As many as 24 million people in the United States have autoimmune diseases, making it one of the most prevalent health issues in the nation. Diagnosing an autoimmune disease can be difficult because the symptoms can vary from person to person. On top of that, the early signs are often non-specific. However, you may find it answers some health-related questions you’ve had for a long time.
Autoimmune diseases generally can’t be cured, but they’re highly treatable. Functional medicine takes a holistic approach to finding the root cause, identifying the triggers, and restoring your health. It’s time to take control and get your life back. Tri-Cities Functional Medicine can help you find answers.
Sound familiar? Watch this free webinar to learn about our approach.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune diseases occur when your body’s immune system malfunctions and cannot distinguish between your own cells and other foreign, harmful cells. Normally, your immune system attacks germs such as bacteria and viruses, but with an autoimmune disease, proteins called autoantibodies attack healthy cells in your body.
Because there are numerous types of autoimmune diseases with varying symptoms, there is not one symptom that can indicate whether you have an autoimmune disease. But some common symptoms include:
- Chronic Pain
- Digestive Disorders
- Stubborn Weight
- Hormone Fluctuations
- Joint Swelling & Pain
- Dry or Irritated Skin
- Sore and Swollen Glands
- General Inflammation
- Brain Fog
- Chronic Fatigue
What are the Most Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases?
There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, that attack different parts of your body. Some of the most common types of autoimmune diseases are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Celiac Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Hashimoto’s Disease
- Graves’ Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Conventional Treatments for Autoimmune Disease
Conventional medicine develops treatment for autoimmune diseases based on the premise that autoimmune diseases are inherited. However, a genetic predisposition only predisposes you to a risk – something in your environment needs to trigger the immune reaction. While it is true that genetics play a role in autoimmune diseases, they only increase the chance of developing an autoimmune disease by 25%. The remaining 75% is environmental. Unfortunately, the conventional medicine approach only treats the symptoms and not the root of the problem, which means targeted lifestyle changes can often times be more beneficial than prescription medication for those with autoimmune disease.
Why It’s Important to Treat Autoimmune Diseases Holistically
Holistically treating an autoimmune disease focuses on determining and treating its underlying cause. It’s important to first identify factors that may be causing or triggering the harmful immune response in your body. By pinpointing these underlying factors, a patient and their functional medicine doctor can work together to design an individualized treatment plan that heals existing damage while helping to prevent continued exposure to the root cause. To do this, your time with a functional medicine doctor will include:
An in-depth questionnaire: A holistic approach to treating autoimmune disease begins with examining your medical history, home and work environment, diet, and other lifestyle factors. For example, if you are exposed to toxins at work this becomes an important factor to consider.
Testing: Comprehensive medical testing to identify hidden infections including yeast, viruses, and bacteria, as well as allergen testing, particularly for food allergens such as celiac disease, are used to aid in diagnoses. Testing will also be done to examine your intestinal health, salivary cortisol, metabolic and hormonal profiles, and nutrient levels to see if you have any nutrient absorption issues. In some cases, genetic testing is appropriate. You may also be tested for heavy metal toxicity since exposure to mercury and other metals can contribute to autoimmune disease.
There isn’t one single test that enables a functional medicine doctor to diagnose an autoimmune disease. That’s why a combination of testing, along with a comprehensive medical history and physical exam, is important. For example, the process of diagnosing an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or celiac disease starts with a blood test. To diagnose Hashimoto’s, a common example of autoimmune disease brought on by an underactive thyroid, your doctor will take a complete thyroid panel. To diagnose celiac disease, your doctor will look for antibodies in the blood produced towards gluten.
There are a series of environmental and lifestyle factors that are associated with particular autoimmune diseases, and it is actually possible to control the symptoms, if not the disease itself, by altering your habits so that you can adjust to a healthier way of living.
The treatment plan for autoimmune diseases will vary based on the particular condition and your individual needs. In many cases, the symptoms can be managed with nutrition and lifestyle changes, supplements, and sometimes medication. In some situations, like with celiac disease, many patients will go into complete remission after removing gluten from their diet. But other autoimmune diseases involve a more complicated, individualized approach.
If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that affects a specific tissue, such as your joints, your gut, or your thyroid, it is important to remember that the real issue lies in the immune system. So, for example, if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, this is an immune system problem, not a thyroid problem. To treat this condition, you will need to restore balance to the immune system, or your thyroid issues will persist, no matter how much thyroid medication you take.
Living a Full Life with An Autoimmune Disease
If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, there are ways to ensure you are able to live a healthy and full life. The following strategies are shown to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with autoimmune disease.
Start by Fixing Your Gut
Diet plays a significant role in the management and remission of autoimmune disease. This makes sense, considering about 70% of your immune system is located in the lining of your gut. Research shows that an imbalanced gut can lead to autoimmune diseases, so supporting a healthy microbiome can help prevent and manage flareups brought on by your condition. While there are a variety of diets that focus on immune system health, remember that your immune system is unique, and what works for someone else may not work for you.
Nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics can help calm your immune response naturally. You could also consider taking anti-inflammatory nutrients like grape seed extract or rutin.
Focus on Your Wellbeing
Regular exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory, and relaxation can help improve your body’s immune response. It’s an essential part of maintaining your physical and mental well-being.
Support Your Body’s Systems
No system in your body functions alone. Decreased function in other systems – such as the endocrine, digestive, or nervous system – can contribute to your autoimmune disease. Certain lifestyle changes can help you maintain healthy body systems, thus supporting your immune system.
If you struggle with autoimmune disease, know that there are treatment options outside of invasive surgery and medications. Functional medicine offers alternative treatment options that will help you experience better health while living with an autoimmune disease.
If you would like help managing your symptoms, schedule a free discovery call today.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.