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Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system attacks your own body. Autoimmunity may lead to thyroid disease, diabetes, skin disorders, and more.

A surprising percentage of the population is affected by autoimmune conditions. Since the 1950s, autoimmune diseases have been on the rise amongst Americans. This widespread problem is largely due to environmental triggers such as gut health.

While conventional medicine focuses on managing symptoms of autoimmune disease, we strive to reverse it. Functional medicine focuses on addressing the root trigger for your autoimmune condition and helping your body distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells.

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What Is Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmunity causes your immune system – your body’s defense against harmful bacteria and viruses – to become confused and to attack healthy cells in your body by mistake. These attacks can lead to joint swelling and pain, recurring fever, sore and swollen glands, chronic fatigue, digestive disorders, and more.

You can also look at autoimmunity as a result of a hypersensitized immune system. Hypersensitivity causes your body’s immune cells to overreact, leading to excessive inflammation and damaging your body’s healthy cells in the process. Your immune system’s sole function is to protect the body, not to harm it.

How does your system become hypersensitive? There is some genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases, but environmental factors are major catalysts for autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity is often a result of overloading your immune system daily with things such as poor food choices or environmental toxins from your cosmetics. Over time, these lifestyle factors can cause your immune system to stay on “high alert” at all times, accidentally attacking various systems in your body.

There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and more.

In most cases, conventional medicine treats autoimmune diseases by prescribing steroids or immunosuppressants. However, this approach doesn’t treat the underlying causes of the disease. For example, imagine you are standing on a tack. Conventional medicine would prescribe medication to address the pain, while functional medicine would search for the tack and remove it. I think we can all agree on which treatment method we’d prefer!

Many medications suppress the immune system in totality. This diminishes your immune system and can put you at risk for other health problems. Sometimes medication is necessary, but it should be a last resort after all other methods have failed or used to prevent further harm to your body.

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The Shift Toward Functional Medicine

When a system in your body begins to malfunction, the solution is not to suppress it. Medications prescribed by conventional doctors do not restore function or improve the effectiveness of your immune system. On the other hand, functional medicine does not suppress your immune system when treating autoimmunity. Instead, it tackles the root cause of your pain and symptoms.

Another problem with conventional medicine is that it often uses the same treatment methods regardless of the particular autoimmune condition you suffer from. And to be fair, autoimmune diseases are notoriously difficult to treat. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for autoimmunity. But a functional medicine approach that treats the whole body can help you finally feel free of symptoms.

If you want to restore true health, you need to figure out why your immune system went from functioning normally to attacking your body. Something happened to cause your body to go into this abnormal state of malfunction. That’s where functional medicine comes in.

By identifying the underlying sources, functional medicine can help heal your body. Conventional medicine doctors are primarily taught to diagnose disease by symptom and not look for the underlying causes. Whereas functional medicine doctors are trained to look at the body as a whole. Functional medicine seeks to find the cause of illness and restore balance to the body.

The approaches are fundamentally different. But there has been a shift towards functional medicine in recent years as patients have become increasingly frustrated with conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is often ineffective in the long-term treatment of autoimmune conditions. More and more patients are choosing an approach that goes beyond simply treating diseases and instead looks for the root cause. Functional medicine offers an alternative to merely suppressing your symptoms.

What Is the Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Autoimmune Disease?

The functional medicine approach to treating autoimmune diseases involves detecting the illness correctly and then understanding why the immune system got confused in the first place.

First, a functional medicine doctor will look at your entire lifestyle to identify factors that may be causing or triggering the excessive immune response in your body. This allows the functional medicine doctor to work with you to design a holistic treatment plan that heals existing damage and prevents further flareups. Below we outline a few of the things functional medicine can do to help you manage or prevent autoimmune diseases.

  1. Identify and Eliminate Potentional Toxins

Sometimes, toxins can trigger autoimmune diseases. For example, smoking cigarettes may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Examples of environmental toxins are pesticides, ultraviolet lights, and heavy metals such as mercury.

Our bodies are designed to detoxify themselves, but the toxic load can become too heavy for your body to handle on its own. A functional medicine doctor will ask about your potential exposures. Suppose they suspect a toxin is a trigger. In that case, they may recommend various solutions – from changing the home cleaning products you use to drinking filtered water only.

  •  Identify and Heal Underlying Infections

Many people experiencing autoimmune disease may have underlying infections causing the runaway autoimmune response. Examples include sinus infections, yeast infections, and bacterial infections. A functional medicine doctor can help identify and treat these conditions to heal autoimmune diseases holistically.

  • Identify Hidden Food Allergies

Sensitivities or allergies to certain foods can also trigger autoimmune diseases. Dairy and gluten are some of the most common culprits. A functional medicine doctor will work with you to identify foods that may be triggering your autoimmune response and help devise a treatment plan for eliminating these factors in your diet.

  • Heal Your Leaky Gut

More than half of autoimmune diseases lie right under your gut. If the lining of your gut breaks down, your immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins, and bugs in your gut. The easiest way to begin healing your gut involves eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet.

A functional medicine doctor can teach you what foods to avoid and help you adopt a gut-healthy lifestyle.

  • Improve Your Immunity

Strengthening your immune system will help protect you from infections that can lead to autoimmune diseases. This can often be done by improving your diet, getting adequate sleep, or sometimes by taking select supplements.

Ultimately, your functional medicine doctor will run lab tests to figure out what’s amiss and then craft a custom treatment protocol specifically for your situation. Treating autoimmune diseases involves a custom blend of lifestyle changes which may include changing your diet, reducing your stress levels, and incorporating natural medicines to restore and retrain your immune system.

Healing from an autoimmune disease is a process that takes time and commitment from both patient and doctor.

If you have been experiencing symptoms that may be connected with autoimmune diseases and are looking for answers, schedule a free discovery call with us 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.