Autoimmune – what is it?

Today’s question: “You keep talking about autoimmune diseases and I don’t think most people have these. So what is that and what’s the big deal?”

Answer:  An autoimmune disorder occurs when your body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders and they may attack body parts like blood vessels, connective tissue, lungs, glands like the thyroid or pancreas, joints, muscles, red blood cells, skin, and nerves (including the brain.) In other words, anywhere.

This ugliness almost always starts with a messed up gut (called “leaky gut”). There is a reason why 80% of your immune system resides in the gut – because it is important to prevent toxins and improperly digested food from sneaking out into the blood stream where they don’t belong.  A leaky gut is chronic inflammation.

It’s usually pretty easy to know when something is wrong because the symptoms of gut inflammation are so common. Fatigue, bloating and gas, indigestion, acid reflux, rashes, weight gain, etc. And we tend to treat them with prescribed medications or OTC drugs.

In other words, we don’t find out what is causing the problem in the first place, we just take that purple pill, that steroid in some form, or spread on that cream.

So think about this. How many people do you know, including yourself, who have those symptoms with regularity? This isn’t just a few people; it is almost all of us. Our immune systems are constantly challenged to respond to chronic inflammation.

Give it time with the right chain of circumstances and your immune system can get confused, thinking that some healthy tissues in your body “look” the same as an element it has been fighting for some time. And you now have an autoimmune attack on those healthy tissues; you now have one or more autoimmune diseases

For some people, in fact most, certain proteins in foods are toxic. Most commonly the glutens and other protein elements in wheat and other grains, the protein and/or sugar (lactose) in dairy, and all sugar will cause inflammatory reaction.

Gluten is particularly a problem because it doesn’t just show up in bread and pasta but is hiding out in almost any processed food in your grocery store.

The only fixes are withdrawal of the toxins and food elements that ignite the fire In the first place, ideally before the inflammation sets off an autoimmune attack. Over the next few weeks I will share stories of real people who have fixed their autoimmune condition through diet. As you read their stories you may find ways to help yourself.

There are several blog posts on this website about the immune system and diet. Do a search on “autoimmune” to find them.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc .board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry),  chairman of the Tasty Acre project, and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.