Immune system can attack the body it's supposed to protect
BY DR. KOMOROFF Universal Uclick
Friday, December 07, 2012
12/07/12 at 4:53 AM
Dear Doctor K: I keep hearing the term "autoimmune disease." What does it mean?
Dear Reader: In most people, the immune system does a good job of protecting them from infection. But sometimes the immune system mistakenly turns against the very body it's designed to protect. When this happens, the resulting conditions are known as autoimmune diseases.
When the immune system recognizes something as foreign, it attacks. The immune system is like an army: It has many different types of attackers, and it has a command structure. Certain cells (like commanders in the field) order the attack to turn on and off. In an autoimmune disease, the ability of the immune system to recognize what is "self," or to turn off attacks that injure it, must be defective.
Infection with bacteria and viruses may play a role. One reasonable theory is that infectious agents we haven't yet discovered infect a particular tissue. The immune system recognizes the invader and attacks it - but injures or kills the tissue in which the invader is living.
Exposure to toxins or certain drugs, long-term stress, aging and pregnancy may make a person more susceptible to autoimmune diseases.
Finally, we're learning that the bacteria that inhabit our bodies right from birth influence the development of our immune systems and some autoimmune diseases. This has already clearly been shown with several autoimmune diseases of the intestines.
There are about 80 autoimmune diseases that affect specific tissues or organs of the body. These include multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Most autoimmune diseases can't be cured, but they can be controlled to some degree. Scientists have begun to uncover the changes in body chemistry that lead the body to attack itself. I'm hopeful this new knowledge will result in more powerful treatments.
Write Dr. K at www.AskDoctorK.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106