Autoimmunity or autoimmune diseases refer to a situation when body's immune system (defense system) loses ability to differentiate between self and non-self. As one can imagine, it can cause body to attack itself. Usually this occurs in the form of build of defense proteins (antibodies).
There are over one hundred autoimmune disorders. Approximately 23 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disorders and unfortunately only less than half of them are diagnosed.
Although autoimmune diseases can present in a variety of ways, the underlying mechanism of development of such disorders is the same.
A combination of genetic predisposition, diet, infections and toxins result in autoimmunity.
Autoimmunity - The panhandler will knock at every door to find an opportunity
One of the screening tests to check for autoimmune disease is ANA or antinuclear antibody test.
ANA or antinuclear antibody can be detected via blood test. If you had this test done and it came back positive, it may be helpful to read the information below.
What does ANA tell me?
ANA or antinuclear antibody develops as a result of immune system's response (or often dysfunctional response)to a variety of factors. Whenever our immune system is alerted in response to any stimulation (infection, toxins, genetic expression), a cascade of events occurs. One of these is production of antibodies (defense agents). Presence of such antibodies (ANA) suggests that our immune system is on alert. Depending upon individual situations, underlying causes must be explored.
What can cause ANA to rise?
Most common causes are
Our genetic susceptibility (having genes that turn on at certain points in life. usually these are stressful periods in life)
Environmental toxins - There are thousands of toxins in the environment and based upon our individual risk, these may turn on our immune system.
Chronic infections - Most common culprits are virus infections such as Herpes, Epstein bar, CMV etc.
Food Sensitivities - Food must provide nourish but sometimes our bodies do not tolerate certain foods very well and mistake food particles (specially certain proteins such as gluten, casein) as foreign agents which must be fought against. In such situations, body makes antibodies (defense proteins) against these foods and ANA also starts to appear.
Is ANA harmful?
ANA by itself does not cause any harm but is usually a sign that the immune system is on alert and there may or may not be a real threat. A deeper look into your health in the form of your symptom evaluation and additional lab testing can determine if further actions must be taken.
What additional lab tests should be done if ANA is positive?
A comprehensive immune panel can be drawn. There are over 100 autoimmune disorders which can be tested. For general practicality and cost efficiency reasons, it is best to test for specific disorders based upon your individual symptoms and signs.
Is it not good for the immune system to be constantly alert?
It is not good for the immune system to be overly alert due to the following reasons,
Immune system is our defense system. It needs to be vigilant but just like any other defense system, it can exhaust itself if it is inappropriately activated and then may not function well in case of a real threat.
Constant activation of immune system results in formation of antigen-antibody complexes which can turn on long term sub-clinical inflammation.
Lastly, in its hyper-vigilance, immune system can get confused start making antibodies (defense proteins) against body's own tissues because many of these inciting agents (food proteins and virus) resemble body's own tissue proteins. This phenomenon is called "molecular mimickery". This results in over 100 different autoimmune disorders. Common examples are Hashimoto thyroid disease, Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis.
For these reasons, it is good to ensure that we have a healthy and appropriately functioning immune system.
Yikes about autoimmune diseases:
Unfortunately, people who develop one autoimmune disease are at risk for other autoimmune diseases as well. This is largely due to genetic predisposition. Autoimmune diseases are like pan handlers who attack different organs of the body by knocking at every door and rush in the door anytime they see an opportunity where we might have left the door open. Any and every organ in the body can be affected such as brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach,colon, nerves, blood vessels and everything else. Good news is that we can minimize our risk by shutting the doors closed. In other words, with healthy lifestyle and by strengthening our immune system, we can keep these pan handlers at bay.