Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. The immune system’s function is to guard against foreign bodies like viruses or bacteria by sending cells to attack them. It can normally determine between foreign cells and your body’s healthy cells. In those with an autoimmune disease however, the immune system mistakes part of your body for a foreign invader and attacks the healthy cells.
Some autoimmune diseases only target one area such as Type 1 diabetes with the pancreas, others like Lupus can affect the whole body.
It’s not known exactly what causes the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells, however it has been recognised that some people are more prone to autoimmune diseases than others. Women are reported to get autoimmune diseases at over double the rate that men do and these start during childbearing years*.
There are some autoimmune diseases that are hereditary – Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus can run in families, though that doesn’t necessarily mean each family member will suffer from the condition, rather, that they’re more susceptible to a condition.
Some autoimmune diseases appear to be more common in particular ethnic groups, for example, Caucasians suffer less from Lupus than Hispanic or African-American people.
Over 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified and incidences of them are rising, leading researchers to believe that factors like the environment, diet or hygiene could be driving this increase.
4% of the world’s population is affected by one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. Some of the more commonly known of the autoimmune diseases are Type 1 Diabetes, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid arthritis.
One of the Kanga team is an autoimmune patient and likes to help spread awareness of the condition. Here is her story:
Life with an autoimmune disease is a journey. Like many Hashimoto’s patients my journey started badly. My symptoms included fatigue, brain fog, and depression. Autoimmune fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It is as if someone has sucked all your energy and life out of you. Brain fog is when your brain does not function properly, severely impacting concentration and memory. I was so ill, I had days I could hardly get out of bed and struggled to string a sentence together.
My initial diagnosis was depression. Later in my journey, when I got too ill to cope, I sought help from a specialist. I was told it was “all in my head” and I needed to see a psychiatrist. My symptoms and how I felt as a person were dismissed. However, I did not give up and I did not accept this diagnosis. I persevered and finally got my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. At that point my journey improved. Thanks to appropriate treatment and switching to a specialised autoimmune diet I am now back to normal. I no longer need 10 to 12 hours sleep. I can concentrate and enjoy being active again. As an autoimmune patient I will always need to be extra careful with my health, but now my journey continues full of promise and hope.