Functional Medicine and Autoimmune Disease

If you suffer from one of the many types of autoimmune diseases, you likely have heard that there is no cure for your disease and you will need to take aggressive medications for the rest of your life to manage the disease. What if that was not the case? What if your immune system could get calmed down, back on track, and your symptoms could improve or even resolve completely? Currently there is a massive gap between the actual causes of autoimmunity and conventional medicine treatment. When you understand autoimmune disease as an immune system issue and not a specific organ system issue, you can have the knowledge and power to take back your health and avoid harsh treatments with side effects. Don’t settle for high powered medications that cause fatigue, weight gain, depression, infections, and even cancer when you could support, balance, and resolve your autoimmune disease.

An autoimmune disease is basically a condition that emerges when your immune system goes rogue and sends messages to your body to attack healthy systems or organs. Conventional medicine treats the organ and not the disease. If you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your immune system is attacking the thyroid. If you have Crohn’s disease, the immune system is attacking the colon and if Rheumatoid Arthritis- your joints. The common denominator is the immune system which is why autoimmune diseases should be focused on calming down and correcting the immune system function not chasing symptoms in specific organs. This is not to say the symptoms causing pain and discomfort do not get dealt with, but only by treating the immune system can the underlying issues, or root causes be truly addressed. When considering autoimmune disease there are two main things you need to do:

         1). Find the root of why your immune system has gone rogue

         2). Support and strengthen your immune system instead of suppressing it

Keep reading to understand more about root causes of autoimmune disease and how to begin correcting those to reverse autoimmune disease.

5 Underlying Causes of Autoimmune Disease

1. Leaky gut

Research and our experience in clinical practice shows that if you have an autoimmune disease, you also have a leaky gut. This means the tight junctions that normally hold your gut lining together have become loose which allows for undigested food particles, microbes, and toxins to get to your bloodstream instead of staying in the gut where the body can deal with them as it was designed. These foreign invaders causes the immune system to react with an inflammatory response. When this goes on continually, the immune system goes haywire and begins attacking your own healthy tissue.

2. Toxins

Toxins from leaky gut, but also from mold and heavy metals take a big toll on the body. They disrupt the immune system and strongly contribute to chronic inflammation- a major trigger for autoimmune conditions. Mold toxicity can come in various forms, and mycotoxins that come from mold are particularly problematic. Mold toxicity can cause fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, chronic ear and sinus infections, chronic pain, and more. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are often rooted in mold and heavy metal toxicity. Heavy metal toxicity occurs when there is high and prolonged exposure to heavy metals or when the body is too compromised to detoxify normal amounts of heavy metal exposure. Common heavy metals that are particularly problematic include copper, mercury, aluminum, lead, and arsenic.

3. Infections

Chronic infections can reside in the body for decades moving from system to system to areas of vulnerability. They are tightly linked to autoimmune disease. The symptoms can go undetected for a very long time to the untrained eye. However, a practitioner trained in spotting the blood chemistry imbalances in conjunction with your symptoms can uncover and treat chronic infections that are often the root cause of autoimmune diseases. Candida Overgrowth, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can trigger autoimmune conditions and some bacteria are more directly linked:

Lyme disease is linked to Spirochaetes bacteria, Rheumatoid Arthritis to Klebsiella, thyroid autoimmune disease to Yersinia, and Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Graves disease, Sjogrens and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome all link back to or are triggered by Epstein Barr Virus (EBV).

4. Gluten

The popularity of gluten free is much more than a fad. Gluten is a huge contributing factor to autoimmune diseases. There are three reasons for this: 1) gluten produces zonulin which breaks apart the gut lining contributing to leaky gut, 2) gluten is inflammatory and inflammation can both trigger and worsen autoimmune diseases, 3) gluten is a problem because of molecular mimicry which means the body can misread gluten molecules as foreign invaders causing the body to attack its own tissue.

5. Stress

Stress of any type disrupts the immune system. Most people live with some form of chronic stress which causes long term inflammation. Long term inflammation triggers and worsens autoimmune disease. What many people do not realize about stress and inflammation is that any type of stress prolonged causes inflammation- if you experience stress from poor sleep, difficult relationships, finances, or a schedule that is kept too full, it will take its toll on your body over time. Additionally, emotional stress, past trauma, and undelt with emotional pain are strongly linked to autoimmune conditions. These situations keep your body in a state of perceived stress 24 hours a day which. Many of the therapists we refer to or work with see this connection daily in their practice and the medical community is starting to take notice.

5 Ways to Reverse Autoimmune Disease

1. Heal Your Gut

Removing inflammatory foods and healing leaky gut is imperative to calming down autoimmune conditions. When there is a constant flood of inflammation coming from food, the body is simply too taxed to do the healing necessary. Simply changing the diet is usually not enough. When damage has been done to the gut lining, through leaky gut, excess zonulin, food sensitivities, and antigens attacking the gut tissue requires supplements to heal and seal the gut lining while also decreasing inflammation. Autoimmune protocol food plans are often necessary temporarily while your immune system calms down. The team at LifeWorks can help you know how to eat for your body.

2. Uncover Heavy Metal and Mold Toxicity

Laboratory testing is required to determine heavy metal and mold toxicity. There are effective ways to remove heavy metals and recover from mold toxicity when using a functional medicine approach that conventional medicine simply does not offer. Not only does conventional medicine not test for heavy metals and mold toxicity, but often the signs and symptoms are overlooked and misunderstood. When dealing with autoimmune conditions, and when aiming to prevent them, knowing your status of heavy metals and mold toxicity are a huge step toward your healing.

3. Find and Treat Infections

Finding chronic infections is often a big barrier in recovering from autoimmune conditions as they can ebb and flow in severity and move from one body system to another. Treating chronic infections can take time and creativity. The reason infections become chronic and are not taken care of by regular immune system activity is because they can become quite good at hiding. Biofilm is one of the ways in which infections hide. They can encase themselves in a mucus like film that protects the infection from immune cells, antibiotics, and other bacteria, fungus and viral fighting agents. Part of treating chronic infections often includes using supplements that breakdown the biofilm and expose infections for the body to fight.

4. Manage Stress

It may seem like a pipe dream to consider the lifestyle changes and steps towards decreasing stress, but it is non-negotiable when treating autoimmune diseases. The toll that physical, emotional and relational stress take on the body cannot be quantified but it is real and it is a real part of autoimmune conditions. Finding ways that work for you to move the body from fight or flight mode to rest and digest will support and speed up your healing. This could be simple mediations using apps like Calm.com or Headspace, yoga, walking, or even simply being in nature. There are many ways to reduce stress and it may require you to try new things and keep trying until you find a good fit. Getting support in processing difficult emotional issues may not seem like that big of a deal, but what it can relieve on your physical body by releasing the stress that long-term emotional issues cause is very significant.

5. Improve Sleep

Similar to managing stress, we all too often see people disregard the importance of good quality and quantity of sleep. The best chance your body has to heal, restore, and reset is at night during good sleep. There is, and will never be a replacement for sleep. Important sleep hygiene tips to consider are going to bed and waking up at the same time on weekends as weekdays, shutting down electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime, during off wifi on all devices in the room you are sleeping, and using supplements and essential oils as needed to calm the body and mind before bed.

Autoimmune diseases do not have to be debilitating, life-altering conditions that take away the life you want. They can be well managed without high powered medications and the side effects they come with. Many times autoimmune diseases can be reversed and become part of your past, not a daily reminder of pain, discomfort and failing health. Let a functional medicine specialist at LifeWorks Integrative Health help you recover from your autoimmune disease and get back to the life you love.

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