Common knowledge says that autoimmunity is an overactive immune system. In other words, “the body is attacking itself.” Not exactly.
In most cases, the immune system isn’t too strong, it’s actually too weak, and becomes dysfunctional.
The immune system is made up of various components. The first line of defense against infections are our skin, digestive tract, and other barrier membranes. After that, the innate immune system. The innate immune is like a security guard watching the door. It’s looking for anything that’s not supposed to be there. What if the security guards are on strike? What if the door is open, the windows are broken, and the security is overwhelmed? Examples of this include
- Leaky gut syndrome – damaged barriers will allow foreign proteins to enter the bloodstream.
- Chronic infections, or excessive vaccinations – If the immune system is triggered for too much for too long, autoantibodies can be produced.
- Chronic stress, leading to adrenal fatigue – When we’re under chronic stress, adrenal hormones work to raise blood sugar, and also suppress immune function. In the long term, the opposite occurs, adrenal burnout, and an overactive immune system.
A weakness in the innate immune system can result in a chronic stimulation of antibody-producing cells. These cells are part of the adaptive immune system. Although this is a natural process, it is designed to take care of an infection quickly. For example, if you have the flu, you’ll feel very sick for a few days until your body is able to produce enough antibodies to fight the infection. Once the infection is resolved, everything should go back to normal.
So how does autoimmunity happen? Let’s consider the case of leaky gut: Injury to the intestinal barrier results in the immune system being activated every time you eat food. Inflammation is the body’s way of cleaning up damage, as if it’s healing from an injury. If you also work a stressful job and don’t get enough sleep, your immune system might be weak, so that you can’t recover as quickly. Your weak and overworked immune system now begins producing antibodies.
The idea that “The immune system attacks the body” is not entirely correct. The immune system is designed to destroy anything that’s not supposed to be there, but can be triggered by toxic metals or infections. Allergies can also be a source of antibodies that can damage tissue.
Drugs used to treat autoimmune disease suppress the immune system. Newer drugs are are more specific to certain immune cell types, and have fewer side effects, but drugs don’t address the root cause of the condition.