Mystery Illness? It Could Be Autoimmune Disease. Do you know anyone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, colitis, Lupus or other autoimmune disorders? Autoimmune disease is the #1 cause of suffering in North American women. It is your own immune system that attacks and damages parts of your body. For example, in Hashimoto’s antibodies that are supposed to fight infection, attack and damage your thyroid instead, in celiac disease they attack your gut lining, in Rheumatoid arthritis it’s your joints, in MS it is the myelin sheath around your nerves, in lupus it could be your skin, kidneys and eyes and so on and so forth. Firstly, there are hundreds of autoimmune disorders. If you have one autoimmune disorder you are likely to have a second.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Disorders
For example, symptoms can be vague and varied depending on which autoimmune disorder may be developing. Fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, brittle hair and nails, hair loss, muscle and joint aches, depression and memory lapse are common symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Therefore, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Joint pain and stiffness is common in rheumatoid arthritis. Weakness is common with multiple sclerosis. Since there are hundreds of autoimmune disorders, symptoms can be related to the organ that is affected such as the pancreas (insulin dependent diabetes), skin (vitiligo), gut (celiac) and many others.
Autoimmune diseases typically develop over several years before they even become symptomatic. They can go unrecognized for years. People have vague symptoms and routine lab test may be normal because nobody tests for autoimmune disorders until symptoms are full blown. Once diagnosed, the patient will be offered steroids or immunosuppressant medications that essentially suppress the immune system, and this leads to potentially more significant problems like cancer down the road. The cost of these drugs are several thousands of dollars per month.
Autoimmune Disease Triggers
Autoimmune disorders may have a genetic predisposition which is the equivalent of a loaded gun, however even though you may have the genetic potential to develop an autoimmune disorder, it takes something to pull the trigger or set it off. These are:
- Chronic stress
- Leaky gut
- Chemical sensitivities
- Food sensitivities
- Poor nutrition
- Stealth infections
- Hormone imbalances
Diagnosing Autoimmune Disorders
You need a high index of suspicion and have to test for antibodies against common autoimmune targets. The most common tests are
- Anti Nuclear Antibody with reflex (ANA with reflex) test which if ANA is positive with then go deeper to look at antibodies, such as lupus, Sjogren’s, mixed connective tissue disease and scleroderma
- Anti TPO and anti thyroglobulin antibodies for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Rheumatoid factor and Anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies for rheumatoid arthritis
There are functional medicine laboratories that may be more cost effective than going through insurance. Therefore, they will test for a wider array of autoimmune disorders. For instance, that could indicate diabetes, MS, autoimmune hepatitis, celiac disease, and antibodies that affect the brain, ovaries, pancreas, heart, testes and more.
If you have one autoimmune disorder you are more likely to have another autoimmune disorder. The point is you will never know if you have anything if you don’t look for it. Symptoms in the beginning can be vague and if you treat early, you may not go on to have organ damage that becomes symptomatic.
Functional Medicine Treatment of Autoimmune Disorders
There is a traditional approach that will use drugs that suppress the immune system such as prednisone, a steroid, or stronger drugs costing several thousand dollars a month. The functional medicine approach will address the root cause such as:
- Healing the gut by removing bacteria, yeast and parasites that may be hidden there
- Removing foods and chemicals that are irritating it by eating organic and using toxin free personal care and cleaning products
- Using supplements and probiotics that heal the gut and modulate the immune system
- Helping the liver detoxify with herbs and limiting the burden of toxins
- Teaching people how to eat by removing foods they are sensitive to. Although, wheat and dairy are the most common culprits
- Managing stress and the triggers of autoimmune disease
- Eliminating medications that are autoimmune triggers.
- Balancing hormones with lifestyle and/or bioidentical hormone replacement
If all of this seems overwhelming seek a functional medicine doctor who can give you the support, education and treatment you need to help you heal and restore your health as well as avoid damage. I have many patients who were diagnosed early and did not have to suffer or need lifelong medication.