How to Stop Attacking Yourself: 9 Steps to Heal Autoimmune Disease.

Via on Aug 5, 2014

Mark Hyman

Inflammation is a “hot” topic in medicine.

It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease—from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression.

Other inflammatory diseases such as allergies, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disease are increasing at dramatic rates. As physicians we are trained to shut off inflammation with aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Motrin, steroids, and increasingly more powerful immune suppressing medication with serious side effects.

But we are not trained to find and treat the underlying causes of inflammation in chronic disease. Hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, an inflammatory diet, and stress are the real causes of these inflammatory conditions.

Autoimmune diseases, specifically, now affect 24 million people and include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more.

These are often addressed by powerful immune suppressing medication and not by addressing the cause. That’s like taking a lot of aspirin while you are standing on a tack. The treatment is not more aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack.

If you want to cool off inflammation in the body, you must find the source. Treat the fire, not the smoke. In medicine we are mostly taught to diagnose disease by symptoms, not by their underlying cause.

Functional medicine, the emerging 21st century paradigm of systems medicine, teaches us to treat the cause, not only the symptoms, to ask the question why are you sick, not only what disease do you have.

I recently participated in a group discussion with a conventional doctor, a rheumatologist, and patient with an autoimmune disease, and one of my patients who was cured of a complex autoimmune disease by addressing the causes.

The focus of the other doctors, however, was on how to suppress the inflammation with medication, not finding and treating the cause. Functional medicine is a different way of thinking about disease that helps us understand and treat the real causes of inflammation instead of finding clever ways to shut it down. Medicine as it is practiced today is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while a fire burns down your house!

Autoimmune conditions are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.

When my patient described how he cured his autoimmune disease by finding and eliminating the causes of inflammation in his diet and environment, it was dismissed as a “spontaneous remission.” In the face of a paradigm-shattering medical case, these doctors were hardly curious and quickly dismissive, describing what was shared as anecdotal.

My patient on that panel, a hard-working 46-year old father of three, was once so inflamed he could barely function. By treating the underlying causes of his inflammation he is now in vibrant good health, enjoying his life with his kids and fully capable of caring for them.

Stories like these (and the many others I have shared in my blogs, books, and on television) are not anecdotes but a giant compass pointing us in the direction we should be looking to find answers to our health problems.

In today’s blog, I will explain what autoimmunity is, how inflammation spirals out of control, describe some of the underlying causes for these fires in the body, and provide you with nine steps to cool the fires of inflammation and overcome conditions that range from allergies to arthritis and more.

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Autoimmunity: What it is and How it Occurs

We are facing an epidemic of allergic (60 million people), asthmatic (30 million people), and autoimmune disorders (24 million people). Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and the many other hard-to-classify syndromes in the 21st century.

These are all autoimmune conditions, and at their root they are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.

Your immune system is your defense against invaders. It is your internal army and has to clearly distinguish friend from foe—to know you from others. Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system gets confused and your own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire.

Your body is fighting something—an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or the stress response—and somehow it redirects its hostile attack on your joints, your brain, your thyroid, your gut, your skin, or sometimes your whole body.

This immune confusion results from what is referred to as molecular mimicry. Conventional approaches don’t have a method for finding the insult causing the problem. Functional medicine provides a map to find out which molecule the cells are mimicking.

Interestingly, autoimmune disorders occur almost exclusively in developed countries. People in poor nations without modern amenities like running water, flush toilets, washing machines, and sterile backyards don’t get these diseases.

If you grew up on a farm with lots of animals, you are also less likely to have any of these inflammatory disorders. Playing in the dirt, being dirty, and being exposed to bugs and infections trains your immune system to recognize what is foreign and what is “you.”

In this country, autoimmune diseases, when taken all together, are a huge health burden. They are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient’s lifespan by eight years. The annual health care cost for autoimmune diseases is $120 billion a year representing nearly twice the economic health care burden of cancer (about $ 70 billion a year). (i)

Unfortunately, many of the conventional treatments available can make you feel worse. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, steroids, immune suppressants like methotrexate, and the new TNF-alpha blockers like Enbrel or Remicade can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and diabetes, not to mention overwhelming infection and cancer.(ii)

When used selectively these drugs can help people get their lives back. But they are not a long-term solution. They shouldn’t be the end of treatment, but a bridge to cool off inflammation while we treat the root cause of the disease.

There is another way to deal with autoimmune conditions. Let me share the same story I told the doctors on that panel.

Recovering from Autoimmunity: Addressing the Root Causes of Inflammation

My patient Sam ended up on a long misadventure through the medical system before he came to see me. For years he went from doctor to doctor getting all kinds of labels for his problems but no real help in treating them.

This hard-working, once healthy trade professional had suddenly developed a series of inflammatory conditions including chronic sinus and prostate infections. Many doctors gave him many antibiotics for these infections.

Shortly thereafter, he developed severe chest pains and went to the emergency room. While he was there, doctors found swollen lymph nodes and told him he had lymphoma, a form of cancer. For three weeks he lived in despair until the biopsy results came back. It turned out he didn’t have cancer but an autoimmune disease. Which autoimmune disease? The doctors weren’t quite sure…

He had many abnormal blood test results—like low white blood cell and platelet counts, high levels of auto-antibodies of all types (antibodies that attack our own tissues), high immunoglobulins (the foot soldiers of the immune system), and autoimmune thyroid disease. But doctors had a hard time putting their finger on what was wrong. They couldn’t label him.

Meanwhile, Sam developed metabolic syndrome and weight gain (pre-diabetes) as a result of the runaway inflammation in his body.

Here is a quote from one his specialist’s notes:

“Whether he has lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome is a bit unclear. Regardless, he merely needs observation and no therapeutic intervention at this time.”

This unfortunately is all too common. What exactly did they plan to observe, how bad he felt? Or would they just wait for him to get worse before intervening?

That’s when he came to me. Using a functional medicine approach, a new way of thinking about the underlying causes and imbalances in chronic disease, I began by asking Sam some simple questions. Then I went hunting for toxins, allergens, and infections—all common causes of inflammation—and found the real causes of his symptoms.

He had taken so many antibiotics that altered his gut flora or bacteria and promoted yeast overgrowth. Fungus and yeast flourished in his body, growing between his toes, on his toenails, in his crotch, and scalp. He had Helicobacter pylori bacteria in his gut. He had a leaky gut and reacted to many foods, including dairy and gluten. He was exposed to toxins at his job and had high levels of mercury. And he had chronic sinus infections.

So we went to work cleaning house. I treated his yeast with anti-fungals and the H. pylori with antibiotics, got rid of his food allergies, fixed his gut, detoxified him from metals and cleaned up his sinuses.

Then I helped heal his immune system by supporting it with nutrients. I gave him zinc, fish oil, vitamin D, herbs, and probiotics, and put him on a clean, whole-foods, allergen-free, anti-inflammatory diet.

At his next follow-up visit, I asked Sam how he was doing, expecting him to say that he felt a little better. However, his response surprised even me. He said he felt fine.

“What about the fatigue?” I asked.

“I have great energy.”

“What about the bloating and gas?”

“Nope.”

“What about the reflux?”

“Gone.”

“What about your sinuses and chronic phlegm?”

“All clear.”

“What about your memory and concentration problems?”

“All better.”

And he lost 15 pounds.

When his labs came in, they confirmed what he told me—they were all back to normal. His white cells increased and his immune markers calmed way down.

Sam’s results simply reflect the application of a new model of thinking about problems called functional medicine—it’s a way to get to the root of health problems and treat the underlying causes of what ails you instead of suppressing symptoms with medications.

If you have an autoimmune disease, here is what you need to think about and do.

Nine Steps to Treating Autoimmune Disease

1. Check for hidden infections—yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc.—with the help of a doctor, and treat them.

2. Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The UltraSimple Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.

3. Get tested for celiac disease, which is a blood test that any doctor can do.

4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.

5. Fix your gut. For details, see my blog on irritable bowel syndrome.

6. Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics to help calm your immune response naturally.

7. Exercise regularly—it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.

8. Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, because stress worsens the immune response.

9. Tell your doctor about Functional Medicine and encourage him or her to get trained—go to functionalmedicine.org for more information and to get a copy of the Textbook for Functional Medicine.

Give these steps a try—and see if you don’t start feeling less inflamed. As I said earlier, the answers are right in front of you. Treat the underlying causes of your illness and you will begin to experience vibrant health once more.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?

How is your doctor treating you?

Have you been frustrated by the medical advice that you’ve been given?

What steps have you taken to get to the root of the problem, and what have your results been?

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below—but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

 

References

(i) Nakazawa, D. (2008). The Autoimmune Epidemic. Simon & Schuster. New York.

(ii) Siegel, C.A., Marden, S.M., Persing, S.M., et al. (2009). Risk of lymphoma associated with combination anti-tumor necrosis factor and immunomodulator therapy for the treatment of Crohn’s disease: a meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 7(8): 874-81.

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: Author’s Own, Pixoto

About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, M.D. believes that every individual deserves a life of vitality—and that they have the potential to create it for themselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Mark and his team work every day to empower people, organizations and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.

Dr. Mark is a practicing family physician, a six-time #1 New York Times bestselling author and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator and advocate in his field. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post and a regular medical contributor on Katie Couric’s TV show, Katie.

To achieve his mission of transforming healthcare, Dr. Mark works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and before the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa also nominated Dr. Mark for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, he has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters, Achieving Wellness in Every Generation conference, as well as the Clinton Global Initiative.

Dr. Mark also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—he co-created The Daniel Plan with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Daniel Amen, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church collectively lose 250,000 pounds. He has appeared as an advisor on The Dr. Oz Show, and is also on the Board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating the American student body about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Mark crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease.

Join Dr. Mark on his path to revolutionize the way we think about and take care of our health and our societies by following along and chiming in online through his website, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @markhymanmd.

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78 Responses to “How to Stop Attacking Yourself: 9 Steps to Heal Autoimmune Disease.”

  1. Mechelle says:

    I was showing autoimmune blood markers, so ill I could hardly walk, or function,rheumatologist suspected Lupus. My Tibetan Dr. said I was headed for RA. I was beggining to have serious joint pain and problems. Four months of Tibetan herbs and very specific diet and my blood markers test normal. 10 months later and symptoms are beggining to stabalize. The Tibetan diagnosis is toxic digestion, colon and small intestine turning the essence of digestion into poision, if the stomach goes out it would become rheumatoid arthritis. If I even sleghtly deviate from the prescribed diet illness returns, illness which includes many symptoms of poisioning. In Tibetan system some are not curable, but if one does respond to medicine and diet one is curable unless crippled, within several years.

  2. mary Jo says:

    My son has PANDAS which is an autoimmune condition. We practice all the suggestions listed and have for about a year. He is definitely doing better but he does have high levels of metal toxicity, I believe from vaccines. Anyway, his integrative doc recommends chelation therapy but we are not really wanting to take that road. Any suggestions as to other ways of decreasing metal levels?

  3. gary says:

    I was diagnosed with bechets about three years ago after going to many drs and specialists. I went through many antibiotics and pain killers for swollen knees, Sores in my mouth, and baseball size lumps on my arms and legs. My knees were drained and treated with cortisone and my immune system was suppressed with suffazine, folic acid, and methatroxate treatment. After two years my wife and i decided to start a family so i told the dr i wasnt going to take all this stuff. I now only have the odd swelling in my wrists and toes but keep it under wraps with naproxen. Im not cured and have accepted pain as a fact of life but do not want to be a pill popper. Not sure what the best way to treat my swelling and minor cuts that turn infectious but i do them one symptom at a time. Thanks for listening and any advise is helpful.

  4. Nichole says:

    I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1998. I have varied treatments, mostly by doing my own research, seeing as doctors had nothing to give me. I know there have been more advancements in researching and understanding FMS. Now they are looking at nerves, I believe. I have been on a low dose of amitriptylene since then and have tried to go off of it numerous times to no avail. Turns out I really "need" it for sleep. The things that have helped; yoga and meditation, staying clear or reducing things like sugar, wheat and dairy. Low impact exercise. I feel best when I do all of this AND be sure to take my vitamins. Magnesium and B's…..and for some reason, evening primrose oil had truly helped. I usually slip up here and there, like around the holidays. If there are any recommendations you can extend my way that would be helpful!

  5. Jeri Lynn says:

    I suffer from extreme inflammation and arthritis in neck back hands knees and feet, and also bowel and stomach issues, hot flashes and sleep disruption. I have began to detox my home. I use vinegar, lemon and peroxide and baking soda and soap nuts for laundry and dish cleaning(vinegar in the rinse aid slot, no film no spots) Next I will start on me. (Btw my ss sink is shinier then any I've seen with baking soda and lemon cleaner!) I already use natural chemical free body soap (Dudu osun) and shampoo.

    I'm told I am the most vitamin d deficient person my doctor has ever seen. I moved to the country and I have 2 grandchildren I adopted, I'm 43 they are 3 and 4 and the 3 yr old is severely autistic.. I want to protect them and add life to myself.

    I'm terrified at the meds my doc put me on… I wish I knew a better way to fix myself. I know I'm on the road I just wish I had a faster greener vehicle..

    Any suggestions are appreciated..

    PS: if you start to use SOAP NUTS think of it as a detox for your clothes, the fist wash removes fragrances so your clothes my smell odd, re wash, you are trying to remove the chemical build up and this can take 3 to 5 washes! But once that's done the coolness of your clothes on your skin is amazing! Your skin is the largest organ and important! Laundry soaps are 95+% chemical! Soap nuts are a natural soap berry actually and they work! Instead of bleach I use baking soda and peroxide or lemon juice. I use woollies dry balls with essence oils in the dryer. I know this seems foreign, but we need natural solutions to our everyday lives!

  6. Guest Helen B says:

    I am a 78 year old female with RA, Type 2 diabetes, chronic congested sinuses and post nasal drip, IBS, a vibrant spirit and a desire to live past 100. HELP ME! I need to get rid of these symptoms which are not my soul, but my stumbling blocks! Around 2000 I had 3 angiograms with 1 stent at about the same time I was diagnosed with diabetes (Prednisone induced).I had previously been diagnosed with asthma (result of multiple testing). And my IBS was determined to be caused by food allergies by the internist. I then moved to another town, lost touch with the internist and am once again in dire straits.I was veryn recently on Prednisone for over a year, went to Enbrel (a previously effective medication) which is ow ineffective and a week ago went on Orencia which is causing severe pain and disability. My BP is 200/110 and will not come down with increases in medication (cardiologist appt tomorrow). I have pitting edema in both hands and both calves, and to a lesser extent in both thighs. My treatment of choice has been essential oils and teas for various symptoms but they now don't work. I'm willing to go anywhere to see a physician who will look for the source of the problem and not just treat the symptoms. Does Mayo have this philosophy? How about Univ of Madison, WI? West Coast? East Coast? Where can I find a list of Functional Physicians?

  7. Roberta says:

    A great article! When I was diagnosed in 2008 with PMR, I began to change some of the ways I was eating. I began taking supplements which were suggested to me via a live blood cell session. I added a mega dose of probiotics. I stopped eating dairy and processed foods. I was later told I had developed RA. I do take medication for the condition. I have been in remission now for 2 years. I continue to eat super healthy, other than a very special treat now and then when I give in to a craving, but I would say 99% of my diet is fruits, vegetables, and no crap!
    I am a yoga instructor. I swim. I walk. I remain very active. I am also thankful that I do have the medication which has been prescribed for me. It gives me a wonderful quality of live! Together with eating right, eliminating bad foods, making sure the food combinations are appropriate and healthy, getting plenty of exercise, and practicing gratitude everyday I feel I have kicked RA in the ass!!!

  8. KATY says:

    Imbalanced Omega fats feed the fires of inflammation…. the Western diet is way too high in Omega 3. Also there's growing evidence (see the film Microbial Birth) that elective cesarean section births are seriously compromising our health… we need the microbes obtained through naturally birthing
    Thanks for all the interesting comments

    • Terry says:

      I think you meant to say, "way too high in Omega 6", not 3. 6 is in junk food and 3 is in salmon, avocado, olive oil and flax seed, etc.

  9. Irene says:

    I went to the hospital with a swollen tender inflamed elbow thinking it was a fracture.
    They told me it was gout. Gout??? I am super healthy, this has got to be a reaction to something that I am eating.
    They told me to take Indocine. I checked out this drug and it raises your BP. They saw how high that was and did not care.
    I am sure there are other alternatives.

  10. Onenonblonde49 says:

    I recently was diagnosed with PBC and still quite baffled. I'm obese allergic with high IGE, C reactive protein, pre diabetic. I had a basic allergy test for dairy egg which was offered when I tested for auto immune, both resulted at low end of the range but was positive for AMA. So far testing hasn't shown I have the developed PBC and will need a liver biopsy to confirm. I'm not symptomatic but have issues with asthma and salicylate intolerance, gluten makes me miserable but 2 blood tests for celiacs have been neg. I do have a history of antibiotic use for repetitive tonsillitis and urinary tract infections but have been well the last 7 years due to cleaning up my diet and lifestyle, but weight and asthma (salicylate I think), I'm trying very hard to decipher what is going on finding a functional medical doctor here in South Australia is a challenge. I have improved but need to address it in the right order. Thanks for this article it was a great help!

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  12. CRG says:

    I have lichen sclerosis which I've had for 25 years now (I'm 50). It has always been treated with steroids but 25 years of steroid cream isn't a solution. What else can I try?

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