Actor Ashton Kutcher reveals autoimmune diagnosis

Actor Ashton Kutcher reveals he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. (Photo by Robin L Marshall/Getty Images)

Actor-turned-venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher recently revealed that he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease two years ago.

The That 70’s Show alum said that he was diagnosed with vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own blood vessels, leading them to swell and narrow. According to the John Hopkin’s Vasculitis Center, the symptoms of vasculitis vary greatly, depending on which blood vessels have been impacted and the inflammatory process involved. Some of the common symptoms of vasculitis include headaches, joint pain, fever, rashes, fatigue, weight loss, rapid pulse, cough, and frequent infections. However, the disease can also cause even more severe symptoms, like kidney and lung problems, stroke, aneurysms, gangrene, deafness, and blindness.

Kutcher said in a 2022 interview that vasculitis affected his vision, hearing, and sense of balance, showing that he had a more severe form of the disease. He commented, “You don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone, until you go, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be able to see again, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to hear again, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to walk again.’”

According to Kutcher, it took him over a year to recover from his vasculitis flare-up. The actor acknowledged that while his vasculitis diagnosis put him on a “terrifying journey” he knows that he’s “lucky to be alive”.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for vasculitis, and the exact cause of what leads the immune system to attack one’s blood vessels is unclear. However, treatments are available to help ease the symptoms, including steroids like Prednisone, chemotherapy drugs like Methotrexate, and immunosuppressants like Cytoxan. It’s unclear what exact treatment Kutcher received after his vasculitis diagnosis.

To learn more about vasculitis and read real patient stories, visit the Vasculitis Foundation website.

Could Alzheimer’s Be an Autoimmune Disease?

Prominent neurologist awarded grant to research Alzheimer’s as an autoimmune disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases.

Although little is still known about this disease, which causes significant loss of memory and other cognitive abilities, the most well-accepted hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the build up of a protein called beta amyloid. When too much beta amyloid is accumulated in the brain, toxic clumps of the protein, called plaques, can form. These plaques are believed to be the culprit for Alzheimer’s; as a result, recent clinical trials have aimed to find a way to target and reduce the amount of plaques in the brain.

However, a prominent neurologist and medical researcher from Toronto, Ontario, Canada has put forth a new hypothesis on the development of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Donald Weaver theorizes that beta amyloid is actually a normal part of the brain’s innate immune system, and is there to kill bacteria and serve as a messenger protein. When the body’s immune response is triggered by an infection, trauma, or exposure to noxious substances, brain cells are triggered to release beta amyloid.

The problem arises, however, when beta amyloid mistakes brain cells for bacteria, and begins to kill these cells instead. This leads to fragments being created in the brain, which go on to trigger the continued release of beta amyloid. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of releasing beta amyloid and killing more brain cells, resulting in a chronic disease.

Dr. Weaver’s theory on Alzheimer’s as an an autoimmune disease has garnered the attention of the medical community. He has been awarded the silver Oskar Fischer Prize, a grant worth US$400,000 from the University of Texas at San Antonio, to pursue research related to his theory.

Dr. Weaver believes that by exploiting the body’s natural way of controlling the immune system, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be reduced, and the disease could even be prevented. He commented, “If we accept the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is an immune-based disease that has certain triggers, then I think that we need to go back and revisit the risk factors.” Examples of risk factors include air pollution, head trauma, and genetic susceptibility.

Ultimately, Dr. Weaver’s research represents hope for a new way of tackling Alzheimer’s disease. Even more exciting is that Dr. Weaver’s research may have applicability beyond Alzheimer’s to other neurological conditions as well, such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Encephalitis.

Jenny Hsieh, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Brain Consortium, believes it’s important to provide researchers the opportunity to pursue ideas that are outside the box. “We just need people to be able to work on different ideas…because the bottom line is all of the current approaches to Alzheimer’s disease [are] not working.”

To learn more about Dr. Weaver and his work, visit: www.weaverlab.ca

Actress with Lupus Spreads Awareness for Autoimmune Disease

In 2007, Maria Alejandra Hernandez was living her best life in New York City, working her dream job as an actress. However, she started to feel unwell, and generally tired and run down. She had a kidney biopsy done, but it didn’t lead to any answers. She recovered from the mystery illness, and went on to live her life.

Four years later at age 21, her health problems resurged with a vengeance.

“It started with a pain in my finger, I remember,” Hernandez explains. “I thought I probably bumped it or I’m just stressed out. It’s probably going to go away.”

However, the pain didn’t go away, and in fact continued to spread to her shoulders.

“The pain was so excruciating, I couldn’t even lift my hands,” she says. She was hospitalized for a month, while doctors performed a myriad of tests in an effort to diagnose the cause of her sudden pains.

She was eventually diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. The autoimmune disease was causing her body’s own immune system to attack her joints, resulting in the unbearable pain in her fingers and shoulders. Shortly after, she started getting rashes on her face. Butterfly rash, which is a skin rash in the shape of a butterfly that appears across the nose and cheeks of lupus patients, is a hallmark symptom of the disease.

Hernandez admits that she knew nothing about lupus prior to being diagnosed. She explains, “I thought I could tell the doctor, okay, give me the medicine so I can just get better. Well, it doesn’t work that way!”

She recounts with emotion finding out that lupus is a life-long, chronic condition: “I remember one of the doctors telling to me that there was no cure; I felt like my life ended right there.”

While 90% of lupus patients are women, the symptoms can be completely different from person to person. Hernandez says that in addition to joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes, she also experienced weight gain, hair loss, and kidney problems. At that point, she thought that her career as an actress would have to come to an end.

Lupus put a strain not just on Hernandez’ career, but on her relationship as well. At one point, the young woman told her husband that she likely wouldn’t be able to have children, and that he should find a new relationship to fulfill his dream of having kids.

“He said, ‘No way in hell!'” Hernandez laughs. Her husband stood by her side throughout her aggressive medical treatment. She now manages her symptoms with a combination of daily prescription medications and a healthy diet. Staying positive is also an important part of maintaining her mental health.

Hernandez said that her blood tests have shown promising results that her lupus is under control. As a result, she revealed that her and her husband are looking forward to starting a family of their own.

“For Warriors like myself, [becoming a parent] might take a little longer, but I’m not losing hope,” she declared. “If I hadn’t gone what I went through, I wouldn’t be here now, raising awareness [for lupus],” she said.

“Now, lupus doesn’t control me. But I’m using it to help [others].”

Maria can be found on Instagram at: @mariaalejandrahl. To learn more about Maria’s battle with lupus, visit the Today show YouTube channel.