Tired even when you are getting enough sleep? Gaining weight even though you are being “good”? Cold and achy?
You might have an autoimmune disease. This is a condition in which your immune system attacks your own healthy tissue. Autoimmune diseases are becoming increasingly common, affecting anywhere from 24 million to 50 million people in the U.S., 80% of whom are women, according to various estimates.
Some autoimmune diseases are more well known, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (a form of hypothyroidism), but there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases in total, which cause a diverse array of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD, functional medicine physician and Medical Director of the UltraWellness Center says, “in autoimmune disease, the body makes a mistake and attacks itself”.
Under normal conditions, the immune system protects your body by responding to invading microorganisms, like viruses or bacteria. If your immune system deems anything dangerous, it will produce antibodies to ward off harmful intruders. With an autoimmune disease, however, your body fails to differentiate between the intruder and your own tissue and turns these antibodies against its own healthy tissue.
The specific cells and tissues that your body mistakenly makes antibodies against determines what autoimmune disease (or diseases) you get. “If the body attacks the pancreas, you make less insulin and can develop type 1 diabetes,” says Boham, “If the body starts making antibodies against its thyroid, as it does in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid gets damaged and it can’t produce as much thyroid hormone.”
While experts still aren’t certain about what causes autoimmune diseases, there are a number of factors that may play a role. For one, there seems to be a clear genetic link with many autoimmune diseases as they often run in families. Black and Hispanic women also seem to be at greater risk for certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus. However, whether certain genes actually get expressed may depend on a host of environmental factors.
“Infections, stress, exposure to toxins, chronic inflammation, and eating gluten (for some) can all trigger autoimmune diseases, depending on the person,” says Boham, adding that environmental toxins such as mercury may damage tissues, which could cause the body to see them as foreign invaders, thus triggering an autoimmune response.
You’re also more likely to develop an autoimmune disease if you’re a woman, but symptoms often improve after menopause, “so we know there is a hormonal connection,” says Boham.
The most well-known autoimmune disease:
Type 1 Diabetes
With type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas. This causes your pancreas to stop making insulin, the hormone needed to usher blood sugar (blood glucose) into your cells. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise dangerously above normal. Insulin is needed daily to keep blood sugar levels in check. While type 1 diabetes is more likely to develop in childhood, it can develop at any age and may be slightly more common in adult men than women (unlike most other autoimmune diseases). Unmanaged type 1 diabetes symptoms might include frequent urination, extreme thirst, fatigue, blurry vision, and unwarranted weight loss.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is often a result of age-related wear and tear on joints, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a result of the immune system attacking healthy joint tissue, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in areas including the wrist, hands, feet, spine, knees, and jaw. It can also cause you to feel unusually tired, lose your appetite, or experience occasional fevers. Sometimes, people experience symptom flare-ups after a trigger like stress or too much activity. RA can develop at any age, but it’s more common as you get older.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
This is the most common type of lupus, in which the immune system attacks your skin, joints, and organs like the heart, brain, and lungs. The systemic inflammation caused by lupus can result in symptoms such as fatigue, fevers, joint pain and swelling, mouth ulcers and skin rashes. Some people with lupus will experience a butterfly-shaped rash over the cheeks and nose (a malar rash) or other skin irritation that gets worse in the sun. In more severe cases, people may experience organ problems and even psychological symptoms. Similar to RA, lupus can occur in “flares,” sometimes years apart. Lupus is most likely to develop between the ages of 15 and 44.
Crohn’s is an inflammatory autoimmune bowel disease that’s most likely to develop in young people between the ages of 20 and 29. It’s characterized by severe inflammation of the lining or wall of the GI tract (predominantly the small intestine), which can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping, weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, and bumpy skin. Stress and certain food triggers (which vary depending on the person) can also cause symptoms to worsen.
Grave’s disease is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing it to pump out too much thyroid hormone. This results in an overactive thyroid, a.k.a. hyperthyroidism, and symptoms like nervousness, heart palpitations, weight loss, and feeling overheated. A unique symptom is inflamed eye muscles which lead to bulging of the eyes. Up to 50% of people with Grave’s develop this. Grave’s is most likely to develop between the ages 20 and 40.
Hashimoto’s is the opposite of Grave’s – the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, causing it to pump out too little thyroid hormone. This results in an underactive (hypothyroidism) and causes symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, tingling sensations in the hands and feet, trouble getting pregnant, poor concentration, and feeling cold. Hashimoto’s affects about 5% of the population, making it the leading cause of thyroid issues in the U.S., and it’s most likely to develop between the ages of 30 and 50.
In people with celiac disease, the immune system is extra sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. (It’s one of the few autoimmune diseases where the trigger is known.) The heightened immune response that occurs after eating gluten creates a cascade of inflammation that damages the delicate villi, or hair-like projections, lining the small intestine, resulting in intestinal damage that can lead to diarrhea, poor absorption of nutrients, weight loss, fatigue, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and even neurological problems like migraine, irritability, and depression. Research suggests that celiac disease also puts you at increased risk for other autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s and type 1 diabetes.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord. It occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath (protective covering) of nerve cells, causing damage that slows or blocks messages between your brain and body. This leads to symptoms such as poor concentration and memory, tingling sensations and numbness, muscle weakness, and vision problems. MS can range from mild to severe, but research suggests that improving diet quality by focusing on more whole, minimally processed foods can go a long way in lessening symptoms. MS typically develops between the ages of 20 and 40.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease primarily affecting the skin, causing skin cells to reproduce faster than they should. Normal healthy skin takes about a month for new skin cells to rise to the surface. With psoriasis, it takes just a few days. This results in scaly, inflamed, sore patches of skin that can show up anywhere, but often occur on the elbows, knees, legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of feet. Psoriasis also puts you at risk for psoriatic arthritis, which causes joint pain and swelling.
Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system damages adrenal glands so they’re unable to make enough of certain hormones, including cortisol. This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss and loss of appetite, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, irritability, and depression. Addison’s is considered relatively uncommon, but that may be because there has to be a 90 percent destruction of the adrenal glands in order to receive a diagnosis. Less severe forms of adrenal insufficiency are likely more common.
Next weeks in Part 2 of Understanding Autoimmune Diseases, I write about signs and symptoms of autoimmune diseases and the treatments available.
Baking Soda VS Baking Powder
Baking soda and baking powder appear similar, but they are not the same. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which requires an acid and a liquid to become activated and help baked goods rise. Conversely, baking powder includes sodium bicarbonate, as well as an acid. It only needs a liquid to become activated.
Baking powder is a leavening agent produced by the mixture of an acid reacting with alkali agent. These baking acids are tartrate, phosphate, and sodium aluminum sulfate used alone or in combination. Baking powders are made up of bases, acids, and some buffering materials which help in the prevention of early acid-base reactions. It is a vital component in many recipes since, along with leaven, it and increase volume.
There are two different kinds of baking powder:
- Double acting baking powder is the most common form of baking powder and the one most widely available in supermarkets. In double acting baking powder, the first rise occurs when baking powder gets wet at room temperature. The second rise happens when the baking powder is heated.
- Single-acting baking powder foregoes the first rise of double acting baking powder and only reacts once it reaches a high temperature. This type of baking powder is almost exclusively used by professional pastry chefs
Baking powder is used in recipes that do not call for the addition of acidic ingredients. For example, in a simple biscuit recipe that only calls for baking powder, flax seed powder, non-dairy milk, and flour, the baking powder reacts with the liquids and acts as the rising agent. If you are experimenting in the kitchen, a good rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of baking powder per one cup of flour.
Use baking powder in recipes that do not have acidic ingredients, like biscuits, corn bread, or pancakes and use baking soda in recipes that have acidic ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, or vinegar.
Baking soda is nothing but sodium bicarbonate, a salt, which is white and crystalline and inherently alkaline, or basic. When baking soda is combined with an acid, it creates carbon dioxide gas. The bubbles from the carbon dioxide cause the batter to rise. Without baking soda, cookies would be dense pucks and cakes would be flat.
Be careful not to use too much baking soda, as more baking soda doesn’t mean more rise. Too much baking soda and not enough acid results in leftover, unreacted baking soda, which creates a metallic, soapy, or bitter taste in the final product.
Some recipes call for both baking powder and soda:
- If the baking soda successfully neutralizes the acid but doesn’t create enough carbon dioxide to leaven the batter completely, then baking powder is used for extra lift.
- If the recipe calls for acidic ingredients specifically for their flavor (like lemon juice or buttermilk), too much baking soda would completely neutralize that flavor. Using both baking soda and baking powder will leave enough acid to give the final product a tangy flavor, while providing a nice lift.
- Baked goods brown better in highly alkaline environments. In order to better brown, baking soda is added to recipes where baking powder is the main leavening agent, to create a more alkaline environment.
If you don’t have baking soda on hand, you can substitute with baking powder. Use three times as much baking powder as baking soda in the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of baking soda, use three teaspoons of baking powder.
However, this substitute can backfire in one of the following ways:
- The final product is too acidic and bitter. This would be a result of too much baking powder.
- The final product is dense and hard. This would be a result of not enough baking powder.
- The final product is too salty. Baking powder contains more sodium than baking soda so watch for the additional salt in the recipe.
If you don’t have baking powder on hand, you can try these substitution methods:
- Make your own. Mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda to make a homemade “baking powder.” If storing long-term, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to keep the cream of tartar and baking soda dry and separate. Store in an airtight container.
- Replace the liquids in a recipe with club soda. Club soda is carbonated water with added baking powder, which will help batter rise. Club soda can be used in lieu of another liquid like milk but will require some trial and error and will water a recipe down.
If your recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder and you don’t have either, use self-rising flour instead. Self-rising flour contains flour, salt, and baking powder. Self-rising flour substitutes the all-purpose flour in a recipe one for one.
How to Buy
Both baking powder and baking soda can be found in grocery stores in the baking aisle.
How to Store
Baking soda has an infinite shelf life, which means that it’s always safe to eat. However, baking soda loses its efficacy over time. An unopened container of baking soda will remain potent for two years, while an opened container should be replaced every six months. To test your baking soda for freshness, stir 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda into three tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. If it the mixture bubbles, the baking soda is still good.
Baking powder is also always safe to eat, but baking powder loses strength as a leavener over time. An unopened can of baking powder will last up to 18 months. An opened container of baking powder should be replaced every three to six months, depending on how much it was exposed to air and humidity. Since baking powder contains an acid and a base, it is reactive to moisture in a way baking soda is not. To test your baking powder for freshness, stir 1/2 teaspoon baking powder in a bowl with a tablespoon of hot water. If the mixture bubbles, the baking powder is still good.
Baking powder and baking soda should be stored in a dry cupboard away from the stove, dishwasher, sink, or other areas of moisture. Any moisture or humidity will cause baking powder to react in the can and, if there is any acidity in the water, it will do the same to baking soda.
How to Cook
Follow the recipe.
Vegan Strawberry Muffins
Julie/ The Simple Veganista
- 1/3 cup sugar (pure cane, coconut, or pure maple syrup)
- 1/3 cup olive oil or vegan butter (at room temp)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup non-dairy milk (almond, cashew, oat, soy, etc)
- 2 cups gluten-free flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups of strawberries, diced (plus extra for topping)
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a muffin tin with parchment paper liners or lightly grease with oil.
- In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and oil/butter, mix well. Add the vanilla and non-dairy milk, stir to combine. Lastly, add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mix until combined.
- Toss in the strawberries and gently fold them into the batter.
- Fill each muffin-lined hole with batter. For uniformity, fill muffin tin using a ¼ measuring cup or large ice cream scooper to scoop up the batter and pour into the muffin holes.
- Optionally, add a few strategic strawberries on top and sprinkle the top with a little pure cane sugar or raw sugar. The sugar will add a nice crunch to the tops.
- Place in the oven on the center rack and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Let cool a few minutes and enjoy warm or at room temperature
If using frozen strawberries, let them defrost just enough to dice them and toss with flour before adding to the batter to help soak up the extra juices they release during baking.
Testing for doneness: To test for doneness, insert a wooden toothpick into the center of one of the center muffins in the pan. The toothpick should come out clean or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
- Counter & Fridge: Once completely cooled, store the muffins with a paper towel underneath and overtop in a container on the counter for up to 3 – 4 days. The paper towels will soak up moisture and keep them from getting too moist, losing their delicious crunchy top. They are also fine loosely covered for 1 – 2 days. Or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Freezer: Once completely cooled, wrap muffins individually and store them in a freezer-safe container or baggie for up to 2 months. When ready to eat let thaw to room temperature.
Oil-free: In place of oil, sub with unsweetened applesauce. Muffin may be a bit denser, but still delicious.