Some commonly used medication can trigger autoimmune disease

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

A number of factors are known triggers of autoimmune disease. Interestingly, several commonly used medications are common culprits.

Autoimmune disease means that your body’s immune cells become confused and start attacking your own body. Auto means self. Virtually any organ or tissue in the body can be attacked. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system literally believes that a component of your own body is a harmful foreign invader that shouldn’t be there and needs to be destroyed. Therefore your immune cells produce what is known as autoantibodies.

Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (causing an underactive thyroid gland), psoriasis, lupus and ulcerative colitis are examples of common autoimmune diseases. In all autoimmune conditions, there is an imbalance in the immune system. Pro-inflammatory white blood cells are overactive, whereas inflammation-suppressing cells and regulatory immune cells are underactive. The result is an unabated attack on your own organs and tissues.

The excessive immune activity in the body of someone affected by autoimmune disease means there is far too much inflammation in the body. Autoimmune disease can produce a great deal of pain and tissue dysfunction, but the symptoms vary greatly depending on which specific part of the body is affected. The inflammation generated usually produces a lot of fatigue. The inflammatory chemicals also end up causing collateral damage to other parts of the body that were never targeted in the initial assault. The inflammation generates free radical damage and oxidative stress, which basically causes wear and tear to your body. Autoimmune disease is far more common in women than men.

What causes autoimmune disease?

The short answer is several things. Firstly, you cannot develop an autoimmune disease unless you have specific genes. The tendency to develop an autoimmune disease runs in families. You won’t necessarily develop the same autoimmune disease that someone in your family has; you just inherit an increased chance of developing one of them. Just having the genes isn’t enough though. You need to be exposed to one or more environmental factors that trigger off the disease. Environmental triggers include things like an infection, specific foods that your body can’t tolerate, emotional stress, drugs, exposure to chemicals or toxic metals; pregnancy, a nutrient deficiency and others. The third critical component is a leaky gut (also known as increased intestinal permeability).

There are several medications that can trigger autoimmune disease in genetically susceptible people. The most well-known case is drug-induced lupus, however autoimmune hepatitis, ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune diseases may be triggered by drugs. The most likely culprits include antibiotics (particularly isoniazid, Nitrofurantoin, Minocycline), hydralazine (used for high blood pressure), isotretinoin (used for acne) and procainamide (used for abnormal heart rhythms) and anticonvulsants, used for epilepsy. In some cases, stopping the medication can ameliorate the autoimmune disease but people who develop drug-induced autoimmune disease were already genetically susceptible and may have even had a mild subclinical form of the disease, which was just unmasked by the drug.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is one of the most common autoimmune diseases. So far, more than 90 medications from more than 10 drug classes have been implicated in causing lupus. The symptoms of lupus can come on gradually and commonly include fatigue and joint pain. It often takes many years to diagnose lupus because of the vague nature of the symptoms which may come and go.

If you have a family history of autoimmune disease and you have been feeling generally unwell and fatigued for some time, it is a good idea to see your doctor and ask for some blood tests. Our book Healing Autoimmune Disease outlines our recommended treatment plan. Diet changes and nutritional supplements can help to reduce inflammation, ameliorate symptoms and can even halt the disease process.

Improving gut health and liver health is important when trying to deal with an autoimmune condition or inflammatory condition. Dr Cabot’s 15 Day Cleanse is specifically designed to support gut, liver and immune function. It comes with a comprehensive meal plan that is helpful for managing autoimmune disease.

Chang C, Gershwin ME. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus: incidence, management and prevention. Drug Saf. 2011;34:357-374.Araújo-Fernández S, Ahijón-Lana M, Isenberg DA. Drug-induced lupus: Including anti-tumor necrosis factor and interferon induced. Lupus. 2014; 23:545-553.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email