What is Autoimmunity?

Is Your Body Confused Like These Tulips in March, Trying to Survive?

This is a deep question which I will first provide a clinical answer from John Hopkins Medicine, Department of Pathology, then will delve into more laymen’s understanding of the process. Bear with me!


Autoimmunity is the presence of antibodies (which are made by B lymphocytes) and T lymphocytes directed against normal components of a person (autoantigens). These components are called autoantigens or self-antigens and typically consist of proteins (or proteins complexed to nucleic acids). The antibodies and T lymphocytes that recognize autoantigens are called “autoantibodies” and “autoreactive T cells“.

Autoimmunity is very common. Autoimmune diseases develop when the auto-reactive B lymphocytes (autoantibodies) and T lymphocytes described above cause pathological and/or functional damage to the organ/tissue containing the target autoantigen(s). Thus, in autoimmune diseases the auto-reactive lymphocytes are the actual cause of the disease, rather than a harmless accompaniment.

In autoimmune diseases, auto-reactive lymphocytes expand polyclonally because the mechanisms that normally keep them at bay fail. In other words, autoimmune diseases can be considered a manifestation of immune dysregulation.

Laymen’s Terms:

Doctors aren’t sure why autoimmune disease happens in the first place or why women are affected more than men. Eighty percent of people with autoimmune are women! One theory is that higher levels of hormones in women, especially during the childbearing years, could make women more susceptible to autoimmune disease but this idea is yet to be proven. In my case, my autoimmune disease erupted at the beginning of my menopausal years.

We do know that there are genetic factors and environmental factors at play in autoimmunity. On a basic level, autoimmune disease occurs because the body’s natural defenses – the immune system – attack the body’s own healthy tissue. Genetics is a known factor but is not the only factor; in fact, a person can be genetically predisposed to autoimmune disease but never manifest it.

Studies show that repeated stress plays a role in autoimmune disease. It’s possible that disease occurs based on the immune system’s ability to handle stress. When the stress on your body exceeds your immune system’s ability to handle it, autoimmune disease erupts. If we knew at what point this occurs, we could prevent it; however, everyone’s tolerance level is different.

In short, we can say: Genetics loads the gun – Environment pulls the trigger.

This is why I coach on many aspects of lifestyle. Managing or preventing autoimmune disease is within your control!!! Let’s talk!


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