Autoimmunity is a reaction of the body’s defense system, the immune system, which does not recognize its own tissues and cells and attacks them.
In normal conditions, the immune system works correctly and reacts against non-self molecules (called antigens) which are thought to be dangerous: for example, the ones associated with viruses, bacteria and parasites. On the other hand, the organism’s constitutive structures are recognized as its own (self) by the immune system’s cells and, as such, are tolerated and not attacked (immune tolerance).
So, a fundamental characteristic of the immune system is the ability to distinguish internal (endogenous) or external (exogenous) structures that do not represent danger and need or must be preserved (self) from the harmful ones that need to be eliminated (non-self).
When the immune system fails and does not recognize as self its own components, it can produce antibodies against cells, tissues or organs of the organism itself (autoantibodies) causing an inflammation that leads to the proper autoimmune disease.
An autoimmune diseases’ characteristic is then the production of autoantibodies which can be divided into two groups. When they are specific against a single type of tissue, for example against thyroid cells, they cause a disease which is limited to the organ made of that specific kind of tissue, because they can interact just with specific particles. Conversely, when autoantibodies are against cells’ common components (for example the nucleus) they can cause systemic diseases, so extended to the whole organism. This is the case of systemic lupus erythematosus (LES), one of the most representative autoimmune diseases.
Sometimes, an immune reaction against external substances can act against self structures at the same time (a mechanism called molecular mimicry).
Diseases caused by an autoimmune response are more than 80 and can affect every part of the body.
Most autoimmune diseases regard women in fertile age; some of them, like lupus and Hashimoto Thyroiditis, affect 9-10 women per man.
Some examples of autoimmune diseases are:
- celiac disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- chronic intestinal diseases
- multiple sclerosis
- myasthenia gravis
- pernicious anemia
- cirrhosis of the primary biliary tract
- sclerosing cholangitis
- rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- type 1 diabetes mellitus
- vasculitis …
Why does this happen?
We know that the higher the life standard, the higher the incidence of autoimmunity and to understand some of the causes we need to look into our bodies at cellular level.
Cells are biological units that constitute the organism and cell colonies with similar characteristics are aggregated to form tissues, organs and finally, the human body; single cells’ vitality and functionality determine organism’s general health status. Cells need components which are obtained through food to produce energy and work; those elements are: minerals, amino acids, proteins, vitamins, enzymes, fats and carbohydrates.
But, are current aliments capable of giving us essential constituents for life maintenance in sufficient amounts and qualities for an optimal health condition? The answer is that our cells are evolving, getting away from their original health and functionality status; as a matter of fact, nutritive elements which should be present inside cells are lacking and other elements, which should not be a part of them, are present.
Recent studies have shown that the change of internal biochemical composition of cells is accompanied by cellular membrane modifications and so of the whole cell. As a result, the immune system does not recognize cells as its own and it attacks them. Environment, inheritance and food choices come into play to let cells evolve towards an appearance which is far from original health status.
What can we do?
Specialistic analysis that measures small molecules which take part in human organism’s reactions, called Metabolomic Analysis, can guide towards the restoration of an organism’s physiological status. In Harvard’s School of Medicine opinion, Metabolomics is nowadays the easiest and most accurate way to evaluate an individual’s health status.
The recovery of cells’ physiological functioning, through the combined action of all the available tools, like:
–an appropriate pharmacological therapy
-the correction of micronutrients’ deficiencies
-the restoration of an optimal metabolic condition
is an effective weapon in the battle against autoimmune disease.
Last but not least, an aspect that often is not observed and not applied is helping the individual to find and handle stress factors which lie behind the disease, because almost every time, autoimmune diseases are partnered to deep changes in emotionality, which feed the disease and make it worse.