Autoimmune disease is more common than even public health officials realize. While each autoimmune disease by itself is relatively rare, when you add up the 80+ and counting diseases and look at them as one problem, autoimmunity becomes quite common.
The CDC Estimates that 5-8% of the US population has an autoimmune disease(1). According to the NIH, that accounts for approximately 23.5 Million Americans(2). Compare that to the 9 million who have cancer, or the 22 million who have heart disease and it’s easy to see we have a situation on your hands, here. Women account for 78% percent of autoimmune diseases in the US(1), with many of the “big players” such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Celiac Disease favoring women. One study found that 7-8% of the US population has antibodies against their thyroid(3), so the problem may very well be even bigger than the CDC and NIH statistics reflect.
Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include:
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (which is the cause of about 90% of hypothyroidism in the US(4))
Grave’s Disease (85% of hyperthyroidism in the US)
Some conditions that are now thought to be autoimmune or at least related to autoimmunity include:
So why are we seeing more and more of these conditions? The long and short of it is that our unhealthy lifestyle is finally catching up with us. Things that have been linked to autoimmunity or are thought to cause autoimmunity include:
- Some form of genetic predisposition (though this is not set in stone)
- Trauma (particularly head trauma)
- Infections (particularly gut infections/food poisoning, Lyme disease, and Mononucleosis and herpes)
- Poor diet- particularly one short of antioxidants
- Lack of or shortened breast feeding time as a baby
When you get down to it, any autoimmune condition is really an immune system problem, NOT an end organ problem. Very rarely does an autoimmune patient have their immune system attended to- and when they do it is often with harsh immuno-suppressant drugs that make them feel like dirt. It is because of this that I believe autoimmune patients are one of the most under-served and miss-understood patient populations in the United States. For example, most hypothyroid patients today are given levothyroxine (thyroid hormone), but are given nothing to help their immune system. A Hashimoto’s patient that is on thyroid hormone and nothing else is doing nothing to treat the immune system- their TSH is being managed. This is not to say this is a bad thing to do- a hypothyroid patient needs thyroid hormone- but these people require more immune support than anything else.There are TONS of natural compounds that have been shown to modulate the immune system and dampen inflammation such as curcumin, resvertrol, and vitamin D. Because 70% of the immune cells in your body hide out in the gut, a fantastic way to impact the immune system is through diet and supplements.
If you have an autoimmune disease here’s what I would recommend:
-Clean up your diet- Eat more real food and less processed crap.
-Try an elimination diet and cut out the allergens you react to
-Add supplements that dampen inflammation like vitamin D, curcumin and resvertrol
-Get as many harsh chemicals out of your life as possible (cleaning products, pest-control products)
-Boost your glutathione levels by taking supplements such as N-Acetyl Cysteine and/or find a naturopathic doctor near you who administers glutathione in an IV
-Read my post “My Approach to Autoimmune Disease” for a more detailed outline of how I personally work with such cases.
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.
(3)Betterele C “Update on autoimmune polyendocrine syndromes (APS)” Acta Bio Medica 2003;74:9-43
(4) Baillieres “Autoimmunity and Hypothyroidism” Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998; Aug 2 (3):591-617