Updated: Jun 1
And how it affects your health.
You may be hearing these words thrown around alot - autoimmunity and autoimmune disease, but did you know that there is a difference between the two?
There are phases to developing an autoimmune disease. It doesn't happen overnight, in fact it can take years to develop. This is actually good news because if discovered early enough, there are things you can do to hopefully prevent the development of an autoimmune disease.
If you are like most women (autoimmune disease predominantly affects women), you can have very general symptoms and never get tested for any antibodies that may be predictive of an autoimmune disease.
One of the most common examples of this is Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Antibodies to this autoimmune disease are present an average of 7 years before you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease! Can you imagine discovering these antibodies seven years ago and having seven years to do something about it?
Unfortunately, this is where much of conventional medicine fails their patients.
These types of antibodies may not be something your doctor tests for unless you ask and even when you do, they still may not test for it or your insurance may not cover it.
So what’s the difference between the two?
Normally your body makes antibodies to signal your immune system and flag against pathogens and other foreign proteins in your body. They let your immune system know that this foreign thing needs to be dealt with and destroyed.
Autoimmunity is when your body begins making antibodies against your own tissues, also known as autoantibodies.
These autoantibodies are used to monitor autoimmunity and what’s surprising is that autoimmunity is actually pretty common in most “healthy” individuals. But it doesn’t mean that you have an autoimmune disease!
These autoantibodies are called predictive antibodies and depending on what kind of antibodies you have, they could indicate that you are headed towards a future autoimmune disease
Now when those autoantibodies start damaging your tissue or organs and causing physiological or functional problems, then you have an autoimmune disease. This is the time most people will get diagnosed.
So for example, if you have antibodies to your thyroid and those antibodies begin signaling for the destruction of your thyroid, then you will be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism) or Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism)-depending on the autoantibody.
Stages of Autoimmunity
You may not be aware of the progression towards autoimmunity and how it leads to an autoimmune disease. It’s called the stages of autoimmunity as described by Dr. Aristo Vodjani and here’s how it goes:
■Stage 1: Silent autoimmunity: elevated antibodies with NO symptoms or loss of tissue (predictive antibodies)
■Stage 2: Autoimmune Reactivity: elevated antibodies with symptoms and NO clinically noticeable loss of tissue
–Can stay in these first two stages for years or decades, and may never progress to stage 3
■Stage 3: Autoimmune Disease: elevated antibodies with symptoms and measurable tissue destruction
–Tissue needs to be destroyed in order to be diagnosed
–e.g. RA with deformed hands
Autoimmune disease is on the rise and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. Depending on a patient’s family history and/or symptoms, autoantibodies are something I will strongly recommend patients test for because if we can catch it early, hopefully we can decrease symptoms and prevent any further damage.
Preventing disease, isn’t that what healthcare is all about?
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● Vojdani A. Aristo Vojdani, PhD: environmental factors and autoimmune disease. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013 Jan-Feb;19(1):70-5. PMID: 23341428.