One thing about autoimmune diseases is that they’re not handed to us by nature.

We are not usually born with autoimmune markers.

When a virus or bacteria invade our body, the immune system has ways of protecting itself. It tries to identify, kill and eliminate an invading pathogen trying to hurt you, with an army of healthy cells.  But sometimes the immune system’s reaction is mistaken.

The immune system consists of two parts—the acquired and the innate immune systems. The National Institute of Health explains:

The acquired (or adaptive) immune system develops as a person grows. It “remembers” invaders so that it can fight them if they come back. When the immune system is working properly, foreign invaders provoke the body to activate immune cells against the invaders and to produce proteins called antibodies that attach to the invaders so that they can be recognized and destroyed. The more primitive innate (or inborn) immune system activates white blood cells to destroy invaders, without using antibodies.

A healthy immune system must be able to distinguish between the body’s own proteins (autoantigens) and proteins from foreign cells (foreign antigens). When the immune system turns against autoantigens, that’s an autoimmune reaction. In other words, antibodies and immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack it.

There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis where the immune system is attacking the joints; addison’s where the antibodies attack the adrenal glands; psoriasis, when the antibodies attack the joints and the skin; vasculitis, when there’s inflammation in the blood vessels; hashimoto’s when the immune system attacks the thyroid; lupus, when the immune system attacks DNA and damages the kidneys, heart, lungs, and skin; and many other diseases…

Inflammation can be an indicator of autoimmune disease. A common trigger for autoimmune disorders is food including gluten and dairy. The body can become more inflamed by what you consume and that can push the immune system to produce antibodies that attack healthy tissue.

Molecular mimicry is a trait commonly seen in autoimmune diseases. It’s when antibodies designed to fight a pathogen happen to attack a similar structure to something in the body.

The NIH estimates that collectively, autoimmune diseases are among the most prevalent diseases in the US, affecting more than 23.5 million Americans. In my practice I’m seeing a spike in autoimmune disorders.

Low-grade inflammation or mild symptoms can be a sign of an autoimmune disease processes starting, but doctors are not usually looking for autoimmunity until the disorder is full blown. If you have medical history of inflammation consider taking an Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) test and other autoimmune markers so that you can detect it early and work on reversing the process.  It’s a simple blood test that can help evaluate for autoimmune disorders. Infections can initiate and/or exacerbate autoimmune diseases as well. Talk to your doctor about ordering the test.

Based on what I am seeing in my practice, I think autoimmune markers test should be part of every health screening, much like colon cancer, because it shows autoimmune markers. Early detection can mean prevention of many diseases.

The key to managing and/or preventing autoimmune diseases is based on a healthy lifestyle. I recommend my Paleo diet that focuses on mostly vegetables with some lean meats. Avoiding dairy and avoid gluten is imperative, as they are triggers that can stimulate antibody production to attack healthy tissue. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins and taking selected nutrients that support your detoxification process is also instrumental in reversing the autoimmune process. Meditation and exercise are also important measures.