How can Functional Medicine help with Auto-Immunity

Auto Immunity affects 6% of the UK population. Read below how Functional Medicine can help you.

How Can Functional Medicine Help with Auto-Immunity?

Autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system mistakes some part of yourself for an enemy and mounts an attack.

It’s the job of your immune system to seek out and destroy invaders such as bacteria and viruses. To do this it must be able to distinguish between what is a threat and what is not. When the selectivity of your immune system isn’t working as it should, autoimmune diseases can develop.

There are over 80 diseases classed as autoimmune and they’re estimated to affect around four million people in the UK, meaning more than 6% of the population is suffering. Autoimmune diseases affect more women than men.

Autoimmune Disease Conditions

Some autoimmune diseases target one single organ, with others attacking multiple sites. Some of the more common conditions coming under the umbrella of autoimmune disease include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis, when joints are attacked, causing swelling, pain and stiffness
  • Lupus, affecting tissues in many different parts of the body leading to symptoms like skin rashes and joint pain
  • Coeliac disease, involving the small intestine
  • Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both affecting the large intestine
  • Multiple Sclerosis, where the immune system attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord
  • Grave’s Disease and Hashimoto’s, both involving the immune system attacking the thyroid gland
  • Psoriasis, affecting the skin
  • Type 1 diabetes, when pancreas cells producing insulin are destroyed
  • Sjogren’s’ syndrome, where the parts of the body producing tears and saliva are affected, causing dry mouth, eyes and skin

However, almost any body part can be mistaken for an invader by your immune system.

Causes of Autoimmune Disease

  • Because around three-quarters of your immune system is found in your gut, any problem with your gut health will inevitably affect your immune system. As well as being less able to destroy pathogens it can become less selective and attack your body cells instead. One common issue in autoimmunity is the gut lining becoming more permeable than it should. This allows substances such as toxins and incompletely digested molecules of food to access your bloodstream. Because these substances are unfamiliar to your immune system, it will be put on red alert. If it’s constantly being stimulated like this over time it’s likely to lose its selectivity.
  • Food sensitivities, encouraged by a leaky gut. Gluten can be a particular problem, as a protein in gluten can cause your gut to become more permeable.
  • Certain foods such as sugar, grains and processed foods produce inflammation in the body. Excess inflammation adversely affects the function of your immune system.
  • Environmental toxins such as pesticides and airborne pollutants, as well as mycotoxins from moulds, can adversely affect your immune system. So can heavy metals like lead, cadmium from cigarette smoke, and mercury, found in amalgam fillings and some fish.
  • Chronic, ongoing stress can suppress your immune system and cause widespread inflammation. Many people who suffer from autoimmune diseases notice their symptoms often flare up following a stressful event.
  • Dormant viruses may trigger autoimmune disease and flare-ups.

Diagnosis of Autoimmune Disease

There is no one test to detect specific autoimmune diseases, although antibody tests are used to detect raised antibodies which would suggest autoimmunity.

Because the immune system can potentially attack any part of the body, many people with autoimmune disease are not diagnosed. You may find your symptoms have no obvious pattern, and you may have tried many drugs and remedies without success.

Conventional Treatment of Autoimmunity

Conventionally, there’s no cure for autoimmune disease. Treatment normally focusses on managing symptoms, for example with NSAIDs or painkillers, and suppressing the immune system with immunosuppressants. Unfortunately, these drugs come with side effects.

Functional Medicine and Autoimmunity

The goal of your Functional Medicine consultation will be to discover the reasons why your immune system is attacking your body, rather than simply treating your symptoms.

Environmental factors have a significant effect on your immune system. Even if you are genetically predisposed to developing autoimmunity, it will only be triggered by environmental factors.

Functional tests can measure your stress levels, assess your gut health and detect latent viral or bacterial infections which may be contributing to your symptoms.

Once causes are isolated, a programme of supplements, herbs and dietary and lifestyle modifications can correct imbalances in your organs and systems to enable your immune system to react in a more balanced way.

This will usually involve supporting your gut health and helping your liver to detoxify better. Stress management and an anti-inflammatory diet will also be important.

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