Recent research has provided evidence that abnormal accumulation of free radicals or low glutathione increases the risk of developing autoimmune conditions. Prolonged oxidative stress has a significant role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune conditions as it enhances inflammation thereby stimulating apoptotic cell death1 2 3. In this way, oxidative stress diminishes the immunity of the body. DNA damage section of the metabolic profile is usually analyzed to determine any problems associated with free radicals then the most appropriate foods or antioxidants are given to supplement the low glutathione levels in the body.
The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) says that in America alone, an estimated 50 million people suffer from autoimmune conditions. AARDA also adds that autoimmune conditions are most prevalent in families. Women make up 75% of those affected by these conditions. It is therefore likely that estrogen predisposes some women to autoimmune conditions. However, these diseases are not limited to Americans- African Americans and Hispanics are also more likely to develop an autoimmune condition. While these conditions are largely genetic, the environment also plays a role in their development.
An autoimmune condition arises when the immune system responsible for protecting the body against disease, recognizes healthy cells of the body as alien causing it to attack these healthy cells. This means that patients with autoimmune conditions generally have strange antibodies present in their circulatory system which seek to destroy their own body tissues. Various factors may trigger the immune system to attack healthy cells. These factors are such as the presence of certain bacteria or virus, chemical irritants, drugs and environmental irritants. The types of autoimmune conditions vary and they may affect one or many various types of tissue in the body. Autoimmune conditions may also distort normal growth and functioning of organs.
There exist almost 80 different kinds of autoimmune conditions, most of which present themselves almost similarly posing a great challenge in their diagnosis. Also, a person may suffer from two or more autoimmune conditions at a go. This is because the presence of one autoimmune condition furthers the risk for developing another one at the same time. Generally, people suffering from these conditions experience mild symptoms at some times and serious symptoms at other times. There is no cure for autoimmune conditions, therefore, treatment is mostly focused on alleviating the symptoms. sadly, the condition may finally lead to the death of the victim.
List of Common Autoimmune Conditions
Rheumatoid arthritis- The immune system generates antibodies that attach to the linings of joints. The cells of the immune system then attack the joints. This leads to inflammation, pain, and swelling. The joints may be damaged permanently if rheumatoid arthritis is not treated
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)- People with lupus develop autoimmune antibodies which are able attach to tissues in the entire body. Lupus commonly affects the joints, lungs, blood cells, nerves, and kidneys. Treatment of lupus is administered by reducing immune system function through a daily oral dose of prednisone.
Inflammatory bowel disease – This develops when the immune system attacks the lining of the intestines. It is characterized by bouts of diarrhea, bleeding in the rectum, abdominal pain, sudden bowel movements, and fever.
Celiac sprue disease – The lining of the small intestine is corroded due to a reaction to gluten.
Pernicious anemia – The body becomes unable to absorb vitamin B-12 leading to a decrease in the concentration of red blood cells.
Vitiligo – This is characterized by loss of color pigment leading to white patches on the skin.
Scleroderma – Presents itself through changes in blood vessels, skin, muscles, and internal organs.
Psoriasis – Characterized by redness, and irritation of the skin.
Hashimoto disease – The thyroid gland becomes inflamed causing a reduction in thyroid production
Addison’s disease- insufficient adrenal hormone
Grave’s disease- overactive thyroid gland
Reactive arthritis- inflamed joints, urethra, and eyes and sores on the skin and mucus membranes
Sjogren’s syndrome – the eyes and mouth become dry. It may affect kidneys and lungs. This is due to the destruction of tear and salivary glands.
How are autoimmune conditions diagnosed?
There are various tests that may be carried out on a patient to diagnose the specific autoimmune condition they have developed. Among them are the following:
Autoantibody tests: these tests look for antibodies that the body has created against its own tissues.
Complete blood count: this test determines the quantity of white and red blood cells. The quantity of white and red blood cells is expected to deviate from the norm when the immune system is actively attacking something.
Antinuclear antibody tests: this test looks for the antibodies that attack the nuclei of body cells.
C-reactive protein (CRP): elevated CRP demonstrates inflammation in the entire body.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: this test determines the amount of inflammation present in the body.
Oxidative Stress and Autoimmune Conditions
Oxidative stress is known to be a condition in which there is an imbalance between the accumulation of free radicals and antioxidant defenses which suggest low glutathione. Oxidative stress reduces the ability of the body to clear toxins. Excessive oxidative stress results in the continued formation of free radicals and peroxides. These lead to low glutathione levels in the body making the body‚ immunity to weaken. This means that glutathione in the body is low such that the balance between the accumulation of toxins and the ability of the body to fight these toxins is lost. Eventually, the body becomes unable to defend itself against foreign micro-organisms.
Some macromolecules in cells may become damaged such as Deoxyribonucleic Acid, Ribonucleic Acid, proteins, and lipids. As the body continues to experience oxidative stress, the accumulation of these free radicals increases and the level of glutathione reduces. In the long term, the number of free radicals in the body becomes abnormally high hence degrading the self-repair system of the body‚ immune system. This distortion in the normal balance creates a confusion within the cellular structures of the body.
Low glutathione and general antioxidant activity along with oxidative stress are thought to contribute to inflammation, causing apoptotic cell death, and breaking down the immunological tolerance which in turn seems to be a major factor in causing autoimmune conditions4.
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