Any disease in which cytotoxic cells are directed against self-antigens in the body's tissues is considered autoimmune in nature. Such diseases include, but are not limited to, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, pancreatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and other endocrinopathies. Allergies and multiple sclerosis are also the result of disordered immune functioning.
Oxidative stress plays a role in autoimmune diseases. It can be compared to a piece of metal rusting and results from the action of damaging molecules known as free radicals that are a natural byproduct of the body's metabolism. The electrically charged free radicals attack healthy cells, causing them to lose their structure and function and eventually destroying them. Free radicals are not only produced by our bodies, but they are also ingested from toxins and pollution in the air we breathe.
Chronic systemic inflammation is related to several autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, and fibromyalgia (see separate protocols on these topics). Inflammation can be traced to destructive cell-signaling chemicals known as cytokines that contribute to many degenerative diseases (Brod 2000). In rheumatoid arthritis, excess levels of proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin 1(b) (IL-1b), and/or leukotriene B4 (LTB4), are known to cause or contribute to the inflammatory syndrome that ultimately destroys joint cartilage and synovial fluid. Certain nutritional supplements and low-cost prescription medications will often lower cytokine levels and control the inflammatory state.
Stress is a major risk factor in developing disease. Even prolonged low-level stress stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which, in excess, impairs immune function. Lack of proper rest and sleep, depression, and emotional disturbance contribute to immune dysfunction. In addition, there is a connection between the limbic system, the part of the brain that gives rise to emotion, and immune function. Therefore, to balance the immune system, one must balance the mind and emotions. Biofeedback, guided imagery, yoga, deep breathing, musical participation, positive affirmations, meditation, and prayer all help maintain balance (Hughes 1997; Long et al. 2001; Kuhn 2002; Lehrer et al. 2002; Vempati et al. 2002).
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