Managing Autoimmune Disorders by Treating the Root Cause
Autoimmune diseases are reaching epidemic levels, in part, because there are so many of them. Current medicine lists between 80 and 100 different types of autoimmune disorders or diseases. Some of the more common ones include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Hashimoto’s Disease, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Grave’s Disease, and Lupus.
Collectively, autoimmune disorders are one of the most prevalent diseases in the US and affect up to 10% of the US population, or an estimated 24 million people.
Recent reporting found that while autoimmune diseases are more prevalent among females, they may also disproportionately impact specific racial groups, but sparse data exists on minority group rates in the US. To compound the potential prevalence of autoimmunity, studies indicate that over eight million additional people have autoantibodies that may indicate future development of an autoimmune disease.
Once diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, many believe their only option is to manage the symptoms while waiting for modern medicine to find a cure for the disorder.
A functional medicine approach to autoimmune disorders has the possibility of managing the progression of the disease process by enabling your body to heal itself.
Traditional and Functional Medicine Mindset
When it comes to autoimmune disorders, traditional medicine tends to focus on stopping attacks and managing symptoms. This may be accomplished by using pharmaceutical drugs to depress the immune system, reduce inflammation, or alleviate other symptoms. This is necessary and can provide much needed relief to patients. When other approaches fail, it may be the only recourse that remains.
They focus on stopping attacks in progress and relieving the symptoms of the attack. While this most certainly help patients, if you want restore true health, then you need to figure out WHY the immune system went from functioning normally to attacking your body. This did not occur in a vacuum.
Something happened to cause your body to go into this abnormal state of hyperimmunity. That is the focus of functional and biological medicine. The functional medicine approach is not as concerned with the symptoms of a particular disease as much as it is with the underlying cause of the disease. When the body functions properly, symptoms diminish, and illness is no longer present.
Underlying Causes of Autoimmune Disorders
The science of functional medicine has uncovered a handful of common reasons that may cause the body to go into a hyperimmune state.
Food Sensitivities and Leaky Gut Impact Autoimmunity
80% of your immune system lives in your gut. That sheds new light on the phrase “you are what you eat”.
There is a myriad of reasons why you may develop sensitivities to particular foods, and it can be difficult to know which foods cause problems for you. When your body is constantly reacting to a food to which you have a sensitivity, you are damaging your GI tract.
A properly functioning GI tract, or gut, must be somewhat permeable in order to absorb the nutrients from our food. However, when the gut is exposed to certain foods, infections, toxins, and stress, it can become “leaky” allowing toxins, microorganisms (including bacteria), and undigested foods to leak into your blood stream. It can also prevent the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. This can cause inflammation within the body which, in turn, can result in autoimmune disease.
Chronic Viral Infections and Autoimmune Disorders
Throughout your life, you’ve been exposed to a variety of viral infections including, the flu, chickenpox, HPV (human papillomavirus), and mononucleosis, to name a few. Once contracted, they can stay with you for the rest of your life, going in and out of dormant states. Chickenpox is a classic example. We get chickenpox, deal with the symptoms, and then it will go dormant and can live within our nerves for decades. As we age, and our immune system’s ability to protect our body decreases, the chickenpox virus can resurface as shingles.
Scientists have long suspected that viruses may be linked to the development of autoimmune disorders. Some people are simply better able to tolerate the low-level viruses than others. If you’re a person who is not able to tolerate the viruses, or if your immune system is otherwise compromised, it can trigger the hyperimmune state that leads to autoimmune dysfunction.
Toxicity and Autoimmune Diseases
Toxicity is another common problem in today’s world. Whether we realize it or not, toxicity levels in our environment and within our bodies are on the rise. We are exposed to toxins in the air we breathe, water we drink, and on the foods that we eat. Additionally, many of the products in our home are made from chemicals whose health impact has not been fully tested and may be negatively impacting our health.
In some instances, toxic exposure can damage or alter your body on the cellular level. These changes can make it such that your body mistakes these cells as foreign tissue and goes on the attack. In other cases, the effect is less direct, causing chronic inflammation which, in turn, leads to hyperimmunity.
Nutrient Deficiencies Affect Autoimmunity
Your body is a complex machine. When it does not have the proper amount of key nutrients as fuel, it cannot function properly. Unfortunately, the average American diet is woefully low in nutritive foods, contributing to many of the chronic conditions we see today.
Autoimmune Diseases – Latest Research
Studies show that this innovative treatment restores depleted bacteria, which in turn promote immunomodulatory effects. For patients with irritable bowel disease, meta-analysis demonstrated that 45% of subjects achieved clinical remission with FMT. Another study concluded that FMT has a 34.1% cure rate and 68.2% improvement rate for ulcerative colitis and a 30.0% cure rate and 60.0% improvement rate for Crohn’s. FMT has also emerged as an effective and safe therapy for recurrent C. difficile infection, with a success rate of over 80%.7
Restoring equilibrium in the gut microbiota, which can in turn promote repair of the mucosal barrier, is a key strategy for arresting autoimmunity. When food and lifestyle aren’t enough, a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), is another option for healing the gut. FMT involves the transfer of the fecal microbiota from a healthy donor to a diseased recipient in order to restore a balanced gut microbial ecology.
At the Institute of Functional Medicine’s 2018 Annual International Conference, Solving the Puzzle of Autoimmunity: The Interplay of Gut, Genes, and Environment, a variety of innovative treatment options that optimize outcomes for autoimmune disease patients was demonstrated. Imbalances in the gut, such as dysbiosis, can interfere with tight junctions, allowing antigenic food particles, toxic agents, microorganisms, and bacterial by-products to cross the gut lumen and induce an immune response that can culminate in autoimmunity.
Treating Autoimmune Disorders
Biological medicine treatment approach to autoimmune disease doesn’t look at the disease itself. The goal is to fix the function of the immune system. There’s a reason why the immune system is not functioning properly – the goal is to uncover and correct those reasons. Sometimes you can identify and correct them, other times you cannot. But there’s always an underlying reason for the dysfunction.
The approach will differ for each patient, but the first step is always to take a detailed health history. What we learn about that individual patient’s history will point us in the direction of detailed testing necessary to uncover the root of the problem.
After testing is complete, we move on to working to correct the problems that we have found. This is a multi-faceted approach that includes restoring the gastrointestinal tract, detoxifying the body and working on the support of the immune system, as well as dietary adjustments, and lifestyle changes.