Autoimmune diseases are one of the top 10 causes of death in women under the age of 65, and the top cause of morbidity in women in the United States. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise in around the world and becoming more and more common. Conditions such as thyroid problems (especially Hashimoto’s), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis are all autoimmune diseases and can be considered a health crisis at levels comparable to heart disease and cancer.
Autoimmune diseases can cause many different types of symptoms all over the body that range from mild to severe. They occur when the immune system gets confused and “attacks” normal tissue instead of protecting us from outside pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. When this happens, the body forms antibodies to healthy tissue. These antibodies and associated inflammation ultimately destroy tissues in the body.
Autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose, and symptoms can vary widely. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of damage at a cellular level for abnormalities to show up in lab work, so many people are frustrated by years of symptoms and being told that “everything looks normal” by doctors.
CAUSES OF AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
Numerous underlying factors cause people to develop an autoimmune condition. There certainly is an underlying genetic component. However, whether these genes get turned on is caused by a host of other factors, such as toxins from heavy metals like mercury, mycotoxins from molds, infections like Candida, Epstein-Barr and herpes simplex virus, and most significantly, chronic inflammation tied to food sensitivities – particularly intolerance. There is a significant link between autoimmune disease and leaky gut.
SYMPTOMS OF AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially a combination of several of them, you may have an autoimmune condition.
- joint pain, muscle pain or weakness;
- weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance or rapid heartbeat;
- recurrent rashes or hives, sun sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks;
- difficulty concentrating or focusing;
- feeling tired or fatigued, weight gain or cold intolerance;
- hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth;
- abdominal pain, blood or mucus in your stool, diarrhea or mouth ulcers;
- dry eyes, mouth or skin;
- numbness or tingling in your hands or feet; and miscarriages.
UNDERLYING ROOT CAUSES
The most common underlying root causes of autoimmunity are:
- Chronic stress & hormone imbalances
Our bodies are built with a natural and very useful alarm system. For example, if we encounter a large dog that starts to bark and run at us, the hypothalamus at the base of the brain signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supply so that you can run away. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brains use of glucose and increase the ability to repair tissue. This is the fight or flight response. This response also stops non-essential function like digestion, reproduction, and growth. This is all good – if presented with a threat, but when we live in a constant state of stress, this response becomes very detrimental to our health and the cortisol and adrenaline start breaking down our bodies. Our culture exposes us to more chronic stress than at any other time in history. We are bombarded with a constant stream of violence, crime, and crisis. We are overscheduled, overwhelmed and exhausted.
- Nutrient deficiencies
The standard American diet (SAD) is overloaded with processed food that has little to no nutritional value, and harmful chemicals. The SAD is high in meat, dairy, process and artificially sweetened foods, and starchy foods like bread. Obesity in America is reaching nearly epidemic proportions and the rate of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer continue to rise. These diseases are all connected to what we eat. In the last 65 years, the amount of sugar we eat has dramatically increased, and the source of sugar has radically changed. In the 1950’s, most of the sugar consumed by Americans was from cane and beet sugar. Today, over half of the sugar consumption comes from corn or high-fructose corn syrup. In addition to most foods being processed, many are also genetically modified. Wheat today has nearly 30 percent fewer minerals than it did decades ago and provides no nutritional benefit. We are not getting enough nutrients to support proper function of our bodies.
- Chronic stealth infections
Among the most common infections seen with autoimmune diseases are Epstein-Barr, Lyme, Candida and molds. As much as 95 percent of the general population may be infected by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which belongs to the herpes family. In its acute infectious stage, EBV is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva and genital fluids. This stealth virus uses DNA methylation to protect itself from the immune system and essentially hide among our cells. Lyme disease is spread by ticks, spider, mosquitos and other insects and is often caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This coil like bacteria embeds itself in muscles and tendons and can hide as well. Candida is virtually everywhere and is a yeast that changes to fungus when the conditions are right. Under certain circumstances, Candida can exist in the intestines and can proliferate due to antibiotic overuse, hormonal imbalances, stress, diets high in sugar or high alcohol intake. There are many forms of infection that can live undetected and have a major impact on health. Functional stool testing can identify these infections and should be a priority every year as we encounter pathogens and infections daily.
- Toxic exposure
Chronic exposure to toxins happens from multiple sources. Pesticides, overuse of medications, heavy metals, electro-magnetic fields (EMF’s), pollution, smog, GMO’s, poor water quality, molds, the list goes on. According to the CDC, 48.5 percent of Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, and 21.7 use three or more prescription drugs.
- Poor gut function
The health of your gut is incredibly important to your overall wellbeing. Its role is to obtain, sort through, and deliver nutrients to the rest of the body. If this does not occur correctly, a wide variety of health complications can take place. Leaky gut is an emerging gastrointestinal condition that has proven to cause dysfunction in nearly all organ systems throughout the body. Leaky gut occurs when the membrane of the gut become permeable due to damage and allows undigested food particles in to the rest of the body, which can then trigger the immune response. Digestive distress, decreased immunity, mood instability, and hormonal imbalances are only a few of the many issues caused by poor gut health and insufficient digestion. Unfortunately, much of the prescribed treatments for these concerns are counterproductive. They may provide temporary relief from symptoms, but very rarely acknowledge the need for digestive support.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
Autoimmune diseases are thought to be chronic, lifelong conditions. Standard treatments usually involve attempts to control the progression of the disease and to decrease the symptoms, especially during flare-ups. Functional medicine uses a model of personalized care that focuses on the root cause of dysfunction to offer sustainable health transformation. Functional medicine’s primary goal is to heal the gut, improve digestion, and address imbalances within the body to restore function. When a person is equipped with knowledge and is empowered, the symptoms from the autoimmune condition can be minimized to the point where you can live your life with an overall sense of health and well-being.
If you are suffering from autoimmunity, schedule a consult today to find out more about our program. Our approach is simple. Modify lifestyle factors and test and address any issues that are interfering with the ability of your body to function optimally. Often when this is done, the body will heal itself and correct the dysfunction.