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Functional Medicine and Autoimmune Disease: A New Hope

Nov 20, 2023 | Blog

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Functional Medicine and Autoimmune Disease

Most conventionally trained doctors view autoimmune disease as a problem of a specific part of your body. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is addressed as a bone or joint disease and Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroid) as a thyroid problem. Therefore, they try to ‘fix’ the bones or, in the case of Hashimoto’s, they try to manipulate thyroid hormone levels by prescribing synthetic (fake) thyroid hormone.

In contrast, functional medicine doctors look at the whole body and the environment to determine the underlying reason as to why the bones or thyroid is being attacked, causing them to not function properly and provides protocols to address the real, root causes of autoimmunity. This functional medicine approach involves considering the role of autoimmune response, nutritional deficiencies, infections, toxicity, and other types of stress in the development of autoimmune diseases.

So, in Hashimoto’s, for example, you do not have a thyroid problem. You have a thyroid victim. Your real problem is an out-of-control immune system. As such, you must discover why your immune system is attacking your body, which is crucial in the treatment for autoimmune conditions.

The good news is that the root causes of autoimmunity can be uncovered and addressed, but only if you understand the role that nutritional deficiencies, infections, toxicity, and other types of stress play in influencing your overall health. This comprehensive approach to treating autoimmune disorders takes into account the common autoimmune diseases and their associated symptoms.

4 Reasons to Take Care of Your Autoimmunity Immediately

Remember, the real problem is that you have an autoimmune disease. It’s not the body part that’s being attacked that’s the problem, like the bones in rheumatoid arthritis or the thyroid in Hashimoto’s disease. Autoimmunity affects various health conditions, and understanding the autoimmune response is essential.

Your body tissue is the victim of the real problem:

Out-of-Control Immune System: An out-of-control immune system that may one day start to attack other parts of your body, increasing the risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. This is a risk associated with many autoimmune patients, who may already have evidence of more than one autoimmune disorder.

Chronic Inflammation in the Body and Brain: Inflammation is the cause of all chronic, degenerative disease. When the body attacks itself, inflammation results because the best definition of inflammation is simply ‘The body’s response to an injury.’ Autoimmunity raises your risk of neurogenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, and may be responsible for cognitive decline.

Sudden, persistent Food and Environmental Sensitivities: Including food sensitivities, can be a sign of autoimmunity.

Intestinal Permeability/(Leaky Gut): A main underlying cause for virtually all autoimmune disorders is a broken gut, and uncontrolled Hashimoto’s also attacks the gut lining, worsening the problem. This could aggravate symptoms such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain.

The Top 5 Real Root Causes of Autoimmunity

As a reminder, most conventionally trained doctors and researchers believe that autoimmune diseases can’t be effectively halted and so they prescribe drugs every day to try and solve the problem.

Wrong! So, if you don’t want to watch your own body destroy itself, let’s talk about some potential triggers of autoimmunity, including the role of autoimmune response, nutritional deficiencies, infections, toxicity, and other types of stress.

#1. Stress (Physical, Mental or Emotional)

The first is stress, which includes physical, mental, or emotional stress. Stress is probably the single most important trigger of autoimmunity and is associated with the development of autoimmune diseases.

And by stress, I am referring to all types of stress, including emotional stress stemming from issues such as the stress from relationships, physical stress which includes things like exercise, trauma or accidents, overtraining/intense workouts, etc., and social stress, which tends to be more mental in origin and can stem from anything that you perceive as pressure. This may include things like issues with your work environment and so on.

Major life events can have a dramatic impact on your health and can trigger the onset of all sorts of diseases including autoimmune diseases.

Does this mean hope is lost?

Not at all. There are still things that you can do to increase how well your body tolerates stress but it’s unlikely that you will be able to completely eliminate stress from your life, especially in all of its forms.

But if you believe that stress did trigger autoimmunity in your body then focusing on lifestyle strategies like meditation and breathwork are great options.

#2. Infections

Another common trigger of autoimmune diseases is infections.

EBV Infection: EBV stands for Epstein Barr virus but you may know it as mono (infectious mononucleosis). The EBV virus is really good at evading your immune system and once you get this infection it stays with you for life.

If your body gets the virus under control it hides in your cells where it can come out again during times of stress or when the immune system is weakened (similar to chickenpox).

Once you get chickenpox you are immune from getting chickenpox but during stressful times in your life, the same virus can reappear as shingles. Treating the EBV virus, in this case, can potentially have a positive impact on calming down your immune system.

H. Pylori bacterial infection: Other infections also have the potential to trigger autoimmunity. While EBV is a virus a similar process can occur through certain bacterial infections. H. Pylori is one of those. H. Pylori is well known by the scientific community because it causes stomach ulcers.

It prefers to live in a low stomach acid environment so anything that you do to reduce the acidity in your stomach may create a breeding ground for it to thrive.

Therefore, you risk developing this type of infection as you take drugs and therapies which lower your stomach acid. Even over the counter medications such as acid blockers can do this.

Once an infection has taken root, it gets into your stomach lining and causes inflammation in the stomach wall. An infection with H. Pylori also causes issues with the immune system. Infections with H. Pylori have definitely been implicated in triggering Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is estimated that up to 50% of the world’s population has been infected with this bacterium!

For this reason, it’s a very good idea to check for H. Pylori infection if you have Hashimoto’s.

#3. Nutritional Deficiencies

You probably already know that nutrient levels play an important role in how your body functions. As an example, let’s talk about Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency by itself isn’t going to cause autoimmunity but a low vitamin D level makes you more susceptible to stress and/or infections because it can impair your overall immune system resilience.

#4. Food Intolerances/Sensitivities

Gluten sensitivity, this means people who cannot tolerate gluten. Gluten is a protein from wheat that can cause inflammation in both the gut and the body. Many people are sensitive to it but they just don’t know it!

This inflammation causes problems in the lining of your gut and leads to something called leaky gut which is damage to the lining of your intestines which is there to protect you from foreign objects getting into the bloodstream. As the damage increases, larger particles of bacteria can enter into your bloodstream and then interact with your immune system.

This series of steps can then lead to autoimmunity as your immune system attacks what it sees as an invader. In celiac disease, your immune system creates antibodies to gluten which causes inflammation and damage throughout the body.

In non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), your body has a difficult time managing gluten and responds to gluten with inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, visceral hypersensitivity, and immune disruption.

It’s not a true autoimmune disease but it’s still a problem and it should be taken seriously! The good news is that you don’t really have to worry much about diagnosing one over the other.

Why? Because it’s easy to treat the problem by simply taking gluten out of your diet!

Because the prevalence of gluten issues is high among autoimmune patients, removing gluten (and ideally all grains) from your diet for 90 days may significantly help improve inflammation and immune function in your body.

#5. Environmental Chemicals/Toxicity (including Heavy Metals and Pesticides)

Environmental chemical toxicity is a potentially hazardous condition from toxins in our environment.

Environmental toxins are synthetic chemicals that disrupt our biology. They often mimic our hormones, our endocrine system, acting as endocrine disruptors.

They have been linked to cancer and the development of other chronic diseases. This includes the increased prevalence of autism, Alzheimer’s and other extremely debilitating neurological disorders. Even though they have never been fully evaluated for long-term safety, they have the potential to wreak havoc on the body.

Some types are more destructive than others, but all do some degree of harm.

The real problem is, we live in a sea of toxicity. Environmental toxins are everywhere! They saturate the soil, water, air, household products, cosmetics and our food chain. Many of the products that fill the shelves of your local grocery store and full of all kinds of environmental toxins.

They have been called ‘forever chemicals’, because they can persist in the environment for years without breaking down.

In addition to several types of cancer and serious neurological problems, they have also been linked to diseases. These environmental factors are associated with the risk of autoimmune conditions.

Advanced Testing for Toxicity in the Body

In many cases, toxicity can be directly addressed. (See optimizing detoxification protocol information below).

However, without advanced testing, it is difficult to know with certainty that your body has accumulated these poisons. It’s also difficult to diagnose since conventional medicine does not prioritize the fact that they are a problem.

Fortunately, while most doctors ignore the role of these toxic metals, Functional Medicine practitioners do consider environmental factors that affect health and have advanced testing that can uncover these hidden factors of poor health.

If you would like to know if you have environmental chemicals and/or heavy metal toxicity, an advanced yet simple test is a urine test. Excreting an elevated level of these heavy metals is a sure sign of toxicity, and a big clue to one of the biggest triggers of autoimmune thyroid.

The best, most advanced lab that offers heavy metal testing is Vibrant America. Ultimate key to removing environmental chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals – optimize detoxification.

Normally, your immune system defends against the daily assault of all environmental chemicals, including pesticides and heavy metal toxicity, but only when it is working correctly and not being overwhelmed by the extremely high toxic burden all around us.

Failure of your body’s natural ability to detoxify itself from toxins results in health issues, including autoimmune disease.

Supporting the body’s ability to bind to and eliminate toxins is a key part of healing from this toxic exposure. So, you must support your body’s natural detoxification and drainage systems. New, emerging technology, designed to help remove toxins and supporting drainage systems (your body’s natural ability to eliminate poisons from itself) are necessary to successfully recover from this kind of toxicity.

Let’s examine this more closely.

How Do I Get Rid of These Toxins in My Body?

Special agents that bind toxins in the gut and in other tissues so they can be more easily excreted are required for this. An excellent, natural remedy for binding environmental toxins is called Carbon Technology. Made of specially-selected and precisely-formulated extracts of fulvic and humic acids, Carbon Technology uses these natural substances to tightly bind toxins to help remove them from your body via stools.

The fulvic and humic acids in Carbon Technology have advantages to binders like activated charcoal and bentonite clay, two common binders. One big advantage is that Carbon Technology can travel beyond the gut.

Also, fulvic and humic acid extracts are a good source of nutrition, including amino acids, phytochemicals, and minerals. This is good since cells damaged by pesticides and environmental chemicals need to self-repair.

Clear Out Other Pathogens

Because environmental chemicals, including pesticides and heavy metals, can weaken your immune system, other chronic infections — such as parasites and viruses — may more easily take hold in your body.

It becomes a vicious cycle because then these parasites make the body more vulnerable to chemical toxicity. Either way, removing unwanted parasites from the body helps reduce the stress on the whole body.

There Is Hope

Autoimmunity can appear to be an unsolvable condition, but it is a stubborn puzzle that can be solved.

Most conventional doctors are more interested in managing autoimmunity with medication than they are in digging deep to try and reverse it by addressing why the specific body tissue is being attacked by your own immune system.  Functional Medicine, by contrast, provides an effective protocol by addressing root causes.

While it may not be possible to completely cure any autoimmune disease, there are things that you can do in Functional Medicine to put it into remission by significantly calming down an out-of-control immune system.

Changing up your diet (to solve nutritional deficiencies), taking whole food (not synthetic) supplements, checking for things like gluten sensitivity as well as other bacterial or viral infections, and optimizing your body’s own detoxification systems are the best way to help you look and feel your best.