Autoimmune Disease. Your immune system may be attacking you
Autoimmune disease is a generic term for illnesses caused by your immune system attacking different areas of your body, including your brain. The areas of your body affected, and laboratory testing determines the name of your disease. Take a look at some autoimmune diseases listed below.
How do things go wrong?
First, your immune system is not designed to harm you. It’s designed to maintain order by deciding if it needs to protect you from something that has entered your body uninvited. Essentially, your immune system behaves like an Army, guarding the border to keep out foreign invaders so they cannot cause damage.
Foreign invaders come in many shapes and sizes. Commonly we think of bacteria and viruses attacking our bodies to make us sick. But there are many other “invaders” that will stimulate troops (immune cells) to respond. These are the invaders we’ll discuss further.
How Invaders Attack
Invaders that cause autoimmune disease have to find a weakness or a point of entry. The most common way for anything to enter your body is through your gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Other ways include the air you breathe – and through your skin. Most of the time, these “barriers” are strong and can stop invaders in their tracks. But increasingly, people are experiencing disruptions to these barriers, and things go very wrong. You can get an indication of this by the number of advertisements for new, costly medications aimed at helping manage autoimmune illnesses.
According to the medical literature, a frequent result of the breakdown of these protective barriers is an entity called increased intestinal permeability, a.k.a. Leaky Gut. Leaky gut happens when an opening is created between cells that line your intestines.
Typically, the connection between the cells lining the intestines is a “tight junction,” which is like a closed gate that does not allow anything through. Any molecule or nutrient that enters the bloodstream must first pass through the cells lining the intestines, or through specially designed channels between the cells. The molecule/nutrient must have the correct protein shape, or “key,” to do so. If the substance is foreign and does not have the right key, it will not be allowed to enter. The unwanted substance is passed out of the body through the stool (or pooped out.)
In the illustration below, the green dots represent regular food, passing along the intestines and crossing through cells to enter the bloodstream. These foods have the right key to enter.
With leaky gut, the red dots, or unwanted molecules, can pass between the cells without any gatekeeper. This happens when the connections between the cells are damaged (leaky gut).
When things go wrong
Certain chemicals, radiation, and exposures can damage the gates between the intestinal cells so that they abnormally open. This leads to the entry of substances – into your body – without any gatekeeper approving their entry. These substances may be bacteria, viruses, foreign proteins or chemicals associated with your food, like pesticides, plastics, food preservatives, food colorings, herbicides, and flavor enhancers.
Since there is no barrier to these substances, they enter the bloodstream easily. The body is always being protected by the scouts of the Army of immune cells. When these foreign invaders are detected, the scout cells send immune chemicals out into the bloodstream to alert the Army that reinforcements are needed to stop the invaders. This sets the Army in motion to build up a swift response.
The immune cells travel in the bloodstream and flood the area of concern. Immune cells make antibodies, which are the weapons that neutralize harmful substances. In addition to immune cells, antibodies and other proteins accumulate along with extra fluid that is needed to deliver them.
How the Immune System Responds
The immune cells create antibodies and other immune components that attach to the invaders. Sometimes, the invaders can have structures that are similar to tissues in our bodies, and the immune cells attach to those tissues instead. This continues to summon more immune cells, more fluid, and other cells and creates inflammation and swelling.
For those of you that have an autoimmune disease, you may know how this feels. Arthritis, tendonitis, stiffness, red and painful eyes, muscle pain, fatigue (brain inflammation). Even kidney, intestinal and heart problems can occur.
In essence, our immune system keeps us safe from invaders, but when the invaders have similar structures, the immune system seems to “malfunction,” causing autoimmune disease.
Let’s review some of the specific invaders
- Klebsiella is an invader that has been implicated in Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). AS leads to arthritis and can become so severe that the bones of the spine fuse together to cause permanent stiffness. Klebsiella has been found in the joints of people diagnosed with AS, so it is thought to be related to the onset of the illness.
- Parvovirus B19 is an example that can cause arthritis symptoms. Usually, it starts as a “cold,” then a week or so later, arthritis develops. Painful, swollen joints are what usually what prompts a doctor’s visit.
- Proteins from FOOD! When the intestines are damaged, larger protein particles can travel across the wall and directly into the bloodstream. These larger particles have many protein structures that are similar to our body structures. (After all, we use the breakdown products of these foods to rebuild our bodies.) The immune system then attacks, and the protein: immune cell complex migrates to different areas of the body and create symptoms.
- Either eaten, applied to your skin, or inhaled. These foreign chemicals can damage the intestinal cells and their connections and enter directly into the bloodstream. This allows the chemicals to bypass your liver, which is your major organ that helps clear your body of unwanted chemicals.
Phew. There’s lots to think about when we learn about autoimmune illness. How surprising that your leaky intestinal system can be involved! Keep in mind that what goes into or on your body can either build you up or tear you down.
Check out the download on how to repair your leaky gut for more information.