Research now shows that autoimmune disease – a condition in which the immune system attacks the body – impacts more people than heart disease and cancer combined. Unfortunately, few medical doctors know how to help patients who are suffering from this modern epidemic because they may not be able to identify its symptoms, properly screen for it, or appropriately treat it.
Just look at the following statistics:
- Type 1 diabetes rose 23 percent between 2001 and 2009 in the US
- Crohn’s disease rose 300 percent in 20 years in the UK
- Inflammatory bowel disease has risen more than 7 percent every year in Canada
- An Israeli study showed autoimmune rates are rising worldwide
- Studies show autoimmune rates rise the most in developed nations and in countries that are developing while they are lowest in the least developed countries.
On average, patients spend five years visiting at least five different doctors before they receive a diagnosis for autoimmunity. Of the 100 autoimmune diseases that have been identified so far, the most common include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and vitiligo. Because the immune system can attack any cell in the body, researchers are convinced that number will grow to over 100 identifiable conditions.
Women make up 75 percent of autoimmune patients. Many of them are told that they are imagining their symptoms and so are prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications and advised to get exercise or lose weight. This goes to show the sexism practiced in conventional medicine is clearly hindering the best care and treatment of patients actually suffering from autoimmune conditions.
If a patient does get an autoimmune diagnosis, it is typically only after the disease has almost completely destroyed the targeted tissue, whether it’s parts of the brain, the thyroid gland, or the sheaths that coat the nerves. At this point, a medical doctor can only offer invasive treatments like steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.
Why autoimmunity is becoming so common
Despite many published and peer-reviewed scientific studies about autoimmunity, conventional medicine is still puzzling over the mysterious origins and possible genetic links to autoimmune disease. What does the research say? The tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our environment may be to blame.
Studies show autoimmune rates rise the most in developed and developing nations while they are lowest in least developed countries. Unfortunately, developed countries are also the most toxic. In the US alone, about 80,000 chemicals that haven’t been tested on humans have been found in our environment with about 5,000 new ones being added every year.
Random blood sampling studies show that we all have dozens, if not hundreds, of these chemicals in our bloodstream, depending on how many are tested. One study of fetal cord blood identified almost 300 different chemicals in newborns around the country.
Other studies link specific chemicals to specific autoimmune diseases. For instance, mercury has been shown to trigger lupus and pesticides are linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
The dramatic rise in autoimmune rates can also be attributed to poor diets that include mostly processed foods and very little plant fiber which compromises the diversity of gut bacteria. An unhealthy gut microbiome can then lead to poor immune function.
Other common contributors to the autoimmune epidemic would be low vitamin D levels, chronic stress, hormonal imbalances, high sugar consumption, and sedentary lifestyles.
Treating autoimmune disease with functional medicine
Functional medicine practitioners offer a much better approach to identify and manage autoimmunity.
We begin with the assumption that you are not crazy, not imagining your symptoms, and not simply seeking attention. Instead, we listen to you. We understand that having an autoimmune disorder can be frustrating and confusing with its wide variety of symptoms and mysterious nature.
Although symptoms can vary depending on the tissue being attacked, many autoimmune patients present with common symptoms which could include fatigue, malaise, pain, brain fog, depression, and periods where you “crash,” or have such low energy you can’t function.
Using highly specialized lab tests, we screen for multiple autoimmune conditions at once. This helps us to identify an autoimmune reaction that may be taking place in your body but that is not yet advanced enough to cause extreme symptoms. By catching it early, we are able to halt or slow its progression.
Testing can also identify environmental elements you may not even be aware of that could be triggering an autoimmune reaction. You may find that avoiding certain foods such as gluten or specific chemicals like benzene could help you feel a whole lot better.
Successfully managing autoimmunity is more about calming the immune system and less about treating the specific part of your body that is being attacked. The immune system is very complex and always in flux, but thankfully new research is continually helping us learn new strategies to balance immunity, dampen inflammation, tame autoimmune flares, and prevent autoimmunity from progressing and devastating the body.
Ask my office for more information about how to manage your autoimmune condition and learn how to live a more balanced and healthy life.