There are more than 80 different types of Autoimmune Disease in the US today, affecting about 7% of the population. Some are rare; others are becoming increasingly common.
Standard healthcare treatments for autoimmune complaints tend to focus on one area of specialization, e.g., a neurologist for nerve-related problems or an endocrinologist for hormone imbalances. Functional medicine considers a patient’s entire physiology, looking at the interaction of symptoms to identify the root source of the disorder.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease or disorder occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in our body, causing damage to the affected body part. More specifically, the immune system releases proteins called auto-antibodies that attack normal cells. The increasing numbers of patients being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder raises questions about the reasons behind this growth, including:
- Exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and food additives
- A high fat, high sugar diet (and processed foods)
- Excessive hygiene—causing immune systems to overreact.
I believe all three reasons are implicated in this worrying increase in autoimmune disorders, and the solution requires a complete rethink of our modern lifestyle.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
The immune system is part of a complex network that regulates our ability to live, grow and repair in response to physical and environmental stressors. A faulty immune system has a knock-on effect for many other bodily systems, putting the body out of balance.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I look for the underlying cause of illness, so I can treat the person and not just the symptoms. Some of the potential causes of autoimmunity deficiencies include:
- Gut Dysbiosis
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Environmental toxins, including heavy metals, vehicle emissions, and sprays
- Mineral or vitamin deficiencies
- Food intolerances
- Chronic Stress
Risk factors for Autoimmune Disorders
Anyone can develop an autoimmune deficiency, but some people are more at risk, including:
- Women (particular those of child-bearing age)
- People with a family history
- People living/working in specific environments
Some autoimmune disorders affect certain ethnic groups more than others. People who live or work in environments with high exposure to pollutants, bacterial infection, or contaminated food sources are likely to be at greater risk of an autoimmune disease.
Recurrent Apthous Stomatitis
Apthous Stomatitis (RAS) is a relatively common oral mucosal disease where patients have chronic reoccurring mouth ulcers. These ulcers aren’t contagious or cancerous but are thought to be an immune response deficiency triggered by poor nutrition, allergies, stress, or a hormonal imbalance.
Interestingly, psychological factors may play a significant role in the condition, with a strong link between stress and outbreaks of ulcers. Although every patient requires a treatment program tailored to their unique physiology, my recommendations for treatment of this condition often include:
Diet modifications (gluten-free, reduced milk proteins)
Stress-relieving exercise programs
Vitamin B12/folic acid supplementation to help with anemia
There are many parallels between allergies and autoimmune disorders. Both involve a faulty response from the body’s immune system. Research has shown that patients with autoimmune diseases and those with allergies share a common gene variation. Conventional medical treatment for inhalant type allergies often centers around steroids and antihistamine prescriptions. While these may address immediate symptoms, they can do long-term damage to the body’s protective barriers in the nose, gut, and lungs. A functional medicine approach using the 6R protocol looks to reduce symptoms, remove the antigens, restore the body’s own protective systems and remedy any vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune deficiency that causes dry eyes and a dry mouth. Patients with this condition often have associated disorders such as Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Patients with Sjogren’s syndrome usually respond well to supplements such as cysteine, evening primrose, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), omega-3 fish oil, and sulfur. Of course, good hydration is essential when dealing with a disorder that attacks the moisture-producing glands, together with an anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut.
Lupus is a tricky condition to diagnose, at it can affect so many different parts of the body. Lupus causes inflammation of tissues and organs, including the skin, kidneys, joints, brain, heart, and lungs. One of the most distinctive signs of Lupus is a rash across the face—however, not everyone develops this rash. Symptoms of Lupus include:
- Joint pain
- Chest Pain
- Skin lesions
As you can see, these symptoms could easily be misattributed to another disease. That’s why it’s essential to thoroughly investigate the condition with appropriate lab tests and a thorough consultation. Certain medications and infections can trigger Lupus, and it’s vital to treat the condition early before it leads to other complications.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. The body’s immune system attacks the joints between the bones, and they become inflamed. Early warning signs of the condition include feeling stiff when you get up in the morning and swelling in your joints, such as the fingers, wrists, and feet. Women are much more likely to develop the condition, as are smokers. Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in reducing symptom severity. I recommend the following therapies to my patients:
- Appropriate exercises
- Relaxation techniques
- Supplements including fish oil
- Stress management
Hashimoto’s disease is often confused with Hypothyroidism. Hashimoto is an immune system disorder, whereas Hypothyroidism is a problem with your thyroid gland. Patients with Hashimoto’s Disease have a compromised immune system that is attacking their thyroid gland. This gland produces hormones that regulate many systems in the body.
Signs that you might have Hashimoto’s include:
- Pale, dry skin
- Hair loss and brittle nails
- Weight gain
- Muscle weakness/joint aches
- Depression and memory issues
Hashimoto’s is a multi-systemic disease, and treatment should extend beyond standard medical responses to include dietary investigation, genetics, gut health, and environmental factors.
Autoimmune disease needn’t be something to be ‘managed’ and tolerated. You can help restore your body’s ability to heal itself and achieve ‘homeostasis’ or balance. Book a comprehensive Creative Clarity Call with my clinic and start your journey to wellness.