What is autoimmunity - Dr. Connie Jeon

Today, I want to talk about autoimmunity, what it is, what causes it, what you can do about it.

It’s a very personal topic for me because I too have an autoimmune disease, Lupus, and back 20 years ago, there was very little information about autoimmune conditions.

Autoimmune conditions are on the rise.

They affect over 50 million Americans and are considered a top 10 leading cause of death in women under the age of 65.

We now know so much more about autoimmunity, and today I want to share everything I know about the diseases so that you can be better informed.

So what are autoimmune diseases?

There are many different presentations of autoimmunity, including rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, etc.

All autoimmune diseases share a common root cause. They all stem from systemic inflammation.

Let me explain.

Our immune system defends us from foreign invasion, especially from bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

Typically, such invaders enter our body through a cut on our skin, a nasal passage (air), or an oral passage (which leads to our gut).

Our bodies have barriers, such as our gut lining and our skin, and as long as our barriers keep the foreign enemies out, we are good.

However, in today’s world, we have increasing attacks to these barriers from toxins, decreasing our protection.

The toxins are everywhere; from the air we breath, clothes we wear, foods we eat, to the stress of our lives, toxins are compromising our body’s natural defense system and collapsing.

When our immune system is over worked, it starts to lose the war against foreign invaders.

So when allergens, toxins, and infections are introduced to the body, our immune system begins to make mistakes.

It starts to get confused and can’t differentiate friend from foe.

It mistakes certain types of tissues for harmful substances, and gradually, your body starts to attack ITS OWN organs and tissues, thinking they are foe.

The body’s ammunition against foes are called antibodies. As the antibodies multiply, they then starts to destroy your organs and tissues, causing systemic inflammation.

Think of it as a fire gone out of control and has become so big that it can’t be contained. It’s a scary process, one that needs to be avoided and prevented at all cost.

What causes autoimmune diseases?

There are many factors that can cause an autoimmune disease. Substantial evidence points to the genetic component.

However, whether these genes are expressed or turned on, the disease is actually caused by a host of other factors, such as toxins from heavy metals (like mercury), mycotoxins from molds, infections (like candida, Epstein-Barr, and the herpes simplex virus), and most significantly, chronic inflammation tied to food sensitivities, particularly gluten.

As I mentioned, we live in a highly toxic world.

While the Industrial Revolution brought many benefits, some disadvantages it brought include alterations in our lifestyle, specifically in the way we eat and the promotion of a sedentary lifestyle.

In addition, we have become over stimulated and stressed, which collectively causes an “imbalance” in our bodies.

What are some signs of autoimmune disease?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially a combination of several of them, you may have an autoimmune disease.

1. Joint pain, muscle pain or weakness, or a tremor

2. Weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance, or rapid heartbeat

3. Recurrent rashes or hives, sun sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks

4. Difficulty concentrating or focusing

5. Feeling tired or fatigued, weight gain, or cold intolerance

6. Hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth

7. Abdominal pain, blood or mucus in your stool, diarrhea, or mouth ulcers

8. Dry eyes, mouth, or skin

9. Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

10. Multiple miscarriages or blood clots

It’s important to understand that there is a spectrum when we speak of symptoms.

Because symptoms are so varied and wide, unless you conduct specific tests, autoimmune disease can be difficult to diagnose.

It’s also common to have symptoms a long time prior to being diagnosed, as was the case for me.

What should you do if you suspect that you have an autoimmune disease?

If you do have a “diagnosed” autoimmune disease, you must see your rheumatologist.

They will likely perform some labs to check for antibodies in order to differentiate the disease. They will provide you with medications to suppress your immune system and decrease inflammation.

While such medications are effective at suppressing the symptoms, they fail to address the root cause of your disease and how to potentially reverse the dysfunction.

Also when taken long term they can potentially have detrimental side effects, such as cancer.

If you have severe symptoms, it’s imperative that you stay under the care of your rheumotologist to manage the progression of your disease appropriately.

However, a thorough understanding of your condition requires an extensive evaluation, preferably by a trained functional medicine provider.

This is to create an effective antidote to the progression of your disease. This will also ensure that you get on a protocol that will promote an overall balance in your body.

I’ve lived with Lupus for over 18 years, and suffered from symptoms for over 22 years. I’ve also treated many patients with various autoimmune conditions, and I can tell you no two cases are the same.

However, I can confidently tell you that you have the power to make a difference in the way you manage your disease.

There are three elements involved in your health:

1. Gut health

2. Neuro-musculo-skeletal health

3. Brain health

Gut health is all about learning what to eat, what foods to eliminate, and what supplements to take to optimize your health.

Neuro-musculo-skeletal health is all about movement. When I was sick, the last thing I wanted to do was to move. I was told to rest. While I had to strike a smart balance between too much and too little, I now can share what specific exercises you should do to make sure you preserve your nerves, muscles, and joints.

Brain health involves healing, guided meditation that allows for mindfulness. Often we are crazed with “to do” lists. We don’t spend time to simply unwind. Rather, we are constantly on our electronic devices and as a result, our brain doesn’t get an opportunity to reboot. This is where the behavior shift can occur because without the reboot of our perspective, no change will happen.

Lastly, at the core, is the BALANCE between the three elements.

If they are in balance, then I assure you, that you’ll activate and experience your body’s miraculous ability to heal. It’s inherent in ALL of us.

I’ve had to resort to immunosupressive medications, but chose to take matters into my own hands and reclaim my health. I got busy applying the above elements to my life and the results are astounding!

While I’m still a Lupus patient, it’s my goal to one day fully reverse my condition.

I would love to hear from you!

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Thanks for your time!