Your immune system is one of the most critical systems in the body. Its entire job is to protect you from infections and diseases. A healthy immune system can mean fewer illnesses, faster wound healing, and more energy.
However, immune disorders (also referred to as autoimmune diseases) prevent these healthy responses from the immune system. What’s more, they could leave you more susceptible to disease.
To date, there is no cure for autoimmune diseases. However, promising research shows that high density lipoproteins may be effective in helping to manage the symptoms.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease is where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. It’s almost like your body is having a civil war with your immune system.
In a healthy immune system, your body identifies germs, bacteria, and viruses, then sends out an army of healthy cells to attack the bad ones.
But with an autoimmune disease, your immune system gets confused and thinks healthy cells are invaders. This triggers an immune response and ends up attacking the wrong cells.
This, of course, means that while your body is using its resources to fight healthy cells, bad cells can often go unchecked.
Risk Factors for Autoimmune Disease
Despite how far medical knowledge has expanded, the origination of autoimmune diseases is still something of a mystery. There’s some evidence to support the idea that autoimmune diseases may occur due to an overactive immune system after an injury or infection.
Other risk factors for autoimmune diseases include the following:
Smoking has been linked to a number of autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and hyperthyroidism.
Excessive weight can increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. It’s believed that the extra weight puts too much stress on the joints, which can stimulate inflammation.
Some people may be predisposed to certain autoimmune diseases based on family history. This is often the case with multiple sclerosis and lupus. However, having someone in your family with the disease doesn’t mean you will also develop it.
Some blood pressure medications and antibiotics are believed to trigger a form of drug-induced lupus. Another type of medication used to lower cholesterol may also trigger drug-induced myopathy, which is an autoimmune disease resulting in muscle weakness. The statins in this medications are believed to be the culprit.
Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases
There are many types of autoimmune diseases. But even though conditions can vary drastically from one to another, many of them share similar symptoms, including the following:
- Joint swelling and pain
- Skin issues, such as dryness, redness, or itchiness
- Abdominal pain
- Digestive issues
- Swollen glands
- Numbness or tingling
- Hair loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Achy muscles
Certain autoimmune diseases will also carry additional symptoms specific to that disease.
To date, there is no cure for an autoimmune disease. However, many conditions can be controlled and offer relief from symptoms.
Common Autoimmune Diseases
Different autoimmune diseases affect the body in different ways. Let’s look at some of the most common autoimmune diseases and what they do inside the body:
Lupus’s hallmark symptoms are pain and inflammation in any part of your body. It commonly affects your joints, skin, and internal organs. Because it can be so widespread in the body, lupus can create a variety of symptoms.
Scleroderma affects the body’s connective tissues and can cause visible changes in the skin’s appearance. It also impacts the body’s blood vessels, internal organs, and muscles. Over time, scleroderma can cause skin darkening, hardening, and thickening, almost like your skin has become a mask of itself. These changes are more noticeable on the face.
As the disease spreads to internal organs, such as the kidneys or heart, these organs begin to fail and can lead to additional problems like cancer or breathing issues.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease largely affects the digestive system, but can have a major impact on your quality of life. This occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the stomach. This can lead to a number of digestive issues, including diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fever, urgent bowel movements, and weight loss. Two examples of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
There are oral medications available to treat IBD, but these only help with symptom relief and do not “cure” IBD.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that is best known for producing red, itchy, scaly patches of skin. This occurs because the body’s T-cells collect in the skin and reproduce very quickly. Individuals with psoriasis tend to experience flare-ups with the disease rather than experiencing ongoing symptoms.
Graves’ Disease occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid. Your thyroid is a hormone data center that regulates hormonal activity within the body. When the thyroid is compromised, it impairs your hormones to the point where they cannot function as normal.
In Graves’ Disease, the body releases too much thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. This results in a number of symptoms, including weight loss, nervousness, bulging eyes, rapid heart rate, weakness, brittle hair, and irritability. There is no cure for Graves’ Disease, but removing the thyroid is usually required to treat it.
Similar to Graves’ Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. But in direct contrast to Graves’ Disease, the body destroys the cells that produce thyroid hormone. Low levels of this hormone leads to hyperthyroidism and manifests itself as fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation, dry skin, and sensitivity to cold.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is insulin-dependent and can’t be managed with diet or lifestyle changes. This occurs when the body destroys insulin-producing cells, effectively preventing the body from making its own insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes rely on insulin injections for life.
Rheumatoid arthritis creates chronic inflammation in the joints and organs throughout the body. For many, RA symptoms can be painful and debilitating. It’s common for individuals to go through periods of remission where symptoms or mild or even nonexistent.
However, RA is a progressive disease that leads to severe joint damage and even physical disabilities. Medications are often used to prevent flare-ups, but like other autoimmune diseases, there are no known cures.
Diet’s Role in Autoimmune Disease Symptom Management
Anyone that has an autoimmune disease knows that managing the symptoms gives them their best chance for a higher quality of life.
One way that’s fairly consistent across many autoimmune diseases is through diet changes. A healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, carbs, and “good” oils can help avoid worsening conditions or creating new issues such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol, indigestion, or inflammation, all of which may aggravate symptoms of the autoimmune disease.
However, it’s important to note that diet alone isn’t always enough. For example, those with scleroderma are at risk of malnutrition even with a proper diet because their absorption of nutrients is low. Because scleroderma affects muscle tone, stagnation in the digestive system is common.
And truth be told, no diet is wholly perfect. For example, your body needs carbs for energy and fiber for digestion, but someone with a gluten intolerance may find it difficult to get enough carbs. Sources like oats, wheat, rye, and barley are healthier than refined white flour-based foods like pasta and cereal, but if you’re intolerant to gluten, you need to stay away from all of these!
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, especially when you have an autoimmune disease. When you aren’t getting enough of a specific nutrient, it can trigger other responses in the body.
Tastes and tolerances aside, an anti-inflammatory diet could be key in helping you live with your autoimmune disease:
- Macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and healthy fats like Omega 3s and 6s)
- Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals)
- Antioxidants (reduces oxidative stress)
- Vitamin C (strengthens immune system)
- Vitamin E (protects fatty acids from oxidation)
How High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) May Help with Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
Though there is no cure for autoimmune disease, having an adequate level of fatty acids and antioxidants in your body has been shown to help improve symptoms.
Studies have shown that high-density lipoproteins (HDL) play a major role in vasodilation and exhibit anti-inflammatory behaviors.
Scientists have also looked at HDL levels in autoimmune diseases and have found that HDL and its functions are impaired in these disorders. In this study, it was concluded that HDL dysfunction is a common hallmark of systemic autoimmunity.
As we discussed in a previous blog post, Emu oil is an excellent source of HDL and contains the entire omega fatty acid chain. Supplementing with Emu oil can contribute to the anti-inflammatory diet because it contains many of the above macronutrients and micronutrients. It also supports gene expression that can fill vital holes in HDL deficiencies left behind by family history or environmental threats.
Though nothing can make autoimmune disease go away for good, the right foods and supplements may help you to enjoy life to the fullest, symptom-free. Shop our collection of farm-made Emu oil supplements and products to include with your anti-inflammatory diet.