Education on Diabetes

Autoimmune diseases 101!

I’m sure everyone has heard of ‘autoimmune diseases’ but might not know exactly what it means. Keep reading for everything you need to know on this topic!

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks part of the body, causing it to function abnormally, resulting in a disease. This can be due to immune cells failing to suppress an overreaction and/or immune cells failing to recognise its own body tissue.

For example in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), T-cells (immune cells) attack myelin sheath in nerve cells found in the central nervous system. Damage to myelin causes scar tissue to form on nervous cells, disrupting the transmission of impulses throughout the body. This results in a variety of symptoms, some common symptoms include visual changes, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms and severe weakness.

There are over 80 known autoimmune diseases! Some other autoimmune conditions include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Psoriasis, Fibromyalgia and Type 1 diabetes.

Autoimmune diseases can happen to anyone at any point in their lifetime, which is really scary! However, if you keep yourself healthy, your risk of getting an autoimmune disease decreases.

What are the causes of autoimmune diseases?

There are many factors linked to the development of autoimmune diseases, with most there is not a single and definite cause.

One link between the development of many autoimmune disease are viral infections including the flu (Human Parvovirus B19) and EBV virus.
The idea is that when the immune system is fighting and getting rid of the viral infection, it can overreact and start to attack normal body tissue. For example, antibodies can begin to attack Beta cells in the pancreas, resulting in Type 1 diabetes.

A link between vitamin deficiencies has also been found to contribute to the formation of autoimmune conditions, such as vitamin D and Type 1 diabetes. Here the NHS describes how there could be a link between vitamin D and decreasing the risk of children getting Type 1 diabetes; https://www.nhs.uk/news/diabetes/vitamin-d-may-help-reduce-type-1-diabetes-risk-susceptible-children/

Finally, diet plays a big role in the risk of developing an autoimmune condition. A diet rich in refined sugars and low in fruit and vegetables is referred to as the ‘inflammatory diet’. This type of diet is extremely damaging to the body and can result in a variety of health issues. Refined and artificial sugars are very low in fibre and can increase the number of ‘bad bacteria’ in the gut. This increases the individual’s risk of getting ‘leaky gut syndrome’. Leaky gut is another factor that increases the likelihood of an autoimmune condition arising. Here is some more information on ‘leaky gut syndrome’ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/leaky-gut-syndrome/

How to lower your risk of getting an autoimmune disease

1. Keep your immune system strong!

Avoid getting ill by making sure you are prioritising your health and keeping your immune system strong. Some simple ways to do this is to eat to strengthen your immune system, include a variety of fruit and vegetables. A great way to think of it is to eat every colour from the rainbow everyday! Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to recipes daily and make sure you are drinking plenty of water.

2. Sleep

I have stressed this point in many of my blogs and I will continue to do so! Sleeping is time for your body to recover and rejuvenate. Getting your 8 hours is not only linked to lowering your risk of getting diseases such as cancer and autoimmune conditions, but it is also linked to overall happiness and good mood.

3. Get your vitamins in

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the development of many autoimmune conditions. So if you are feeling generally unwell and can’t figure out what is causing it, get a blood test and make sure you aren’t deficient in any vitamins.

Also make time to be outdoors. When sunlight hits our skin it generates the precursor form of vitamin D, which is then converted into the active form of vitamin D in the kidneys. It is not possible for the body to make vitamin D without sunlight so try to always make time to be outside!

4. Quit smoking

Did you know that a genetic mutation occurs with every 15 cigarettes smoked?! In other words, smoking is putting you at a very high risk of getting an autoimmune condition due to genetic mutations, as well as other conditions such as cancer.

5. Look after your gut

Having good digestion is very important for our health, the digestive system contains 70% of the immune system so it is vital it is functioning at its best. Achieve better gut health by eating natural yogurts to increase good bacteria in the gut flora. Make sure you are eating enough fibre to keep the digestive system moving and lower your stress levels so more blood is flowing to the digestive organs. All of the above will aid digestion and absorption, as well as nurturing the immune system.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope this was informative and you learnt something new! Please subscribe and send me any feedback 🙂