Autoimmune diseases are quickly becoming more prevalent in the United States and increasingly affecting higher numbers of patients, yet relatively little is understood about them.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), up to 50 million Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases. That is nearly a sixth of the population of the United States! This makes it the third most common category of illness behind heart disease and cancer.
Your immune system is an absolutely incredible mechanism -- perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of human biology. It can be likened to a swarm of little robot soldiers running through your body and killing off everything that is trying to harm you.
As amazing as it is to imagine an army of Commandos running through your veins and under your skin killing bad guys, this is also incredibly alarming if you take a step back.
Now imagine that these Commandos are blind folded children and very trigger happy. That is the essence of an Autoimmune Disease.
An autoimmune disease is when the mechanism inside your body that is supposed to be protecting you from illness turns against you and begins attacking healthy cells that keep you alive. There are approximately 80 types of autoimmune diseases and most of them have very similar symptoms. Even worse news, you can have multiple autoimmune diseases simultaneously.
Some common examples of autoimmune diseases are as follows:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis -- inflamed tissues and joints
- Celiac Disease -- an adverse reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine
- Vitiligo -- loss of pigment in the skin leading to white patches
- Psoriasis -- thick white patches on the skin and joints that causes irritation and redness
- Lupus -- inflammation, pain and damage to skin, joints and/or organs inside the body
- Type 1 Diabetes -- wholesale destruction of the cells in your pancreas that create insulin
There has been surge in many of these diseases in recent years.
Type 1 Diabetes has increased by 23% over the past decade alone! The prevalence of Celiac Disease has quadrupled and Lupus diagnosis have tripled.
Due to the drastic increases in autoimmune disease cases over such a short period of time, the idea that genetics plays a large factor is quickly falling by the way side. The likelihood that our genes, as a species, would be altering on such an amazingly fast scale is highly unlikely.
If genetics are not playing a major role as previously thought, what are the causes?
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