Autoimmune diseases, when taken all together, become a huge health burden.
Among these include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Celiac disease and thyroid disease. In fact, over 80 diseases have been classified as autoimmune—and the list is growing.
Autoimmune disease now affects over 24 million Americans and five percent of the population in Western countries. They often include weird, hard-to-classify syndromes like inflammation, pain, swelling and misery.
Autoimmunity occurs when our immune system gets confused and our own tissue get caught in friendly crossfire. Our immune system is our defense against invaders: an army that must clearly distinguish friend from foe.
Put another way, our body is fighting something, whether that becomes infections, toxins, allergens or a stress response. Somehow, that immune army redirects its hostile attack on our body. Our joints, brain, skin, and sometimes our whole body become casualties.
Using anti-inflammatories like Advil, or steroids, or immune suppressants like methotrexate, or TNF alpha blockers like Enbrel can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, diabetes, overwhelming infection and cancer.
While these drugs can be lifesaving and help people get their lives back, we have a better way to deal with autoimmune disease.
The problem with conventional medicine is we are inhibiting, blocking, or anti-ing everything. But we don’t ask one simple question:
Why is the body out of balance and how do we help it regain balance?
Conventional medicine often addresses autoimmune disease by powerful immune-suppressing medication rather than searching for the cause. That’s like taking a lot of aspirin while we stand on a tack. The treatment is not more aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack.
Every autoimmune disease becomes connected by one central biochemical process: a runaway immune response results in our body attacking its own tissues.
If we can identify the underlying sources of inflammation, we can heal the body.
If we want to cool off inflammation, we must find the source. Physicians are mostly taught to diagnose disease by symptoms.
Instead, I look for underlying causes. This approach, called functional medicine, becomes a fundamentally different way of solving medical problems, one that allows us to decipher the origins of illness and identify the disturbances in biology that lead to symptoms.
A functional medicine practitioner can help identify and eliminate the root cause of autoimmune diseases. Sometimes this requires detective work, trial and error and patience, but the results are worth it.
When patients visit me to determine the root of their problem, I often implement these 10 strategies and they typically see vast improvement:
- Eat a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 wild fish and eliminate inflammatory foods.
- Check for hidden infections. These include yeast, viruses, bacteria and Lyme. A functional-medicine practitioner can help identify and eliminate these infections.
- Check for hidden food allergies. A functional-medicine practitioner can do this with IgG food testing. Alternately, we use The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, designed to eliminate most food allergens.
- Get tested for Celiac Disease. Any doctor can do this blood test.
- Get tested for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.
- Fix the gut. About 60 percent of our immune system lies right under the one-cell-layer-thick lining of our gut. If this surface breaks down, our immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins and bugs in our gut. The easiest way to begin healing our gut involves eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet and removing gluten and other food sensitivities.
- Implement supplements. Nutrients like fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics can help calm our immune response naturally. Also consider anti-inflammatory nutrients like quercetin, grapeseed extract and rutin.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. We don’t have to go to the gym, run on a treadmill, and pump iron to stay in shape. Just start moving around more, use our body more and have fun.
- Practice deep relaxation. Stress worsens our immune response. Calming techniques including yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, massage, or my UltraCalm CD can reduce stress and anxiety to promote relaxation.
- Get eight hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep or poor sleep damages our metabolism, causes cravings for sugar and carbs, makes us eat more, and drives up our risk of numerous conditions from diabesity to autoimmune disease. Sleep well becomes essential for vibrant health and reversing inflammation. This blog provides 19 tips to help us sleep better.
If you suffer from any autoimmune disease, what remedies have you sought for relief? Have you considered alternative approaches like functional medicine? Share your story below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Editor: Emily Bartran