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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Smart

Autoimmune disease - when the body attacks itself.

Self-destruction. That's what's happening when you have an autoimmune disease. Why is it happening? What can be done about it? Can it be cured?

Autoimmune diseases are technically incurable. They are also notoriously difficult to diagnose and to treat. We still don't really know what causes them, except that a multiplicity of factors seems to be involved. One of the great problems we have in the way we have set up modern medicine is the segmentation of specialist areas that focus on particular areas of the body. This prevents an holistic approach to many chronic conditions. Every autoimmune disease is addressed by a different specialist according to the area of the body affected. For example, an endochrinologist deals with Hashimotos, a neurologist deals with MS, and a dermatologist deals with psoriasis. We simply don't have autoimmune disease specialists in Western Medicine. This is a major problem for people who's symptoms are vague and undefinable or who have a disease attacking multiple organs (like Lupus), or those who have multiple autoimmune conditions (which is more common than not). For these reasons some people can experience poor health and specific symptoms for years before being formally diagnosed. It is perhaps also part of the reason we see so little progress in the treatment and management of these diseases in modern medicine.

Indeed, the current approach usually involves using hefty drugs that suppress immune function in one way or another. The side effects of these over the long term can be catastrophic. If you're lucky, you may have one of the easier diseases to treat by removing or replacing the affected organ, such as Graves or Hashimotos. Sadly, none of these approaches address causes of the underlying issue: chronic inflammation and rampaging autoimmunity.

While we can't pinpoint a single cause of autoimmunity (a major problem for modern science that likes everything in neat boxes), we do have a wealth of evidence pointing to several key triggers associated with the onset of these diseases:

  1. Microbes - viruses like Ross River and Glandular fever have long been studied for their ability to trigger autoimmunity and the corona virus seems to be joining the list. Mould toxins have been known to trigger Inflammatory bowel disease.

  2. Environmental Toxins - Pesticides for example have been associated with triggering rheumatoid arthritis.

  3. Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut) - The theory of molecular mimicry in autoimmunity suggests food protein fragments may enter the blood stream when the gut is not healthy, setting up an immune response that triggers autoimmunity.

  4. Stress - If you have an autoimmune disease you will be well aware of the affects of stress on the body! This is true for any chronic condition. Cortisol rises and inflammation with it.

  5. Genetics - we now have many key genes associated with particular autoimmune conditions. We know autoimmunity runs in families, even when the manifestations are quite different. For example you may get scleroderma, celiac disease, and RA in different members of one family (My siblings have ankylosing spondylitis, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, hashimotos thyroiditis, and rheumatoid arthritis between us. We have all managed to achieve remission and good long term management with functional medicine and without pharmaceutical immune suppressants). This supports the notion that there is an underlying disease, autoimmunity, that needs treating rather than the particular system/organ affected.

A nutritional medicine or functional medicine approach to autoimmunity focusses on trying to address these known factors and calm the immune system, thereby attempting to achieve long term remission. It is an approach that works especially well in people battling multiple conditions at once, or those wishing to prevent the onset of others.

A functional medicine approach to your condition may involve testing for toxins, gastrointestinal microbes, food sensitivities, and DNA analysis, using this information to tailor a patient specific action plan. If you have an autoimmune condition, or it runs in your family, you have the power to address your disease course and severity. There is so much more that can be done besides strong drugs for suppressing immune function. Book now to start your journey.

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