Functional Medicine Solutions For Autoimmune Disease
There are a record number of people being diagnosed with autoimmune disease and even more suffering from autoimmune symptoms. The conventional thought on autoimmune conditions is that they are idiopathic (which means that the cause is unknown).
In recent years however it has been found that various factors (like toxicity, injury, and viral or bacterial infection) can cause autoimmunity.
Usually, when a person begins to have autoimmune symptoms their first step is to go to their primary care doctor. Sometimes they have a test at the doctor's office (usually a single test to confirm the disease the doctor suspects), and then they are medicated.
THE LIMITATIONS OF CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT
The goal of the primary care physician is simply to mitigate symptoms by administering steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, or immunosuppressant drugs.
These drugs temporarily stop the pain signal to the brain, suppress the immune system, and essentially shut off the ‘fire alarm’ of the body that is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
There is usually no attempt to deal with the actual cause of the organ or joint damage. The real problem is never addressed.
It is very common for patients with autoimmune symptoms to be given an autoimmune diagnosis, especially when they don't fit the diagnostic criteria for a specific disease. Autoimmunity is usually a catch-all term to explain a mysterious condition.
Maybe this happened to you, you go to a doctor, and their initial basic workup reveals that 'you're normal and there is no reason for your symptoms' so they label your symptoms as 'autoimmune in nature' and give you steroids and pain medications and send you on your way.
The wrong diagnosis is always worse than no diagnosis at all as a patient sometimes spends their entire life trying to make sense of and treat a diagnosis based on wrong information.
One of the most damaging concepts in circulation is that autoimmunity is the body ‘attacking itself’. I do not like this concept for a few reasons.
First of all, I do not think it is a biochemically accurate description of what is happening - the body is reacting to a perceived threat.
The second reason is that it places the burden of responsibility on the patient. It is essentially the patient’s ‘fault’ since the patient's body is ‘doing this to itself.'
The body does not intentionally harm itself, it is doing everything it can to survive and adapt to a hostile internal environment.
It is the functional medicine practitioner's job to identify what 'perceived threat' your body is reacting to, remove that threat, and restore normal autoimmune function.
SYMPTOMS INDICATIVE OF AUTOIMMUNITY
Migraines, Anxiety, Fatigue, Neuropathy, Migrating Numbness/Tingling, Dizziness, Insomnia, Restless Legs, Heart Palpitations, Racing Thoughts, Depression, Irritability, Mood Fluctuations
Chronic Headaches and Migraines, Muscle Pain, Joint Pain, TMJ Pain, Episodic (fleeting) Pain, Migrating Pain, Slow to Heal Injuries
DIGESTIVE, SKIN & HAIR SYMPTOMS
Diarrhea, Constipation, Bloating, Indigestion, Abdominal Pain, Abdominal Cramping, Bloody Stools, Food allergies/reactions, Hair loss, Eczema, Psoriasis, Rosacea, Acne, Dry Skin, Dark Circles, Cold Extremities
RESOLUTION OF AUTOIMMUNE SYMPTOMS
It is often said to those with autoimmune symptoms that they will have an autoimmune disease for the rest of their life. The implication is that they will never feel healthy again.
While they may technically carry that diagnosis, I have had patients enjoy near complete health.
While I cannot guarantee these results for everyone - there are hundreds of variables to consider - significant health improvements are common.
Many of my patients had previously been told that their autoimmunity will progressively worsen on its own, there is nothing to do to slow down or reverse the damage caused by these symptoms, and the ONLY treatment is steroidal or anti-inflammatory medication - in the vast majority of cases, this is untrue.
In reality, there is a lot the patient can do on their own and with the help of a functional medicine practitioner to lessen pain, inflammation, and the overall severity of symptoms.
PATIENTS HAVE EXPERIENCED
SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION LEVELS RETURN TO 'NORMAL' LEVELS
HEALED TISSUE DAMAGE
HAVE HAD A FULL RESOLUTION IN THEIR AUTOIMMUNE SYMPTOMS
GREATER ENERGY THAN BEFORE THEY WERE DIAGNOSED
HAVE HAD NO RELEVANT ANTIBODIES PRESENT IN TESTING AFTER TREATMENT
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF AUTOIMMUNITY
INFECTION: Fungal, Viral, Parasitic, Bacterial or Mold Infection
Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), Chronic Strep infections, CMV, HPV, Herpes, Lyme, HHV-6, Staph, Blastocystis hominis, H. Pylori, Shingle viral variety, Mold, Candida, Bacterial infection, Klebsiella pneumonia
body/brain stress response, vagus nerve function - digestion/rest/
relaxation regulation, Disrupted homeostasis - affecting temperature, mood, metabolism, cognition, digestion. Neurotransmitter imbalances
GUT HEALTH AND LIVER FUNCTION
weight gain, toxin accumulation, nausea, headaches, blood sugar dysregulation, Impaired digestion and absorption, damage to intestinal lining, microbiome
imbalance, imbalanced immune response
Food allergies and sensitivities, seasonal allergies, chemical food additives, preservatives, chemical sensitivities, inhalants
TOXICITY: Chemical and Heavy Metal
Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Copper, Mycotoxins, Arsenic, Pesticides, Herbicides, Fungicides, DDT, low-dose accumulation of radiation, fluoride, toxic chemicals
Adrenal hormones- cortisol/DHEA/ cortisone, estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, pregnenolone, comprehensive thyroid hormones
THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE APPROACH TO AUTOIMMUNITY
A deep dive into the patient’s history and overall medical condition is necessary to determine what is going on.
Often, the body is trying to rebalance itself from the strain of toxicity or mount a response against bacterial infection or viral infection or is inflamed from mycotoxins or trying to get rid of a parasitic or fungal infection.
The first step for any patient is to make sure they are getting complete diagnostic testing that goes above and beyond the basics to identify in-depth clinical imbalances.
This includes patients who have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease but suspect they have one.
It is very important when you suspect or have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease to have a functional medicine evaluation.
Simply a confirmatory test proving you have a condition is only the first step. Your diagnosis gives you no information about how your body functions and what impediments may need to be removed for you to heal.
Your body is unique, and you may not fit into a category easily. You deserve to be taken seriously and not be told 'it is all in your head.' Complex symptoms require a nuanced and thorough approach that a complete functional medicine evaluation can provide.