Autoimmune diseases are rising exponentially in the United States. While there are many theories as to why autoimmune diseases are increasing, it’s likely that there are many factors at play.
Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks its own body’s healthy tissue. The type of tissue that is attacked determines what kind of autoimmune disease develops. For instance, when the pancreas is attacked Type I diabetes is the end result and when the thyroid is involved either Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves disease ensues. There are many different kinds of autoimmune diseases, some without specific names.
What causes the immune system to run rampant and attack your healthy tissues is different from person to person, though there are commonalities. Because of the complex nature of autoimmune disease and how the underlying causes are specific and unique to each person, it requires an individualized diagnostic approach and a personalized treatment plan. Read more about autoimmunity and ‘molecular mimicry’ here.
There is no magic pill for treating autoimmune disease. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to find a certified Functional Medicine Physician who specializes in autoimmune disease to start your journey to becoming Fully Functional® right away.
You may hear that autoimmune disease is permanent and to be prepared to treat your condition for the long haul. While it is not always possible, the abnormal immune response that leads to autoimmune disease can absolutely be halted and many times the effects of the disease, reversed.
Examples of Autoimmune Diseases
While there are many different autoimmune diseases, here are some of the most common – alongside their corresponding tissues and most often seen symptoms:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland causing hypothyroidism. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of people with hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s is typically just treated with thyroid hormone replacement and often doctors don’t look for autoimmune disease. Symptoms of Hashimoto’s are those of hypothyroidism and include unexplained weight gain, fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, depression, inability to exercise, lateral eyebrow hair loss, and some skin conditions.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – People often confuse rheumatoid arthritis with osteoarthritis. The autoimmune condition (RA) is when your immune system is attacking healthy joints. Therefore, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint related and include pain of the joints, stiffness (usually worse in the morning), deformities of the fingers (typically) and fatigue.
- Lupus – Lupus is when your immune system attacks many tissues throughout the body which can include your heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, joints, blood vessels, and brain. Symptoms of lupus are often multisystem and confusing. They include joint pain, muscle, fever, hair loss, chest pain, rashes, swelling around the eyes, mouth ulcers, and extreme fatigue.
- Type 1 diabetes – Many people don’t realize that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas, which causes it to slow or stop insulin production. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, hunger, blurred vision, and fatigue. Diabetes can cause damage to many bodily systems.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (“IBD”) – This includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions can result in severe diarrhea, bloody stool, extreme fatigue, abdominal pain, and weight loss.
- Celiac disease – This is an autoimmune condition in which consumption of gluten (a protein complex found in wheat and many other grains) causes the body to attack the small intestines leading to inflammation and sloughing of the lining of the GI tract. Symptoms may be isolated to the GI tract (bloating, pain, weight loss, bloody stools) but neurologic system findings including headaches and difficulty walking as well as a rash known as “dermatitis herpetiformis” may be seen. It is also possible to have symptoms in several systems at once.
- Sjogren’s – Also called “keratoconjunctivitis sicca”. This condition is caused by an autoimmune attack on the salivary glands and eye lubricating (lacrimal) glands. Symptoms include dry eyes and a very dry mouth.
- Graves disease – This is an autoimmune condition which causes overactivity of the thyroid gland (“hyperthyroidism”) and often protrusion of the eyes, called “proptosis”. Symptoms include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, fever, tremors, and visual changes. When sudden and severe, patients can have a “thyroid storm” which is a true medical emergency.
Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
Autoimmune disease symptoms differ depending on the specific type of condition, as above. If you’ve been told you have a problem with an organ within your body such as your thyroid, it is possible that you have an autoimmune disease where your immune system is attacking that particular organ tissue. Consider having a simple blood test for autoantibodies.
Autoimmune Disease Causes
It’s more accurate to think of the causes of autoimmune diseases as contributors because there is usually more than one factor at play which causes dysfunction of the immune system response. The contributors of autoimmune disease differ from person to person, though there are a few common factors. Autoimmune disease contributors include:
- Gut microbiome imbalance – Your microbiome (the bacteria in the intestines) must contain the proper species of bacteria in the proper numbers and in proper ratios. If sufficient healthy bacteria are not present or unhealthy pathogenic bacteria are present, the microbiome is said to be “unbalanced”.
- Leaky gut syndrome – also known as “increased intestinal permeability”. Your intestine functions as a barrier and, when healthy, only allows certain food proteins to cross. If there is an impairment in the ability to regulate which food proteins cross the barrier undigested, leaky gut ensues. This is a common cause of food allergies and sensitivities.
- Overuse of antibiotics – which cause both leaky gut and an imbalanced microbiome by killing the “good” bacteria.
- Extremely poor diet – adequate nutrients such as zinc and vitamin D are required to maintain the healthy gut barrier. Inflammatory foods also impair the gut wall. Additives and preservatives or chemicals in processed foods are also an additional load on the immune system which may contribute to overactivity.
- Underlying infections – Some chronic infections are associated with autoimmune diseases.
- Toxin exposure – any chemical your body encounters must be evaluated and dealt with in some way by the immune system. If this response gets “stuck on”, autoimmunity can occur.
- Certain medications – are associated with increased risk for autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune Disease Treatments
When it comes to treating your autoimmune disease, treatments will depend on what tissues in the body are affected. However, immune system dysregulation and widespread inflammation are underlying factors in all autoimmune diseases. So, while we are running diagnostics and identifying personal triggers, we will get you started on some therapies to reduce these factors and support a healthy immune response, which helps you find relief faster. And that’s what we are all about!
Some of our favorite ways to reduce inflammation and restore immune system function include:
- Healing the gut – The first thing we do is make sure your gut is in tip-top shape. When your gut isn’t functioning well, it can be causing inflammation throughout the body and preventing you from getting the nutrients you need. Conditions like intestinal permeability not only contribute to your autoimmune disease, it can also cause nutrient deficiencies.
- Correcting lifestyle habits for better health – Usually, there are lifestyle changes we can make right off the bat that help your immune system strengthen and respond appropriately, so you can find immediate relief. These recommendations are unique to you.
- Checking and treating for underlying infections – It’s fairly common with autoimmune disease that there is an underlying infection that triggered your condition. Pathogens like reactivated Epstein-Barr virus and Lyme disease can autoimmune disease reactions.
- Infrared sauna – Infrared saunas are great for people with autoimmune disease because they help reduce inflammation and promote detoxification. Infrared saunas are also great for people who are having a hard time exercising due to their illness.
- Lymphatic drainage massage – Lymphatic drainage massages are a type of therapeutic massage that promotes lymphatic system flow. This helps your body detoxify and can release blockages. All of our lymphatic drainage massages are done on our BioMat, which has additional advantages.
- BioMat therapy – Our BioMat floods your body with negative ions, which fights free radicals and inflammation in the body.
When you’re treated for an autoimmune disease at Vine Healthcare, you receive a personalized treatment plan and support every step of the way so that you can get your condition under control.
We’ve developed our Fully Functional® process so that you can live a rich and fulfilling life, even in the face of your autoimmune condition. Many of our patients are surprised at just how well they can manage and often reverse any evidence of their autoimmune disease with this proprietary process.
Finding an Autoimmune Disease Specialist
When it comes to finding an autoimmune disease specialist, we recommend finding a certified Functional Medicine Physician with extensive experience treating autoimmune conditions.
If you are in Carmel, Indiana or the Indianapolis area and are looking for a certified Functional Medicine Physician, Drs. Ellen and Scott Antoine have many years of experience in treating and successfully managing chronic autoimmune conditions. They are also board certified in Emergency Medicine and have extensive experience in treating the very sickest patients both in and out of the hospital. You can request an appointment here or call our office at 317-989-8463.