Autoimmune disease can adversely affect mental health

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Did you know that individuals with autoimmune disease are more likely to suffer with depression or anxiety? This can partly be explained by the stress of dealing with a chronic health condition, but there is more to the story. People with autoimmune disease suffer with excess inflammation generated by the immune system. Inflammation affects neurotransmitter production in the brain, and this can impair mental health.

A recent study has shown that up to 75 percent of people with systemic lupus erythematosus experience neuropsychiatric symptoms. According to Allison Bialas, a Harvard Medical School research fellow, “In general, lupus patients have a broad range of neuropsychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, seizures and even psychosis. But their cause has not been clear for a long time, it wasn’t even appreciated that these were symptoms of the disease”. It is now known that changes to the immune system present in lupus have adverse effects on the brain.

Lupus is an increasingly common condition, which is more prevalent in women than men. It causes the immune systems to attack connective tissue in the body. Thus it can affect nearly any organ. Lupus causes white blood cells to release a cytokine (inflammatory chemical) called type 1 interferon-alpha. This molecule triggers a cascade of additional immune activity, which raises inflammation throughout the body. In a startling discovery, researchers have found this molecule can actually cross the blood brain barrier and create havoc with neurotransmitter and synapse function.

The researchers have stated “We’ve found a mechanism that directly links inflammation to mental illness. This discovery has huge implications for a range of central nervous system diseases.” Inflammation can create a great deal of health problems and symptoms. Inflammation is your body’s response to injury, infection, allergies, stress or chronic disease. A certain level of inflammation is necessary and helpful, in order for your body to overcome these conditions. Problems arise when the inflammation becomes excessive or continues for too long.

Chronic, low grade inflammation greatly contributes to fatigue, pain, low mood, impaired mobility and an inability to lose weight. The symptoms of a great variety of health conditions are aggravated by excessive inflammation.  It is also thought that long term high levels of inflammation in your body speed up the ageing process and increase your risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Inflammation basically causes wear and tear inside your body; it wears your body out more quickly.

The good news is it is possible to reduce chronic inflammation. When it comes to autoimmune disease, this involves improving gut and liver health, cleansing your body, correcting nutrient deficiencies and using specific anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients. For more information see the book Healing Autoimmune Disease: A Plan to Help your Immune System and Reduce Inflammation.

Tyrosine helps to support the synthesis of neurotransmitters and helps to maintain a healthy stress response.

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