The Hopeful Link Between AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES & DEVELOPMENT

The Hopeful Link Between AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES & DEVELOPMENT


Having an autoimmune disease, such as asthma,
irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease, allergies, or certain skin conditions, really
is no fun, especially as a child. While you’re supposed to be running around
and exploring–maybe making a snowman or water-ballooning someone’s house–you’re stuck in a hospital
bed with varying amounts of pain. Luckily, it’s not all grim for the seemingly-life-long
struggle. Children enduring autoimmune diseases often
achieve remission–a loss of symptoms for a prolonged or permanent amount of time–once
development into adulthood takes place. That’s right; it’s as simple as waiting
it out in many instances, particularly for rashes and asthmatics. To see why symptoms often disappear, it’s
important to get a feel for the mechanism behind autoimmune diseases. In an autoimmune disease, normal substances
in the body are recognized as foreign, triggering an immune response accompanied by antibodies. The antibodies then initiate an all-out attack
on the substance identified as foreign. Antibodies bind to the substance identified
as foreign, marking them for destruction by bounty-hunter-like white blood cells. More immune responses and white blood cells
are produced, and, if the substance identified as foreign is actually normal–consistently
present in the body–this sensitivity could mean big trouble. Because the body even has specialized mast
and basophil cells which remember substances identified as foreign by antibodies, inflammatory
agents like histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins pour out of these mast and basophil cells,
causing huge inflammation–the trademark symptom of autoimmune diseases. The result is constriction and mucous production
in asthma, red rashes with food or skin allergies, and the discomfort in bowel autoimmunities,
but the hopeful side is that the body’s so-called ‘adaptive immune system’ is
just that: adaptive. Part of the process involves dendritic cells
recognizing the harmlessness of ‘normal’ substances or microbes–such as those found
in food, dirt, and air–and then stopping t-cells from producing antibodies against
them–a process termed ‘tolerance’. In fact, a Swedish study found parents who
simply sucked on their babies’ pacifiers to clean them after falling to the floor reduced
the risk of their babies developing asthma by 88%, eczema by 63%, and dramatically reduced
food allergies versus parents who boiled the microbes off the pacifier. Further, most children with asthma lose their
symptoms as adults. Amazing, right? Even puberty plays a role in worsening autoimmune
symptoms; stress and hormonal changes, which contribute to worse inflammation, as with
acne, may accentuate discomfort. For example, TNF-alpha, a component of the
immune system which contributes to inflammation and is targeted by certain crohn’s-disease
medications, becomes elevated in the blood with an immune response towards acne. Although genetic factors like functioning
dendritic cells occasionally comes into play, it’s safe to say the intricate human machine
has ways of coping with all sorts of conditions, and sometimes patience and natural habits
have answers towards something as complex as autoimmune diseases.

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