As I mention in this article, the CDC estimates that between 5-8% of the American population currently has at least one autoimmune disease. This would account for approximately 23.5 million people- slightly more than are affected by heart disease. And as staggering as that number already is, I have reason to believe that this number is actually much, much higher.

Autoimmune patients are one of the most mismanaged groups in the country- usually for one of two reasons:

First there are those with diseases such as Hashimoto’s Disease (autoimmune hypothyroid) or Type 1 Diabetes, in which the immune system is 100% ignored. It’s rare for a hypothyroid patient to even be told they have Hashimoto’s; despite the fact that about 90-95% of all hypothyroid patients in the US are autoimmune. Sadder still, even when doctors do properly diagnose Hashimoto’s Disease they almost never recommend anything for the immune system. These patients are simply put on thyroid hormone replacement drugs and sent back out into the world to further destroy their thyroid gland (and perhaps more). The same can be said for type 1 diabetics and people with Addison’s disease.

Next up, there are those with diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, Psoriasis, or Ankylosing Spondylitis. These folk are almost always put on drugs to modify the immune response, which is a step in the right direction, but there’s a major drawback. Drugs commonly used to treat these diseases tend to suppress the entire immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to infection. To add insult to injury, such drugs don’t do anything to address the root cause of the problem. Sure, the immune system is the problem, but nobody ever stops to ask why the immune system is so ticked off in the first place. Instead, they just suppress the whole darn thing and hope for the best.

Patients with autoimmune diseases need to be taking steps to slow the autoimmune attack on their bodies. Even in cases such as Hashimoto’s and Type 1 Diabetes where you can replace the lost hormone (thyroid hormone, insulin) it is crucial to support the immune system. The scary thing with autoimmune diseases is that if you have one you are much, much more likely to develop a second and third.If you do nothing to stop the immune system from going bizerk; it’s just a matter of time before another tissue gets caught in the cross-fire and you get another autoimmune disease.

I find that patients with autoimmune diseases often need two things: A drastic overhaul of their diet and a thorough evaluation for dysbiosis and/or infections. The drastic overhaul almost always entails something close to a vegetable-intensive paleo diet and generally requires the complete avoidance of one or more food allergen such as glutendairy and soy. A leaky-gut repair protocol is generally needed to help the body fully recover from years of dietary-induced trauma and I carry supplements in my office that are well suited for that purpose. Many autoimmune patients have dysbiosis (an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria and yeast) in their gut or elsewhere, which needs to be treated, too.

As with all of the conditions I work with it is important to know that there is never one cause, one treatment, or one answer. People may reach the same diagnosis for completely different reasons. Being a functional medicine practitioner, I always do my do diligence to hunt down the root cause of my patients problems- a process that is far too complicated to explain on a blog.

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.

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