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Finding out that you have an autoimmune disease can be a life-changing diagnosis. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system, which is the body's defense mechanism, becomes confused and identifies healthy cells as foreign. This causes it to attack the healthy cells, triggering flare-ups of the condition. Most autoimmune diseases fluctuate between these flares and periods in which the disease is in remission. There are many types of these diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Researchers have yet to find an exact trigger for most of these conditions because it varies wildly between patients. However, they have identified some of the most common suspected triggers of autoimmune diseases.

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Virus

Viral infections are one of the most common triggers of autoimmune diseases. When your body becomes infected with a virus, the immune system springs into action, attacking the foreign bodies that carry the virus. In a person who develops an autoimmune disease, the immune system continues to attack healthy cells even after the virus is gone. Researchers suspect that these cells resemble the virus in some way, which confuses the immune system and triggers a flare-up of the autoimmune disease. The best way to prevent this is by taking proper precautions to stay healthy, like washing your hands.

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Bacterial Imbalance

A bacterial imbalance can trigger certain types of autoimmune diseases, like inflammatory bowel diseases, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Everyone has bacteria in their digestive tract, often called gut flora, which helps us to break down food. There are good and bad flora, and in a healthy person, these bacteria maintain a balance. When the bacteria get out of balance, it can cause deterioration in the walls of the digestive system that is often referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky Gut Syndrome is a known trigger of many autoimmune diseases, so it is important to keep your digestive system flora well-balanced.

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Sunshine

Nearly everyone enjoys being outside in the sunshine, but for some patients, it can trigger an autoimmune reaction. Researchers found that women were at higher risk for developing myositis, an inflammation of the muscles if they lived in an area that received more UV exposure. Men did not experience a significant increase, but men are also less likely to develop autoimmune diseases in general. Although no one can avoid the sun completely, taking precautions like wearing sunscreen, hats, and long-sleeved lightweight clothes in the summer can help to reduce the risk of sunlight triggering an autoimmune disease flare-up.

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Gluten

Even if you don't have celiac disease or a milder form of gluten intolerance, this common ingredient can still trigger autoimmune disease in some people. Gluten is often blamed for chronic inflammation, which is one of the primary causes of autoimmune diseases. Also, gluten can contribute to the bacterial imbalances in the digestive tract that lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome, making it an even bigger risk. While you don't necessarily need to go gluten-free, reducing the amount you consume can help to lower your risk for triggering an autoimmune flare. There are plenty of delicious gluten-free options available now, so this is a relatively easy change to work into your diet.

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Stress

Outside of infections, stress is the most commonly cited trigger of autoimmune disease. Stress wreaks havoc on your body, causing changes in nearly all of your systems. It creates inflammation, increases blood pressure, and even affects digestion. To avoid stress, try to make sure you have time for yourself each day, or at least several times per week. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and limit the amount of responsibility you take on. If stress does trigger an autoimmune reaction, talk to your doctor about possible treatment plans to help prevent it from happening in the future.

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Sugar

Sugar can be a trigger for autoimmune disease, but it is important to understand what falls into that category. Avoiding sugary processed foods, like candies and snack cakes, is a good way to cut large quantities out of your diet. Skipping soda and juices is also beneficial. But there are also lots of sneaky sources of sugar, including in foods that are marketed as healthy. Try to avoid any added sugars and turn to fruits like berries or melons when you want a sweet treat instead. Sugars can contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome, which can trigger an autoimmune reaction.

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Dairy

Like gluten, dairy is a good food to avoid if you are concerned about autoimmune diseases. Milk, cheese, and butter are all common triggers, thanks to a protein found in dairy products known as casein. This protein causes inflammation, which leads to autoimmune issues. Alternatives like almond or soy milk may be a better way to go, and some companies even make casein-free butter and cheeses. As researchers learn more about what causes diseases, more healthy substitutions are becoming available at the grocery store. Talk to your physician about whether dairy is a potential trigger for you, and try to avoid it whenever possible.

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Environmental Toxins

It's impossible to avoid environmental toxins, another common trigger of autoimmune issues. These toxins are a constant threat, thanks to the presence of pollution in the world. Everything from the water and food you consume to the air you breathe contains microparticles that may be capable of triggering an autoimmune response. One of the most common substances is mercury, which is extremely toxic to the human body. Researchers estimate that these toxins may trigger diseases because they are substances that developed recently, so there is no built-up biological resistance to them. Try to take precautions, like avoiding polluted cities and filtering your water.

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Certain Drugs

Some people with autoimmune diseases find that these conditions were originally triggered by a prescribed medication. This is referred to as drug-induced autoimmune diseases, and it occurs more with some diseases than others. Lupus is the most commonly triggered disease. For a drug-induced autoimmune disease to occur, a patient must already have the genes that cause the disease. Certain types of antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and heart medications, along with many others, have been linked to this phenomenon. Researchers estimate that nearly 100 different medications can cause drug-induced autoimmune disease.

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Nightshades

If you haven't heard of nightshades before, they're a specific group of vegetables that may trigger autoimmune diseases in some people. These vegetables are very common and included both bell and hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and chilis. For most people, these are very healthy foods, but for someone with a predisposition to autoimmune disease, eating these foods can be a trigger. They contain chemicals that set off a signal to the immune system to attack healthy cells. If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you should cut these out of your diet immediately in order to reduce the chance of flare-ups.

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Chocolate

Chocolate is another common trigger of gluten, although researchers are not exactly sure why. Sometimes of chocolate are more likely to cause a flare-up than others. Milk chocolate is at the top of the list. Some speculate that this is because it contains other common triggers, including sugar and dairy. Others think there may be compounds in chocolate that are similar to those in gluten. Whatever the cause, consuming chocolate can put you at risk for a flare-up. Therefore you should only eat it if you are certain it is safe to do so.

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Grains

Although many gluten-free foods utilize other grains, these can also be triggers of autoimmune disease. Some patients report that they experience a flare-up after consuming other types of grains, or even grain-like foods like quinoa. Researchers believe that the proteins of these foods are similar in structure to those in gluten, which cause a similar autoimmune reaction. Other grains include rice, oats, and even corn. Your physician can help you to determine if you have any sensitivities to these foods that may cause a flare-up. If so, you should avoid food that contains them or may have been cross-contaminated by them. Even small amounts can be problematic.

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Genetics

Although there are many environmental and nutritional triggers of autoimmune diseases, all are brought on by a combination of genetics and an external trigger. Autoimmune diseases are often hereditary, with multiple patients within the same family having the same condition. In order for any of these triggers to set off an autoimmune reaction, you must be predisposed to the condition. Typically, once an autoimmune disease begins, it can be difficult to stop. Knowing and avoiding your triggers can help you to control the severity of flare-ups and slow the progression of the disease.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.