When Your Immune System Goes Haywire
While many people are familiar with the term autoimmune disease, many don't have a clear understanding of what that means. Perhaps much of the mystery and confusion behind diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroiditis lies in the fact that the biological basis and the symptoms that accompany such debilitating illnesses may not be linked to a specific infection. Rather, autoimmune disorders occur when our very own immune system—a complex system to begin with—begins to attack our body.
Given that many different kinds of proteins and molecules comprise our immune system, it is often a challenge to understand how and why a crossed signal or miscommunication can lead to an autoimmune disease.
There are many different scientific hypotheses to explain the cause of autoimmunity; among these include viral infection, bacterial infection, stress and genetic susceptibility.
Infections, whether viral or bacterial, are especially regarded as culprits as they have been found to precede the onset of autoimmune disease in many cases.
Viruses and bacteria gain access into our bodies in the first place by devising methods to avoid detection. Normally our immune system reacts by recognizing antigens (foreign substances that reside on bacteria and viruses) and then creating antibodies (proteins designed to destroy invaders). Our immune system is sometimes tricked into triggering an immune response that instead attacks our own organs and tissues, as well as the pathogens that cause infection.
To better understand how these situations in which the "body attacks itself" can occur, it helps to know some of the basics of immunology and the roles each part plays in protecting us from illness.
Basic Immunology Functions:
Bone marrow: The flesh within our bones where immune cells are derived.
Thymus: A vital gland, located in the upper chest in front of the heart, where T-cells pass through and mature.
Lymphatic system: Made up of lymph fluid, vessels, nodes, bone marrow, spleen and tonsils, this system is critical in the elimination of toxic waste from tissues.
T-cells: The "warriors of the immune system," these cells mature in the thymus enabling each T-cell to recognize our own antigens. T-cells then migrate into the lymphatic system to circulate in the blood.
B-cells: Immune cells produced in the bone marrow, then secrete antibodies.
Cartilage, Joint Linings
Brain, Spinal Cord
Most Tissues, DNA, Platelets
Cells that Secrete Insulin
Red Blood Cell Membranes
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Known Auto-Immune Diseases
When discussing autoimmune diseases, the role played by T-cells is of great importance. As Lorna Vanderhaeghe and Dr. Patrick Bouic explain in their book The Immune System Cure, T-cells are taught to recognize the difference between invading cells ("nonself") and our own cells ("self").
Normally, the immune system attacks only substances and infections that are thought of as foreigners, such as invaders from outside the body, or cancer cells made within the body; however, sometimes the immune system may be confused and attack healthy body cells.
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Perhaps much of the mystery and confusion behind diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroiditis lies in the fact that the biological basis and the symptoms that accompany such debilitating illnesses may not be linked to a specific infection.