Autoimmune Diseases: The Why and The How

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The term autoimmune disease defines itself as a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. An individual's immune system usually performs tasks such as guarding against viruses and bacteria, sending out fighter cells as soon as it senses these foreign invaders. The immune system usually can tell the difference between foreign malicious cells and an individuals' benign cells, but autoimmune diseases prevent this differentiation from happening correctly. We have also seen an increase in autoimmune diseases recently, especially in women. So what causes these diseases? Why are autoimmune diseases becoming more common? Moreover, why are autoimmune diseases more common in females?

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?

Doctors have yet to pinpoint the exact reason the immune misterm malfunctions. Infections, diet, genetics, and exposure to chemicals may be involved. Some individuals are at a greater risk of getting an autoimmune disease than others: 

  • Some autoimmune diseases are more present in certain ethnic groups, such as lupus, affecting more Hispanics and African-Americans than Caucasians. 

  • Certain autoimmune diseases run in families, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. 

  • Known as a "Western diet," the constant intake of high sugar, high fat, and highly processed foods may be linked to the development of autoimmune diseases. The consumption of these foods may cause inflammation and set off an immune response. However, this is yet to be proven. 

  • Why are autoimmune diseases becoming so common? Some researchers suspect that the rise in autoimmune diseases link to environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals, solvents, and infections.

Common Autoimmune Diseases 

The list of autoimmune diseases is extensive, so below are some of the most common ones in the general population, along with some autoimmune disease facts.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: In RA, the immune system attacks the joints, causing soreness, stiffness, redness, and warmth in the joints. 

  • Multiple Sclerosis: MS damages the protective coating that covers nerve cells, called the myelin sheath. This damage slows the transmission speed of signals between the brain and spinal cord and the rest of the body. 

  • Type 1 Diabetes: The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, a hormone that assists in regulating blood sugar levels. With this disease, the immune system attacks and annihilates insulin-producing hormones in the pancreas. High blood sugar may damage blood vessels and the heart, kidneys, nerves, and eyes.

  • Psoriasis: Human skin cells' usual function is shedding once they need replacing. When individuals have psoriasis, their skin cells multiply too quickly, building up swollen red patches with silvery-white scales on the skin.

  • Celiac Disease: Individuals who have celiac disease cannot eat foods containing the protein called gluten. These types of foods often include rye, wheat, and multiple other grain products. The immune system attacks a part of the gastrointestinal tract when gluten is in the small intestine, causing inflammation. 

Why are Autoimmune Diseases More Common in Females?

Autoimmune disease statistics show that 80% of all diagnosed patients with autoimmune diseases are women, and research shows these diseases are twice as likely to affect women than men. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Hormonal changes: Autoimmune diseases usually affect women the most during significant endocrine changes. Some examples include puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. These changes significantly influence the immune system because of the connection between hormones, the immune system, and other organs in the body. Women generally experience more hormonal changes than men, making autoimmune diseases more likely in this population.

  • Genetics: The significant number of genes originating from X chromosomes creates a greater risk of many mutations. Women have two X chromosomes, while men only have one. This genetic difference puts women at a greater possibility of developing autoimmune diseases

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