Autoimmune disease in this country has exploded to levels that are nothing less than shocking. More Americans suffer from autoimmune disease than heart disease and cancer combined! The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that 50,000,000 Americans suffer from autoimmune disease; yet only a fraction of these sufferers have been properly diagnosed with autoimmunity. This is a “modern disease” that has exploded to epidemic status in the past few decades and continues to grow uncontrollably.

What makes this picture all the more frightening is that there is no modern medicine specialty equipped to handle autoimmune disease and the countless ways it can damage the human body. Common specialists like gastroenterologists, rheumatologists and endocrinologist are not equipped to manage autoimmune disease as a whole and their treatment solutions fall into two general categories #1 Do Nothing and #2 Suppress  your Immune System with powerful drugs. Many of these drugs can have devastating effects on your health.

What Causes Autoimmunity?

The simple and honest answer is that nobody knows for sure. A healthy immune system can distinguish “you” from things that are “not you.” For example, your thyroid is “you” and should be ignored by the immune system but a virus is “not you” and should be attacked. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system fails to differentiate what should and should not be attacked. Many times doctors will tell their patient with autoimmune disease that their immune system is “overactive.” I have even seen drug companies explain it this way. The problem with this explanation is that it simply is not true. Your immune system is not overactive; it is not regulated; is if malfunctioning. The solution therefore is not to suppress the immune system; the solution is to restore proper function so that is stops targeting you as the enemy.

There are however several triggers that have been linked to autoimmune disease:

  • Toxins / chemicals
  • Infections / bacteria / viruses
  • Medications
  • Other dysfunction in the body

The exact mechanism that causes the immune system to malfunction is not known; and most likely there is not a single mechanism involved. As with most chronic diseases, there is not a single cause.

Traditional Medicine

The only solutions traditional medicine has for autoimmune disease are #1 Do Nothing (e.g. Hashimoto’s disease) or #2 Suppress the Immune System (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). Solution #1 leaves the patient susceptible to disease progression and additional autoimmune diseases. Option #2 utilizes medication that compromises the immune system and body to such a degree that it leaves the patient susceptible to organ damage, immune failure, infections, cancer and even death. The solution is as bad if not worse than the disease itself. Again, solution comes from the false assumption that the immune system is simply “overactive” and these drugs only add more malfunction to overall immune system function. This is what these side-effects are…new dysfunction placed on an already poorly functioning immune system.

Functional Medicine Solutions

At Naperville Integrated Wellness, we apply the functional medicine approach to autoimmune disease. First of all, we are not so concerned with the “disease label” our patient has. One patient may have multiple sclerosis, another may have Hashimoto’s disease and yet another may have Crohn’s disease. Instead of focusing on THE DISEASE we address the possible underlying causes for the disease. All autoimmune diseases have one thing in common; poor immune system regulation.

Your immune system

The focus of treatment should be on isolating what has caused and continues to cause the immune system to malfunction. This is important to understand; what continues to cause the immune system to malfunction!

There are several factors that can lead to immune system dysregulation including:

  • Poor digestive system health
  • Oxidative stress
  • Glutathione collapse
  • Methylation dysfunction
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Poor adrenal gland function
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Food sensitivities / intolerances / allergies
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Chronic infections

Autoimmunity is NOT just an immune system problem. The immune system is struggling and failing to maintain healthy balance and we always find other underlying health problems that keep the immune system in an overwhelmed state of malfunction.

When autoimmunity occurs, other systems have played a role in this process. For example; 80% of individuals with autoimmune disease are women; so the endocrine system (hormonal system) is often involved. Most of the immune system is located in and around the digestive system; diet and the health of the gut is a factor in autoimmune disease. Sometimes a prolonged time of emotional and psychological distress triggers autoimmunity; so the nervous system has a place in the development of autoimmune disease.

In functional medicine, our goal is not to suppress your immune system. Our goal is to restore regulation and many times that means we need to fix other related system like the ones mentioned above.

The immune system is extremely complex and powerful; it has the power to save you or kill you. It does not need to be crushed and disabled with drugs and autoimmunity should not be ignored.

Better solutions do exist!  

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease or suspect you have a problem with your immune system please contact our office for a functional medicine consultation.**