According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, at least 50 million Americans alone suffer from a range of illnesses where their own immune system attacks healthy cells within their body. Medical professionals are just beginning to understand the scope and effects of each subcategory. There are as many as 80 types, with some common ones being lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases and type 1 diabetes. For decades, celebrities have been shedding light on their own struggles with these illnesses in hopes of bringing more attention to finding a cure — from Lady Gaga who suffers from lupus to Jack Osbourne, who has been diagnosed with MS.
Read on for a few misconceptions about autoimmune diseases that need to be cleared up.
They are not allergic reactions
It is incorrect to classify autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease simply as allergies. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten leads to serious damage throughout the small intestine. Having a gluten-sensitivity is a common allergy, but being diagnosed with celiac disease is a lot more complicated. One of the biggest differences is that with celiac the smallest trace of gluten can send your body into an severe autoimmune response that can lead to nutritional deficiencies, intestinal damage and even being at risk for certain types of gastrointestinal cancers.
They can take years to diagnose
Autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose because in most cases there is not a singular test that will determine a diagnosis. Often times, there are a lot of incorrect diagnoses before a patient is finally told that they do in fact have an autoimmune disease. Another reason it takes so long to properly diagnose these diseases is that depending on the illness, some symptoms may come and go. Variance in diet and lifestyle factors (including stress) can also greatly influence an individual who is suffering from an autoimmune disease.
They do not include chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia
These two illness should not be confused as being autoimmune diseases, even through they share many similar symptoms. Medical professionals understand even less about these two, but realize it is possible for individuals suffering from either illness to also have associated autoimmune illnesses. Some similar symptoms can include constant fatigue, muscle pain and constant headaches.
They can be reversed
Contrary to popular belief, some autoimmune diseases can be cured with the proper diet and lifestyle changes. It is true that autoimmune diseases are genetic, but they need an environmental factor or a change in lifestyle to trigger that gene to react. One of the biggest healing factors is focusing on intestinal health, since that is where 80 percent of the immune system cells are. Focusing on healing the gut with probiotics, finding ways to cope with stress and eating a well-balanced diet that contains as few toxins as possible are all ways that can help reverse some autoimmune diseases.
They can only be treated with conventional medicine
One of the biggest misconceptions about autoimmune diseases is that only pills will help with the symptoms. The problem with taking prescribed medication is that there can be major side effects that result — for example, using chemotherapy drugs to treat lupus. While some pills are necessary to treat certain autoimmune diseases, other natural alternatives are worth looking into. Certain restrictive diets like the Whole30, which eliminates any sugar, alcohol, grains and legumes from the diet for a month is one way to see how drastically altering your diet can help reverse an autoimmune disease without any negative side effects.
The role of Eastern medicine, like acupuncture or Chinese herbs, can also be worth trying out to see if it has a positive effect on the illnesses.
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