Autoimmune Diseases

What are Autoimmune Diseases?

An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders.

White blood cells normally protect the body by targeting proteins called antigens on viruses, bacteria, and other harmful substances. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system has difficulty distinguishing between foreign antigens and healthy tissue. As a result, the body sets off a reaction that destroys normal tissues. These tissues can included the joints, nerves, tear ducts, the gut lining and virtually any other tissue of the body.

Common autoimmune disorders include: Celiac disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Pernicious Anemia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Type 1 Diabetes, Graves’ disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Addison’s disease. The NIH estimates that up to 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease.

In a 2015 survey of over 7500 people with autoimmune disease, the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) reported the following [1]:

  • 98% of people with an autoimmune disease report they suffer from fatigue
  • 89% report fatigue is a major issue for them
  • 68% report their fatigue prevents them from doing simple everyday tasks
  • 59% report fatigue is the most debilitating symptom of their disease
  • 37% reported that they are in financial distress because of their fatigue

How are Autoimmune Diseases Linked to Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

Virtually all autoimmune disorders have increased inflammation as a common thread. Whether it’s the inflammation of your joints (in rheumatoid arthritis) or damage to your kidney and brain tissue (in serum lupus erythematous), when the immune system is attacking a part of your body, an abnormal level of inflammation is involved.

Mitochondria play a very important role in pro-inflammatory signaling. The process of increased inflammation has been shown to increase mitochondrial oxidative stress, promoting a vicious inflammatory cycle that can cause significant damage to sensitive mitochondrial structures eventually leading to cell death [2].

There is also ample evidence highlighting the pivotal role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis [3]. Mitochondrial abnormalities in MS include altered structure and distribution coupled with a wide array of molecular and biochemical abnormalities [4].

References: [1] Baumer, K. (2015, March 23). Fatigue survey results released. Autoimmune Association.

[2] Kowalczyk, P., Sulejczak, D., Kleczkowska, P., Bukowska-Ośko, I., Kucia, M., Popiel, M., Wietrak, E., Kramkowski, K., Wrzosek, K., & Kaczyńska, K. (2021, December 13). Mitochondrial oxidative stress-a causative factor and therapeutic target in many diseases. International journal of molecular sciences.

[3] Gilgun-Sherki, Y., Offen, D., & Melamed, E. (2004). The role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis: The need for effective antioxidant therapy. Journal of neurology.

[4] Mao, P., & Reddy, P. H. (2010, January). Is multiple sclerosis a mitochondrial disease?. Biochimica et biophysica acta.

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