the autoimmune disease comes out even in people who tend to lead good healthy lifestyles. Now, the inherited disease may not be the same as the parent. For example, a mother may have Hashimoto’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune thyroid problem. Perhaps one of the children winds up, then, with type one diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, which are other types. So the inheritance is not necessarily the specific autoimmune disease but the autoimmune situation in general.

Are there natural ways to help fight autoimmune diseases through diet or exercise?

Dr. Harry Schick: Well with autoimmune disease, what we look specifically at is to find what the trigger is. Again, for example, if the immune system is constantly being triggered to fire and fire over and over again, those same organs or parts of the body will be fired at constantly. We know that people are going to get sick and have a cold once in a while or have a virus or whatever that may be. In those situations, we know that if somebody, for example, with Hashimoto’s syndrome, their thyroid will be attacked. But if that only happens on rare occasions, most people can handle that. However, in a situation where a person has, for example, a specific food allergy, unfortunately a common one in regards to autoimmune disease is gluten, every time the person eats gluten, their immune system is going to fire and attack whatever part of the body is being aimed at. A person can decrease the amount of autoimmune issues that they have by staying away from things that trigger it. However, from time to time, they’re still going to be subject to the problem if they get sick for other reasons.

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