March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month!
It’s also the same Month that I almost lost my baby to an Autoimmune Disease last year. The month of the same little boy’s Birthday and now, his Type1 Diabetic Anniversary too (Diaversary). It is a big deal for us! So, I’m waving the Autoimmune Disease Awareness Flag and spreading my own little piece of Awareness.
Please have a read and share where you can to support the world’s Autoimmune Disease Survivors – there are far more of them than you could ever imagine – you could even be one and not even know..
Dr Donna Jackson Nakazawa, Author of ‘The autoimmune epidemic’ writes of the increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus, multiple sclerosis, coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes being on the rise. In some cases, autoimmune diseases are three times more common now than they were several decades ago. These changes are not due to increased recognition of these disorders or altered diagnostic criteria. Rather, more people are getting autoimmune disorders than ever before and she claims it is completely obvious that something in our environment is responsible.
So, yes, Autoimmune Disease IS on the rise and now affects anywhere from 1 in 4 to 1 in 2 people. Predominantly females (75%), Hispanic, African American and Native American females being in the highest risk group!
We don’t hear about autoimmune disorders anywhere near enough! Yet if you look at your family line, how many of your family has Multiple Sclerosis? Psoriasis? Coeliac? Type 1 Diabetes or Rheumatoid Arthritis? Look around, where you find 1, you’ll see others too. It’s genetic, we just don’t know why!
It is suggested we don’t hear much about such diseases v’s Cancers because awareness and press/media coverage of such auto-immune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, Graves’ Disease, Celiac Disease and Hashimotos Thyroiditis often tend to dictate public’s perceptions and have influence on these being viewed as lifestyle related illness rather than what they truly are – a genetic error.
Let’s face it, no one can (or would want to) cause their body to attack itself. No one causes or even encourages their own MS or T1D. No diet or exercise or lifestyle behaviours will prevent it either. But, the media do a good job at suggesting differently. Bracketing especially DIABETICS all under the same umbrella, when we all know that Type 1 Diabetes is an entirely different Ball Game to Type 2 Diabetes, same as Irritable Bowel Syndrome – a world apart from Coeliac Disease – and so on..
The body has attacked itself here, it literally detects its own tissue as harmful, foreign – a danger and sets about destroying it. We don’t know why and when the body decides it’s going to attack, there nothing anyone can do (yet) to stop it.. It’s like a snowball starting off down a hill, or a fire blazing through a building.. Move out the way!!!
More recent statistics also show that if you have 1 autoimmune disease (AID), you are more at risk for developing subsequent diseases. Imagine a fire that you don’t fully extinguish – it gets bigger and hotter and spreads farther. The Autoimmune Disease is exactly the same inside your body. It goes from attacking your pancreas (T1 Diabetes) which can be treated – there is no cure. But, we treat the symptoms, patients take insulin, and, if they’re sensible, they eat a healthy Low Carbohydrate Diet and manage their blood sugars to within a Normal Range. But, the Autoimmune Attack doesn’t stop. Instead, it spreads, attacking next – the Thyroid (Hashimotos/Graves Disease). Patients are then given a synthetic hormone to replace the thyroxine hormones the thyroid can no longer produce – it’s under attack remember – from your own immune system. Did you cause that? Do you think your diet or exercise could do that? Nah! You’re right – we cannot cause these, our bodies fail us, for some reason viewing tissue or entire organs wrongly, isolating them and attacking. But, they won’t stop there (unless you’re lucky), you’re on Insulin for your diabetes, a healthy diet, Thyroxine Hormones and still, your Autoimmune System is hell bent on attacking you from the inside.. So, it starts after your joints (Rheumatoid Arthritis) – and by now – you get my point? AND regardless of progression in modern sciences & technology. We remain unable to stop the snowball racing down the hill. Helpless to extinguish the fire – it just grows!
So, it is documented that if you have 1 Autoimmune Disease, the likelihood of additional subsequent diagnosis is a further 4-8! And there are 80 known Autoimmune Diseases. I won’t list them all but if you are interested; at the bottom I have listed some of the references I used in a recent Assignment I wrote for University..
What we do know is that the blood cells in our body’s immune system help protect against harmful substances. Examples include bacteria, virus, toxins, cancerous cells, blood and tissues from outside the body. These substances contain antigens. The immune system produces antibodies against these antigens that enable us to destroy these harmful substances.
When you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system does not distinguish between healthy tissue and antigens. As a result, the body sets off a reaction that destroys normal tissues.
The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown. One theory is that some microorganisms (such as bacteria or viruses) or drugs may trigger changes that confuse the immune system. This may happen more often in people who have genes that make them more prone to autoimmune disorders but to identify specific triggers for specific disease remains unaccomplished. We may never know?!
It all sounds pretty glum huh? It isn’t great if I’m honest and the more research I do, and the fact that I have a Type 1 Diabetic 9 year old son. I myself have Graves Disease (having my Thyroid removed in 2013), we have Coeliac and Psoriasis in our bloodlines too (Psoriasis and Lupus both being me also). Yes, we are a family of Autoimmune Disorders, some days it can be difficult, especially as a lot of these diseases have HUGE impact on your life but are pretty invisible. People don’t understand what they can’t see and touch. It would be easier some days to walk about in plaster but we suit up and boot up and face whatever the world throws at us! Because we are survivors. Surviving in a Wonderful Suffering!
Plus: What modern medicine can do (to an extent) is help prepare you, give you some time to research and learn and adapt. Tests can predict or at least identify Autoimmune Disease’s brewing years ahead of time, which whilst prevention remains difficult – impossible even, we have the knowledge to be better prepared for the benefit of our health. This knowledge is power and in cases such as Diabetes, this alone can be life-saving and reduce the danger to life when diagnoses would otherwise be missed or unexpected and treatment delayed.
The process of an autoimmune disease however is exactly the same, whether it’s T1Diabetes or Psoriasis, very different symptoms and physiology, same process: Our own immune system attacks our own tissue. We only differentiate it because it attacks different tissue.
If our own immune system attacks the joints we call it Rheumatoid Arthritis.
If our own immune system attacks our myelin sheaths or the coating of our nerves we call it Multiple Sclerosis.
If our own immune system attacks the villi in the small intestine we call it Celiac Disease.
This goes on and on.
80 Distinct Autoimmune Diseases and some say up to 100! If you’re wondering how you can possibly develop 7 autoimmune diseases it’s because we’re now classifying diseases like asthma, cardiovascular disease, small intestine bacterial overgrowth to have an autoimmune component.
So HOW & WHY does this happen? We don’t know!! But here’s what we do know:
It doesn’t just happen overnight as with a cold or cough. Autoimmune Diseases take YEARS to develop, people can produce the antibodies (markers in the blood) for decades before the disease is diagnosed. Sometimes, they may never develop the disease. In order for the disease to develop it takes the “trilogy” to set up the onset of the disease:
1. Genes – Certain genes predispose our immune system to mis-react. Having a gene does NOT equal a diagnosis. For example, I could have the gene for breast cancer, but with the right lifestyle choices I could save myself a diagnosis. On the contrary, I might not have the gene(s) for breast cancer but I choose to drink in excess, smoke, and not manage stress well and could end up with breast cancer. Just because you inherit a gene that doesn’t mean you will get the disease.
2. Leaky Gut – Dr. Allessio Fasano has shown that it takes a leaky gut to propel or to move forward an autoimmune disease. The health of your gut has an enormous role in autoimmunity.
3. A Trigger – This is an enormous list. Let me just list off a few and you can think about your own life. A trigger can be anything that moves the process forward. Possible triggers include gluten, dairy, stress, blood sugar issues, genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, heavy metals, chronic toxin exposure, viruses, infections, BPA in plastic, alcohol, prescription medications, and mold exposure.
It takes the perfect storm. A simple flu-virus can activate MS in an 8 year old child. We don’t know why. Yet a child with the same markers and the same cold may never develop MS. We know very little. We are learning every-day but we still know nowhere near enough!
BUT, we can prepare as mentioned above.
We can identify autoantibodies YEARS before enough tissue damage and symptoms are evident.
When you have an autoimmune disease, your body is producing antibodies against some of your own tissues (as above). Therefore diagnosing an autoimmune disease involves identifying the specific antibodies your body is producing.
The following tests are used to diagnose an autoimmune disease:
Autoantibody tests: any of several tests that look for specific antibodies to your own tissues
Antinuclear antibody tests: a type of autoantibody test that looks for antinuclear antibodies, which attack the nuclei of cells in your body
Complete blood count: measures the numbers of red and white cells in your blood; when your immune system is actively fighting something, these numbers will vary from the normal
C-reactive protein (CRP): elevated CRP is an indication of inflammation throughout your body
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: this test indirectly measures how much inflammation is in your body
So, as we know, there are as many as 100 types of autoimmune diseases with their own identity and markers (antibodies in the blood). But, (here’s another area where we just don’t know enough): many of them have similar symptoms, which makes them very difficult to distinguish on the surface hence difficult to diagnose. It’s also possible to have more than one at the same time causing further discomfort and worry for the individual. Autoimmune diseases can also fluctuate between periods of remission (little or no symptoms) and flare-ups (worsening symptoms). Currently, treatment for autoimmune diseases focuses on relieving symptoms because there is no curative therapy (we just don’t know enough – don’t know how to put the fire out).
In order to help the medicinal research industry AND patient, by collaborating, there are many online resources and research trials can offer free tests for family members suffering with Autoimmune Diseases or Multiple Autoimmune Disease’s to detect markers for possible developing diseases. The trials will often provide results free of charge for rights to the results for medicinal advancements.
A simple blood test can better prepare you for the unknown.. It’s a simple blood test: as ordinarily, your immune system produces antibodies (proteins that recognize and destroy specific substances) against harmful invaders in your body, usually, the higher the antibodies in the system, the more at risk the person is for developing the disease. So, they identify and measure markers and notify you of potential future disease. These levels can fluctuate throughout life, someone can live with extremely high Thyroid markers their entire life, but if their ‘Perfect Storm’ never occurs, they will never develop Thyroid Disease. Likewise, someone could have low markers for Type 1 Diabetes BUT they hit their Perfect Storm and suddenly, they are Type 1 Diabetic.
There are many resources online to have your own antibodies and genetics tested but here are some I have used and known people use:
So, as Autoimmune Disease is becoming increasingly prevalent and we don’t know why or what to do to stop it, but one thing we do know is everyone suffering from an Autoimmune Disease is fighting their own battles, some chronic, debilitating, relentless, brutal invisible diseases and they do so every single day; we owe them the respect of spreading awareness and honoring their month with some empathy to their plight..
March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month! (I could go on and on but I won’t)…
(You could do your own research and speak with your medical professional’s team if you have any concerns over your own health or that of a family member). For now, I hope I’ve helped spread a little awareness for these warriors deep in battle!
Finally: Please share this where you can and help spread awareness for these incredible, brave members of our society. As I said, they are each fighting invisible, debilitating, chronic diseases every single day. They deserve that. There are far more of them throughout the world than we will ever know – you might even be one yourself. Share for them and raise awareness with me… ❤
Sparkles for now – Look for the Rainbows as always,
Rose ❤ xx