Auto-immune Disease is a range of diseases (more than 75) which have one thing in common: an individual’s immune system malfunctions in such a way that leads it to attack its own cells and tissues. The end result: dysfunction, damage, and, in extreme cases, failure of the individual’s cells, tissues and organs. Taken in total, auto-immune disorders affect approximately 5% of the population of the United States. For most auto-immune diseases (not all) females are affected more frequently than males. And in fact, auto-immune disorders are one of the top 10 leading causes of death in women in all age groups up to 64 years old.
A healthy immune system is a vital component of an individual’s overall good health. Our immune system has two basic functions: (1) recognize and distinguish self from non-self (non-self includes invading organisms and toxic substances), and (2) defend self against invasion/infection (e.g. bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, toxin) by – (a) maintaining an intact barrier against invasion, and (b) destroying invaders who are able to penetrate immune barriers. The immune system has many components including:
- Skin: the largest organ of the body, the skin serves as barrier to protect the individual from invasion of infectious pathogens and from toxic substances. The skin is rich in immune cells (white blood cells) which fight off infection.
- Bone Marrow: functions to produce blood cells and to store fat. The bone marrow is the site where red blood cells (which deliver oxygen), white blood cells (immune cells which fight infection) and platelets (involved in blood clotting) are produced.
- Thymus (part of the lymphatic system): a certain type of white blood cell (called a T-lymphocyte) matures in the thymus.
- Bloodstream: white blood cells (along with red blood cells and platelets) migrate in the blood stream. White blood cells are transported to lymphoid organs (organs specialized at ridding the body of toxins and waste).
- Lymphatic system: consists of lymphatic vessels which are connected to lymph nodes (where lymph is filtered). The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport a fluid called ‘lymph’ (which contains white blood cells) through-out the body to fight infection. There are hundreds of lymph nodes in the human body.
- Spleen (the largest lymphatic organ): white blood cells are stored in the spleen.
- Tonsils: large clusters of lymphatic cells located in the throat. Tonsils come into contact with infectious pathogens soon after these pathogens enter the mouth. The tonsils are involved in the early activation of the immune system.
- Gut: the lumen of the gastro-intestinal tract serves as a mucosal boundary between the external environment and the internal organism. The gastro-intestinal tract is a lymphoid organ referred to as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. It is heavily laden with cells which fight infection.
The immune system can malfunction in three basic ways:
1. When your immune system over-reacts to something that is usually harmless (such as plant pollen); then this leads to a category of disease known as allergy. I will talk extensively about this in the future since cold laser therapy can mitigate the symptoms of a wide variety of allergic processes (such as allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, etc.).
2. The immune system is unable to mount an adequate response to a harmful pathogen or toxin. This is called immune-deficiency. There are hundreds of immune-deficiency diseases. In addition, immune-deficiency can be a side effect of certain medications. I will talk about this in the future as well, since cold laser therapy (by alleviating inflammation) can potentially reduce the need for certain medications which may lead to diminished immune function.
3. Auto-immune diseases result when the individual’s immune system is unable to distinguish self from non-self, and attacks the individual’s cells and tissues and organs. Auto-immune disease can affect the entire body (this is called systemic disease), or it can affect a single organ such as the thyroid (this is called organ-specific disease). Auto-immune disease is the third most common category of disease in the United States (after cancer and cardiovascular disease).
Auto-immune malfunction can be triggered by a variety of mechanisms; but one thing is clear: there is a strong disparity of disease prevalence between the two genders. More than 70% of individuals afflicted with auto-immune disease are female. The disparity of prevalence of disease is varied according to the specific auto-immune disease; but is most striking in Sjogren’s Disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosis, Auto-immune Thyroiditis, and Scleroderma. In some auto-immune diseases, however (such as Ulcerative Colitis and Diabetes Mellitus type 1), there is no such female predominance, and the male to female prevalence ratio approaches 1:1. Underlying immune malfunction in auto-immune disease is thought to result from an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. The influence of sex hormones on the immune system is known to lead to a more vigorous immune response in females. However, while females may be more resistant to certain types of infections, they are over-all more prone to more auto-immune diseases.
Auto-immune disease exerts its damaging effects through inflammatory pathways. In my practice I address the effects of inflammation and hormone imbalance on patient symptomotology. Low Level Light Therapy, by reducing the effects of inflammation in the body, helps restore quality of life to patients who suffer with long-term pain associated with auto-immune inflammation. Please feel free to contact me if any of you who are reading this blog entry have any questions about auto-immune disease. This is truly a devastating group of diseases which not only results in significant female mortality, but, due to the chronic nature of the illness, also results in long-term pain and suffering for both genders.
In depth information on this subject can be found here: Autoimmune Disorders: An Overview of Molecular and Cellular Basis in Today’s Perspective Sayantan Ray*, Nikhil Sonthalia, Supratip Kundu and Satyabrata GangulyRay et al., J Clin Cell Immunol 2012, S10