It is said that 90% of people with hypothyroidism have the thyroid autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Sadly thyroid antibodies are often not tested so many of my readers are not even aware they have an autoimmune disease.
Do you know that when you have one autoimmune condition you are statistically at risk to develop others and that research reveals antibodies can brew in your body for YEARS before you receive your diagnosis?
Written by Tracy Konoske MS RD LD, owner Healthy Lifestyles
With advances in technology we now know we can test for multiple autoimmune diseases and we can detect them in the early stages before symptoms occur or before an official diagnosis.
Autoimmune Diseases On The Rise
Autoimmune disease is on the rise, now affecting anywhere from 1 in 4 people….to 1 in 2! Why don’t we hear about it more than diabetes or cancer? Because we classify them into separate categories – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Sjögren’s Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, Celiac Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, etc.
At Risk For More Autoimmune Diseases
If you have one autoimmune disease (AID), you are statistically at risk for subsequent autoimmune diseases.
Because it’s like you have a fire and if you don’t put it out, it just gets bigger and bigger. It goes from attacking your joints (Rheumatoid Arthritis) to your gut (Celiac Disease) to your brain (gluten ataxia) and on and on.
I am writing about predicting autoimmune diseases because 25% of those with one autoimmune disease are likely to develop other autoimmune diseases. Dr. Gerald Mullin from Johns Hopkins says statistically somebody with an autoimmune disease is at risk of a total of 7 autoimmune diseases in his or her lifetime.
If you have an autoimmune disease you may know that they commingle. If for example you have Celiac Disease you’re at risk for Type 1 Diabetes, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc. That gives you the title of Multiple Autoimmune Symptoms (MAS). We now know that people are being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases at epidemic rates. So this is an important topic because predicting or identifying autoimmune disease brewing years ahead of time can really give us a heads up.
If you’re reading this article and you have one autoimmune disease, you need to pay attention because you could possibly be at risk for others.
The PROCESS of Autoimmune Disease is the SAME
The process of an autoimmune disease is exactly the same. Our own immune system attacks our own tissue. We only differentiate it because it attacks different tissue.
If our own immune system attacks the joints we call it Rheumatoid Arthritis.
If our own immune system attacks our myelin sheaths or the coating of our nerves we call it Multiple Sclerosis.
If our own immune system attacks the villi in the small intestine we call it Celiac Disease.
This goes on and on.
We only differentiate autoimmune diseases by name but the process is the same. I think this has a lot to do with why if you have one autoimmune disease you are more likely to have more up to 7 on average. It’s because if you don’t put the fire out and it’s attacking your thyroid and you don’t do anything about that, you take your thyroid medication every day but you haven’t done anything to put out the autoimmune fire, it just continues on and attacks another tissue.
80 Distinct Autoimmune Diseases
We now know there are 80, and some say up to 100, distinct autoimmune diseases. If you’re wondering how you can possibly develop 7 autoimmune diseases it’s because we’re now classifying diseases like asthma, cardiovascular disease, small intestine bacterial overgrowth to have an autoimmune component.
Old school thinking is Rheumatoid Arthritis is autoimmune and cardiovascular disease is not autoimmune and that’s just not true anymore. When somebody is sick they usually have a plethora of health conditions. Most people that are chronically sick don’t just have one thing they have a lot. There we go again tying in the fact that this process is affecting a lot of people and it’s effecting more and more tissue when nothing is being done to put the fire out. This is where my kind of training comes in because we do learn in functional medicine particularly how to put that fire out.
The Perfect Storm
It takes the “trilogy” to set you up for an autoimmune disease.
- Genes – Certain genes predispose our immune system to misreact. Having a gene does NOT equal a diagnosis. For example, I could have the gene for breast cancer, but with the right lifestyle choices I could save myself a diagnosis. On the contrary, I might not have the gene(s) for breast cancer but I choose to drink in excess, smoke, and not manage stress well and could end up with breast cancer. Just because you inherit a gene that doesn’t make you a dead ringer for a disease.
- Leaky Gut – Dr. Allessio Fasano has shown that it takes a leaky gut to propel or to move forward an autoimmune disease. The health of your gut has an enormous role in autoimmunity.
- A Trigger – This is an enormous list. Let me just list off a few and you can think about your own life. A trigger can be anything that moves the process forward. Possible triggers include gluten, dairy, stress, blood sugar issues, genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, heavy metals, chronic toxin exposure, viruses, infections, BPA in plastic, alcohol, prescription medications, and mold exposure.
It takes the perfect storm.
Autoimmune Disease Research
We now know we can identify autoantibodies YEARS before enough tissue damage and symptoms are evident.
Melissa Arbuckle is a researcher and in 2003 she published her work in the New England Journal of Medicine. Here is what she discovered.
She went back to the blood supply of veterans. They had saved the blood supply since 1978. She was able to find 132 veterans who had Lupus, which is an autoimmune disease, and she went back to the blood supply for each of the 132 people and discovered that 115 had antibodies to Lupus brewing for 9 years on average before official symptoms or before a diagnosis occurred. The big deal here is that they had antibodies for 9 years before they had enough symptoms and enough tissue damage to get diagnosed with Lupus.
Dr. Schoenfeld a physician out of Israel has identified that the condition called primary biliary cirrhosis can have autoantibodies up to 40 years in advance.
Autoimmune Diseases BREW For Years
I want you to think of an autoimmune disease on a spectrum. It takes years before we have a diagnosis. You don’t go from 100% healthy on Monday to total Lupus on Tuesday.
We now know antibodies brew for years.
The point I’m trying to make here is that this is an opportunity to do prevention work.
As an example, on the website for the American Diabetes Association, it says right on their website researchers found that most of those who later got Type 1 Diabetes had certain autoantibodies in their blood for years before.
This isn’t a big secret. It’s right there on the ADA website. It’s just that conventional medicine doesn’t have anything to help you with until you get the diagnosis and now we can legally prescribe your medication.
In the Functional Medicine training that I have we are very well adept at being able to intervene and either slow down the autoimmune disease process or halt it completely by removing the triggers. We can’t change your genes but we can certainly help with the triggers.
Predicting Autoimmune Diseases
A few labs now offer testing for predicting autoimmune diseases. I use Cyrex Labs.
Cyrex Array #5 is a comprehensive panel looking for a multitude of autoantibodies. The results are not a diagnosis but the results are suggestive of current or future autoimmune conditions. We are catching it years before what can be considered an official diagnosis. The markers include markers for the pancreas, brain, bone, thyroid, heart, liver, gut, joints, testes, and ovaries. It does not capture every antibody known to man but it does offer a wide variety and the markers that have been found to be the most specific and the most predictive.
Identifying the pathology early can be a blessing, if you so choose. It provides an opportunity for prevention.
About Tracy Konoske
Tracy Konoske is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in Natural, Integrative, and Functional Medicine. Tracy’s goal is to help you find the cause of what ails you. Clients come to Tracy from all over the U.S. since she specializes in a few areas and not all nutritionists are created equal. You can find Tracy on her website Healthy Lifestyles.