By: Heidi Iratcabal ND, IFMCP, DPT

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, office of women’s health, autoimmune disease is ranked #1 in a top ten list of most popular health topics requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center. Statistics show 1 in 12 women have autoimmune disease and 1 in 24 men. That is roughly 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune conditions! [1] These numbers only represent the full blown, late stages of autoimmune diseases, not taking into account the many that are going from doctor to doctor feeling awful, and either told there is nothing wrong with them, their labs are normal or they are being treated but not feeling any better. The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association estimates the number is actually 50 million Americans. The average person it takes 20 years and 30 different practitioner visits to get a diagnosed. [2] This frustration is REAL!

There are 3 stages of autoimmunity:

Stage 1 Elevated antibodies but no symptoms or loss of tissue.
Stage 2 Elevated antibodies with symptoms but no detectable tissue destruction
Stage 3 Elevated antibodies, with symptoms and measurable tissue destruction.

WE hope to catch folks in Stage 1, but even at Stage 3 a Functional Medicine approach can make significant differences in symptoms.

HOW IS THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE APPROACH DIFFERENT?

Functional medicine is often times better positioned to support autoimmune conditions because there is a focus on systems medicine, digging deep for root causes, and dissecting the symptoms all the way down to the immunology. Rather than utilizing strong immune suppressive drugs, we begin with appropriate dietary changes and correcting nutrient imbalances and inflammation with targeted botanicals and other supplements.

Did you know that arthritis is autoimmune? Or Psoriasis, IBS, B-12 Anemia, Gluten Sensitivity, Interstitial Cystitis, Hypothyroid, Diabetes, Ulcerative Colitis, and Crohn’s, are all autoimmune?

 When people show up with a stack of previous labs, or sacks full of supplements and they still feel awful, if they say everyone thinks they are a hypochondriac, their family doesn’t believe them and if they say, that they really don’t trust traditional medicine anymore, there is a bell in my head “look for autoimmune” .

No two autoimmune clients are alike. You could have two Hashimoto thyroid diagnosis come in same age, same sex, same socio-economic background, and present very differently. So the management approach must be uniquely formulated.

Autoimmune is not caused by one thing. You cannot just look for a singular event or risk factor and think that fixing it will resolve your autoimmune. The causes of autoimmune is multi-factorial. Dr. Aleso Fausano, one of the leading international researchers in autoimmune conditions says that there are 3 major factors to consider.  1)Most all autoimmune issues begin with increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”, along with 2) a genetic predisposition  and 3)  a triggering event that tips the system over into making anti-bodies against our own tissues. [3]

For one person a parasite or bacterial imbalance may be one of the triggering causes, for another it may be a toxicity or stress or excess use of antibiotics.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) with highly processed foods, nutritional deficiencies, many chemicals additives, pesticides and GMO’s is a huge piece of the problem.

WHOLE SYSTEM SOLUTIONS for AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

The GOOD NEWS is there are definite strategies that can put your autoimmune conditions in remission or remain in a silent stage for years. This is where lifestyle factors are key:

  1. Top of the list would be addressing intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. Please check out our online gut repair protocol class.
  2. Identify food triggers like gluten and dairy, corn and lectins. Foods can have a major impact on autoimmune conditions since they can mimic different tissues of the body and activate the immune system.
  3.  Sleep- you must get 7-8hrs of good quality sleep a night to support your immune system
  4. Controlling blood sugar and insulin surges with a diet full of fiber, healthy fats and whole foods. Major drops blood sugar and spikes in insulin will cause cortisol to go up and will trigger inflammation
  5. Exercise- Be consistent. It is better to do 5min of quality movement every day, than 1-2 hrs. 2x a week.  If able do something every day that causes you to breath hard and have some sweating. Will help with blood sugar!
  6.  Look at your relationships. Are they toxic? Are they nurturing? Do you have people in your life who lift you up or bring you down? This is a tough subject, but it is important to your health that you surround yourself with positive people and positive energy as this has been shown to flare autoimmunity.
  7. Activate your Vagus nerve, which connects the gut, brain, heart lungs and immune system! Singing, gargling, humming, smiling and laughing all activate the Vagus, helping to lower the stress response and anxiety levels.
  8.  Finally, management of stress is of utmost importance. Stress is one if the main causes for a flare in any autoimmune condition because it leads to elevations in cortisol, which is suppressive to the immune system.

With any autoimmune condition, the goal is to improve health by identifying the triggers and removing those in an effort to minimize flare occurrence and reduction in severity when a flare happens.

  1. Arthritis Rheum.2011 Mar:63(3):633-639
  2. Autoimmune Disease Fact Sheet. American Autoimmune related Diseases Association
  3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/celiac-disease-insights/
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