Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Number Two Cause of Illness is.........

It is estimated that 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease, making it the second leading cause of illness in the United States!

Autoimmunity is largely a hereditary disease, a fact most people - patients included - are unaware. They state this is one of the probable reasons it takes autoimmune patients an average of 4 years and 4 doctors to receive an appropriate diagnosis.

The AARDA (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association) is asking patients to tell them how many of the 50 million estimated patients are your family members...

When I read this on their Facebook page, I stopped a moment to ponder the question. My known family is small, but let's see:

1. Me
2. My #1 child
3. My #2 child
4. My mother
5. My Grandmother
6. My Great Aunt
7. My Great Grandmother
8. My Grandfather

Several family members posed together including my Great grandmother (center) in her wheelchair

My father likely has autoimmunity as well, but refuses to go to the doctor for testing to find out, so we may never be entirely sure. However, that said, he is also adopted, leaving an entire half of my family tree - empty. Based on the little information we have about his birth parents (descended from well known families for which there are some published records), autoimmunity was likely a problem for them as well.

Only the first 4 I've listed are living relatives, with the exception of some mentioned below...

My mother has multiple autoimmune conditions, but since she is still living I will let those remain a mystery for now. She was born when my grandmother was 40, so many of my relatives had already died before I was ever born.

Children #1 and #2 have Dx's of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.

My German Grandmother had horrible arthritis in her feet - so badly they were deformed and she could only wear bedroom slippers for shoes the entire time I knew her. Interestingly her hands were strong and able until the day she died. She also went blind early on from macular degeneration, now also becoming linked with autoimmunity and specific genes.

Her mother (my Great Grandmother) had surgery around the turn of the century because her rheumatoid arthritis was so serious that she had ruptured all the tendons but two in her hands. They took the two good tendons and used them to make the thumb and index finger of her right hand usable again so she could function - considered cutting edge surgery back then. The Mayo brothers were 'neighbors', so my family received some of the best medical care possible back then). She spent a great deal of her life wheelchair bound.

My grandmother's sister (my aunt) had early onset Parkinson's Disease - now with some evidence it too may be autoimmune in nature. She actually underwent experimental brain surgery, done by the Mayo brothers long before that was commonplace. She also suffered terrible and debilitating endometriosis, another autoimmune condition.

My Norwegian grandfather was also blinded by macular degeneration and suffered from a condition called Dupuytren's Contracture - also an autoimmune disorder. I have little information about his family, so if there were other conditions, I would only be guessing.

My grandfather (far left) and his siblings

I have distant cousins in Norway which I understand have MS - another autoimmune disease. Another cousin (not a blood relation) also suffers MS.

When you consider the fact that autoimmune testing is a recent development (second half of the 20th century), it's difficult to say how many of my relatives might actually be/have been autoimmune patients, and what their autoimmune diseases may have been. Rheumatoid arthritis is an easy one, because in my family's case it was very visible. For those with more invisible forms of autoimmunity, the truth shall most likely remain a mystery.

I encourage Health Activists to pass along the link I've provided above to their groups. The more people reply to them, the more accurate assessment they can make. Additionally, the more conversation we can create around awareness of the heritability of autoimmunity, the more people who might have a lightbulb moment resulting in a diagnosis and treatment for their condition.
Comment by Denis Van Loan D.D.S. on December 23, 2010 at 4:19pm
There is little good argument against autoimmune diseases not having a genetic or heredity connection.  On the other hand, there are indications that dietary factors can reduce the severity or even eliminated the negative aspects of autoimmune diseases.  You can get a more comprehensive (13 different ways) that help defeat rheumatoid arthritis at my WEGO blog:
Additionally...Vitamin D is a powerful and important immune enhancer.
I would like to add one more interesting set of statistics from the recent publication by the "Vitamin Doctor", David Juan, M.D.   Vitamin D deficiency is found in these various diseases:
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, diabetes 1, "ankylosing spondylitis"...73%
  • Grave's disease...58%
  • Fibromyalgia and lupus...50%
It is interesting that the RDA of vitamin D has increased to only 800 IU a day.  Most experts and researchers of vitamin D recommend from 2000 IU to 5000 IU.  Up to 10,000 is even considered save by the majority of researchers.

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