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Antinuclear Antibodies

Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA) is an autoimmune condition with abnormally high levels of antibodies that target genetic material in cells. These antibodies are quite normal in low concentrations, but in about 5% of the population, they’re elevated. For roughly half of these people, an autoimmune disease gets triggered, which causes the immune system to actively target healthy chromosomal DNA and RNA.

DNA and RNA carry our genetic material and the code for the structure and function of organs and body processes. When ANA levels are high, the body’s antibodies can attack its own genetic material as if it was foreign. When a woman is pregnant, this includes her immune response to the cells of her fetus, which will challenge its development or cause a miscarriage.

Unfortunately, a positive ANA test is linked to a greater risk of a range of other immune conditions being present, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. There’s a recognised pattern to where antibodies form and how an immune response spreads through the body:

  1. Antibodies first develop in the blood as IgM.
  2. They appear next as IgG and appear in the lymphatic system and lymph nodes.
  3. They can then form IgA antibodies in the mucous membranes.

ANA and conceiving

High numbers of antinuclear antibodies in the mucous membranes make it increasingly difficult to conceive as the womb lining is a mucous membrane and the connection to an embryo and its placenta. Women with higher concentrations of ANA can gradually become “immunised” against pregnancy with each pregnancy or miscarriage.

High levels of antinuclear antibodies increase the chances of Implantation failure (with or without IVF) and recurrent miscarriage: i

  • 22% of women with recurrent miscarriages have ANA.
  • 50% of women with four repeated IVF failures have ANA.

Risk factors for ANA

There’s evidence that ANA can be induced by:

  • Hydralazine (a vasodilator).
  • Phenytoin (an anti-epileptic).
  • Isoniazid (TB medication). ii
  • Bisphenol A, a chemical commonly found in food can linings and plastic baby bottles have been found in high levels in women with ANA. iii
  • High sensitivity to mercury in dental fillings. iv

Associations with other immune diseases

In general, ANAs are associated with gastrointestinal, hormonal, blood, skin and rheumatic diseases:

  • 95% of people with scleroderma have ANA.
  • 80% of people with Sjögren’s syndrome have ANA.
  • 50% of people with alopecia areata have ANA. v

Testing and treatment

A blood sample and the ‘ANA ’test’ can reveal ANA levels. The usual treatment is immune-suppressing interventions such as IVIg, intralipids, adalimumab (Humira) and steroids (dexamethasone or prednisolone) + calcium.

Medicinal herbal treatment

Herbal medicine can treat “non-autoimmune positive” ANA relatively effectively with success rates of around 73% (69 patients). vi