The human body has an amazing capacity to heal itself, and most of the time it can do so effectively if we are able to consistently support its needs by giving it the nutrition, rest and movement it needs in order to maintain a state of physiological and psychological balance. The problem is – we don’t.
In early stages of disease our bodies often speak to us through the subtle language of symptoms (i.e. headache, constipation, fatigue, etc) as a way to inform us that “something isn’t right” and yet because these symptoms are often not yet significant enough to disrupt our day to day lives, we ignore the cry for help and often resort to using simple therapies to suppress the symptoms. However as this battle continues, and our body, mind and spirit continuously try to adapt to an increasingly harmful and imbalanced state, our symptoms increase in number, frequency and intensity. The body then begins to breakdown. In the case of autoimmune disease, our immune system begins mistaking healthy cells and tissues within our body for antigens (i.e. bacteria, viruses), resulting in a chronic inflammatory attack on our own tissues as if they were infected by something foreign. Common examples include the formation of immune complexes to joints as seen with Rheumatoid Arthritis or to the thyroid gland as seen with autoimmune thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s or Graves disease.
Autoimmune diseases vary widely and are classified based on the tissues that are being attacked and the symptoms they cause. Examples of autoimmune diseases include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Celiac Disease – all of which are on the rise in the United States.
A Conventional Medical Approach to Autoimmune Disease
Conventional medical treatments for autoimmune diseases typically include immunosuppressive medications, steroidal anti-inflammatories or hormone replacement therapy (in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Type 1 diabetes mellitus). While these medications can effectively relieve pain and/or treat the outcome of the disease, they do not address the underlying cause for the immune dysregulation nor do they prevent the disease from progressing. Depending on where someone is the stages of the disease process, pharmaceutical interventions may or may not be necessary. Dietary and lifestyle factors are often overlooked and their impacts on health are dismissed.
A Naturopathic Medical Approach to Autoimmune Disease
Acknowledging that the human body functions as a complete unit with each organ system influencing and impacting another, a naturopathic medical approach to autoimmunity includes looking at all aspects of a person’s health. Because every person interacts with their internal and external environment in a unique way, it is important to understand how each person’s body, mind and spirit responds to a stressor and the adaptations it makes in attempt to restore balance. In the case of autoimmunity where the body is mistakenly attacking itself, discovering how to best support the body can take time and often requires the use of specialty laboratory testing to identify triggers (i.e. infections, food sensitivities) and treatments that will maximize healing and minimize further destruction.
Topics for All Patients Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Condition to Consider
The type of foods you consume has a significant impact on your overall health and autoimmune condition. Giving your body the fuel it needs for proper nourishment and detoxification is crucial. Eating foods rich in the right kind of nutrients, avoiding foods that trigger inflammatory responses, and eating a diet that stabilizes your blood sugar appropriately provides the fuel your body needs to thrive and serves as a form of "medicine" that can be used to restore and maintain health.
Throughout your daily life, your body is exposed to pollutants. They are found in the air, water, and food. This makes them impossible to avoid and requires your body to regularly flush these toxic chemicals from your system. If your body is unable to eradicate these chemicals, due to overexposure or an autoimmune deficiency, you can experience devastating and long-lasting effects to your health. Minimizing your exposure to toxic chemicals is an important element in treating autoimmune diseases. Sources of toxic exposures to consider include heavy metals (including amalgams), diet, plastics, cleaning agents, and hygiene products.
Your gut makes up the largest portion of your body’s digestive tract - a complex pathway that extends from your mouth to your anus. Out of all the organs in your digestive tract, it is your gut which does the lion’s share of work in the actual process of digestion (breaking down and turning food into energy). When operating properly, your gut helps your body sort the good nutrients from the bad toxins so any harmful chemicals can be flushed from you system. Because more than 60% of your immune system resides within the gut, when your gut fails to sort the good from the bad, harmful toxins can enter your bloodstream. By correcting digestive issues, you can protect your immune system and relieve symptoms caused by autoimmune disease.
Long-term inflammation may cause you discomfort and undesirable symptoms. Untreated, it can disrupt your body's ability to communicate. We prioritize finding and addressing the root cause of your inflammation, so that it can be addressed through with a natural treatment plan to optimize your well-being.
Our overall health is affected by how we eat, breathe, think, move and supplement. The negative impacts that stress has on the health of our mind, body and spirit is significantly underestimated in modern medicine. Because high levels of cortisol can disrupt the healthy functioning of every and any organ system in the body, restoring proper adrenal function, incorporating effective stress management techniques, and addressing nervous system imbalances are always integrated into treatment plans and considered to be an essential aspect to managing autoimmunity.
Not all supplements are created equally and, in fact, taking certain supplements may aggravate your autoimmune condition.