The Immune System & Autoimmune Disease … Explained !

A Critical Perspective

In Summary

Autoimmunity is an immune response of an organism against its own healthy cells and tissues.  When the body attacks itself it causes cell and tissue damage.  This in turn leads to organ damage and inflammation. 

This disorder is called autoimmune disease.

 Whether they know it or not, millions of people suffer from autoimmune disease.  It’s become epidemic.

People are desperately seeking solutions to mysterious and debilitating health issues, some go a lifetime without any diagnosis.  

Autoimmunity is actually a spectrum and many people experiencing general malaise are already on it. Symptoms can start very early in life, people may experience things like weight gain, gut imbalances, mood disorders and fatigue. 

It can take years or even decades for symptoms to progress and for someone to receive a clear diagnosis.  

Well-intentioned doctors evaluate and treat the symptoms with prescription medication.  If the blood tests are not in crisis range; they may provide generic advice like “lose weight”, exercise more” or “reduce your stress”. 

In time most people lose hope as their condition worsens.

Introduction to Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases have become the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer and many people affected are left in the dark.  These people are left not knowing what’s wrong with them until a diagnosis.  

You don’t just wake up one day with a disease.   It can be a decades long process; developing slowly, almost unperceivably.

Autoimmune Spectrum Pathway

Cellular Damage = Tissue Damage = Organ Damage = Organ Inflammation = Symptoms = Diagnosis (doctors visit)

We can’t feel antibodies killing and damaging our cells in the early stages.  Therefore, there is nothing to alert us to the “Tissue Damage” until it progresses to “Organ Inflammation”. 

This is where clinical illness becomes apparent. Our immune systems are trying to protect us from the increased exposure to our toxic environment. 

All the while, a vast majority of us are completely oblivious that we are moving toward the dangerous end of this Spectrum.

 4 separate “Immune Pathways” are found in the body

  1. The majority of our immune system resides in the gut.  
  2. The liver – called Kupffer cells.
  3. The white blood cells found in the blood stream
  4. The brain – called glia cells  

All four systems operate independently and follow the same rules.  They communicate with each other and can produce autoimmune reactive antibodies.

A good way to think about how immune system works is to imagine our immune systems are the like the armed forces. 

Metaphorically, there is the army, navy, air force, marines and coast guards.  

Each of these armed forces represents an antibody; (antibodies are discussed below IgA, IgG, IgE, IgM and IgD).

The above 4 “Immune Pathways” consist of 2 systems … being:

1 – The Innate, or Cellular System:  

When faced with an offending agent or invader, such as: bacteria, virus, parasite, aggressive dietary protein, heavy metal or a chemical (together, these are called an antigens); the innate system is always the first to respond.

Think of the innate as a hand gun firing bullets directly at the target.  These biochemical bullets are call “cytokines”.  They recognise and destroy what they perceive as a threat. 

2- The Humoral, or Adaptive System:

This is required when the cytokines (the bullets) need backup.  Think of them as the heavy artillery or bazooka missiles.  Very accurate but create a lot of collateral damage. 

These Humeral or Adaptive Systems are called “Antibodies” (IgM IgA, IgG, IgE, and IgD)

  • IgM – First responder when a threat is suspected and the big guns are called in.
  • IgA – Second responder launched from the epithelial cells (lining of your intestines, lungs and blood vessels).
  • IgG – A systemic responder when the threat enters the blood.
  • IgE – Stimulates the release of histamine and can be life threatening when in excess, such as with allergies to food like peanuts.
  • IgD – Function is still unclear.

3 distinct factors must be present for Inflammation to continue to a Chronic State & Cause Autoimmunity

  1. Genetic Disposition / Influence – this can determine your body’s weakest links.  Although, it’s your “Epigenetics” (how you’ve lived your life so far or your gene expression) that will determine if those weak links will break…  For example, if your father and grandfather both had heart disease, this may be a genetic influence for you; although it may never happen to you.
  2. Intestinal Permeability – Often referred to as Leaky Gut
  3. Physical, Chemical, Environmental or Emotional Stressor/s

2 main types of Antibodies exist that we need to know about

  1. Antibodies to antigens; which I have already discussed these above &
  2. Antibodies to our own tissue; these are called “autoantibodies”.

Benign Autoimmunity

In the course of a normal day everyone experiences normal cell damage; such as that from aging cells.  In fact we produce a whole new body’s worth of cells every seven years or so.

It is the body’s job to get rid of these old and damaged cells to make room for new growth.  There’s a different auto-antibody for every organ; such as, brain, thyroid etc. 

When your body is functioning correctly and these are being produced at the correct rate, this is known as “Benign Autoimmunity” and is perfectly normal.

Molecular Mimicry

Although, when your exposure to antigens is too great and the Adaptive Immune system (bazooka missiles) are called in.  It may get the antigen its targeting, but may get confused and kill some healthy human tissue as well. 

These antibodies that were called into help protect us can easily mistake and destroy other molecules with a similar structure to the invader; this is referred to as “Molecular Mimicry”  

Chronic Autoimmunity

Chronic autoimmune diseases are the by-product of the immune system recognising self as an invader.   This can lead to inflammation and destruction of specific tissues and organs.  (M. F. Cusick, 2012)

For example: When Gluten molecules enter the bloodstream, your immune system recognises them as invaders and begins making gluten antibodies.  These antibodies travel through the bloodstream looking for and firing “missiles” whenever it comes across gluten.  

The problem is that it also attacks molecules that resemble gluten in structure and this can happen anywhere in the body.  This could be your thyroid, brain or any other tissue, wherever your weakest links resides.

When an organ becomes inflamed and dysfunctional this is when symptoms begin to develop.

Advancements in Research

Scientists (Alzheimer’s Association) now know that Alzheimer’s can start showing clinical signs as early as forty  possibly manifesting as early as the twenties.   It may have all begun with brain fog or forgetfulness.  

There are clear advances in the treatments of the 80 plus autoimmune diseases e.g. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis,  &  Coeliac Disease ; along with the other 300 or so related conditions. 

In saying this, wouldn’t you like to know sooner rather than later if autoimmunity is causing your symptoms? 

Doctors and researchers have known for decades that the primary cause of getting sick and dying in the world is cardiovascular disease with cancer second and autoimmune disease (as a whole) third.

However a paradigm shift is occurring in the understanding of many diseases.  For example, heart disease; what was originally perceived as lipid (fat) storage disease in the arterial wall (atherosclerosis).   Is now recognised as an inflammatory disease.

From this perspective, with the knowledge that the immune system is the only system addressing inflammation.   It is now believed that immune system triggers may be the number one mechanism behind autoimmune-mediated atherosclerosis 

Unfortunately a medical diagnosis can only occur after there is significant tissue damage.

Think AUTOIMMUNE SPECTRUM… 

Cellular Damage = Tissue Damage = Organ Damage = Organ Inflammation = Symptoms = Diagnosis (doctors visit)

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