Getting an autoimmune diagnosis can feel very discouraging. How can it be that your own body begins to turn on itself? Maybe you haven’t gotten a diagnosis, but you’ve had many strange symptoms that are seemingly unrelated like joint pain, fatigue, digestive problems and skin rashes. You can tell that something is off with your body.
To gain a little understanding of what might be happening, let’s dive into a basic level description of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are categorized as a group of disorders that occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells and tissues. Crazy, right? There are over 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, affecting approximately 315 million people around the globe. Women are 3x more likely than men to struggle with these disorders. Because the initial symptoms can come and go and are often vague, autoimmune disease can be difficult to diagnose. These diseases can affect any part of the body, and the symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Common autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. 90-95% of hypothyroidism is from Hashimoto’s, an auto-immune disease!
Conventional medicine typically treats autoimmune diseases with immunosuppressive drugs, which aim to reduce the activity of the immune system. Essentially, it’s trying to disengage your body’s natural defense system because its targets have gone haywire. While these drugs can be effective at managing symptoms of the autoimmune disorder, they often come with significant side effects and may not address the underlying causes of the disease. One of the biggest side effects is a result of telling your body’s protection to back down leaving you open to more risk of infection. This is where functional medicine can be a valuable approach to treating autoimmune diseases.
Functional medicine is a patient-centered approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of illness, rather than just managing symptoms. This approach recognizes that every individual is unique, and therefore each patient’s treatment plan must be tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.
Key Principles of Functional Medicine for Autoimmune Diseases: Understanding an Integrative Approach:
Addressing underlying factors contributing to autoimmunity
Functional medicine recognizes that autoimmune diseases are not caused by a single factor, but rather a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. These can include chronic infections, gut dysbiosis, environmental toxins, stress, and nutrient deficiencies. By identifying and addressing these underlying factors, functional medicine practitioners can help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system.
Supporting gut health
The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” and plays a crucial role in overall health and immunity. Gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria, has been linked to the development of autoimmune diseases. A functional medicine approach to treating autoimmune diseases typically involves addressing gut health through dietary changes, probiotics, and other interventions to support a healthy gut microbiome.
Addressing nutrient deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to immune dysfunction and inflammation. A functional medicine approach to treating autoimmune diseases typically involves assessing nutrient status and addressing any deficiencies through diet and supplementation.
Inflammation is a key driver of autoimmune diseases. Functional medicine practitioners use a variety of interventions to reduce inflammation, including dietary changes, supplements, and stress reduction techniques such as meditation and yoga. You can read more about inflammation here.
Environmental toxins are another factor that can contribute to autoimmune diseases. Functional medicine practitioners may use interventions to support the body’s natural detoxification processes.
Individualized treatment plans
Functional medicine recognizes that each patient is unique and requires an individualized treatment plan. This may involve a combination of dietary changes, supplements, stress reduction techniques, and other interventions tailored to the patient’s specific needs.
Functional medicine practitioners may use a variety of tools to assess and monitor a patient’s health, including comprehensive lab testing, genetic testing, and other functional assessments.
What could you start right now to help with autoimmune symptoms?
- Improve Your Diet
One of the most important things you can do to support your body’s healing processes is to eat a healthy diet. This means avoiding processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats and focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods.
- Reduce Stress
Stress is a known trigger for autoimmune disease flare-ups, so it’s important to find ways to reduce stress in your life.
- Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for overall health, and it’s especially important for people with autoimmune diseases. Lack of sleep can trigger inflammation and make symptoms worse. Read more about getting better sleep here.
- Exercise Regularly
Exercise is another important component of a healthy lifestyle, and it can be especially beneficial for people with autoimmune diseases. Exercise helps to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and boost mood.
- Consider Functional Medicine
If you’re interested in a natural approach to your healing, please reach out.
More reading and references: