What is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. Normally, the immune system guards against germs such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends fighter cells to attack them so that the body remains in a healthy state. When the immune system mistakes part of the body as a foreign invader, such as with autoimmune disease, it can attack any part of it including the skin, joints, muscles, and organs. With some autoimmune conditions, one organ may be affected such as the pancreas with Type 1 Diabetes. With others, such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the entire body is attacked.
Over the last decade, autoimmune conditions have grown exponentially. In the United States alone, more than 50 million Americans are living with one of 100+ identified autoimmune diseases, and 75 percent include women. Once a rarity, it is now commonplace. Plus, people with one of these conditions are at a much greater risk for acquiring another. Because autoimmune disease is growing at such an alarming rate, it’s crucial to know what the top triggers are. By knowing what turns on inflammatory-immune responses in the body, you can help yourself in avoiding them at all cost.
Trigger No. 1 - Weakened Gut Microbiome
The majority of your immune system resides in your gut microbiome. A single, thin layer of intestinal tissue lining separates your gut from your bloodstream. If this lining becomes permeable, toxins that were once expelled through waste will now leak into the bloodstream and trigger T cells to make antibodies. This causes a torrential immune response. Irritation, inflammation, and a wide variety of autoimmune conditions are a result. In 2018, conclusive evidence was reported in the Science journal proving that bacteria in the small intestines can travel to other organs and trigger an autoimmune response, especially in people who are genetically predisposed.
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Trigger No. 2 - Accumulated Age-Associated B Cells
The adaptive immune system consists of many different types of cells. Each undertakes different tasks to keep the body healthy, and they all fall into two broad categories of T cells and B cells. As a type of white blood cell, B cells are one of the main components of the body’s immune defense system, fighting off infections and foreign invaders.
Over the last 20 years, scientists have discovered that a certain subset of B cells named age-associated B cells unexpectedly express a transcription factor called T-bet (Tbx21) that is conventionally associated with T cells. The T-bet positive B cells (and their relatives) are the precursors for auto-antibody production which accumulates progressively with age and has shown to affect women more often than men.
Trigger No. 3 - Toxic Environment & Lifestyle
Exposure to toxins, whether environmental or self-induced through poor lifestyle choices, are a trigger for autoimmune disease. Research has linked exposure to certain chemicals and solvents to autoimmunity. For instance, a nationwide study linked cigarette smoking to rheumatoid arthritis.
Several food types are also contributory to autoimmunity. This leads to a weakened gut microbiome as mentioned earlier. Not only does a high sugar or junk food diet lead to a poor gut microbiome. Foods that are thought to be healthy such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and chocolate may also trigger autoimmunity as they contain plant toxins such as lectins, oxalates, goitrogens, phytates, and more. Like any other toxin, the body is more susceptible to autoimmune conditions when the gut is permeated.
Physical and psychological stress has also been implicated in the development of autoimmune disease. Several studies found that a high proportion, up to 80 percent, of patients reported uncommon emotional stress before disease onset. Presumably, stress-triggered neuroendocrine hormones lead to immune dysregulation. Altering or amplifying cytokine production results in autoimmune disease.
If you have a genetic predisposition to autoimmunity doesn’t mean that you will suffer from an autoimmune disease. Nor do you have to have a genetic susceptibility to acquire an autoimmune condition. Living a healthy lifestyle by eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate exercise and sleep, and managing stress are important for warding off disease. It will help you age gracefully by keeping your cells in tip top shape.