A simple online search for autoimmune diseases results in a list that includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, polymyalgia rheumatica, ankylosing spondylitis, type 1 diabetes, alopecia areata, vasculitis and temporal arteritis.
We also know Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune. Emerging evidence links other neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s disease are also autoimmune.
Interestingly, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common form of autoimmune disease, doesn’t even appear unless you search specifically for it, and it represents 90% of the hypothyroid cases in the United States.
Like many chronic diseases, autoimmune diseases typically have a “pre-disease” state. This is the period of time where the disease is bubbling below the surface, as it has not reached the point of recognition. This is the time when the symptoms are vague, nagging and becoming increasingly disruptive. Usually, you know that something is wrong, but you cannot find a doctor or test that will confirm it. Unfortunately, many people are treated with medications for anxiety, depression or sleep during this time. Obviously, this only tends to suppress symptoms instead of finding out what is really going on.
It is in this “pre-disease” state that it is easiest to fully correct the problems. The challenge is figuring out what the problems really are and identifying the underlying cause. There is not a “definitive test” that will show that you have autoimmune disease. Further, even when you have identified what is going on, there is usually not a simple answer to fix it.
Our present medical system is set up for “one size fits all” definitive diagnoses and treatments. We use a type of science called “double-blind, placebo-controlled” research to prove that a treatment can be generalized (i.e. applied) to mass numbers of people. This approach lends itself well to certain disease types, but not as much to chronic conditions like “pre-autoimmune” disease. Interestingly, this approach is the antithesis of the “individualized medicine” that technological advances promise. Further, it will be slow to change as there is substantial profitability in “one size fits all” solutions to problems.
Conversely, it typically takes individualized attention and a series of “why” questions to uncover what is going on when you are in a “pre-disease” state. If you have a doctor that will spend the time to do this, you are fortunate as the established medical system does not allow the time or other resources to pursue health problems when they are in a “pre-disease” state.
Often, you must work outside of the mainstream system and pay out-of-pocket to see a provider outside of your insurance network.
There are several factors that contribute to autoimmune disease. We know allergens sensitivities can contribute to autoimmunity. Stress is a major factor as both a cause and exacerbating factor. If stress isn’t the cause, it is always at least “gasoline on the fire” of your underlying condition.
Active and latent infections such as Epstein-Barr virus and Lyme (bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and associated pathogens) can cause autoimmunity. Toxins can cause or trigger an autoimmune response by your body. This can be anything from agricultural chemicals which infiltrate our food supply to burn pit exposure in military service. You can even get a toxic response to prescribed drugs.
You can waste a lot of time and money chasing health problems if your approach is not organized. So where do you start? First, have a conversation with your doctor with a focus more on the diagnostic options than on treatments. I say this because the traditional system is biased to prescribe a “one size fits all” drug that will suppress your symptoms, not solving your problem and diverting you from finding the true cause.
Infections, both latent and active, may show themselves in a Complete Blood Count with differential. Minor shifts in the type of lymphocytes provide some information about the nature of any infection you might have (i.e. bacterial, viral, or other). Your doctor may also be willing to order antinuclear antibodies, sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen or full thyroid with antibodies.
These tests are helpful in figuring out what is going on, but they are usually not “definitive” as they don’t tell the whole story. Rather, they give you a direction to go and something to focus on.
Treatments should always include lifestyle changes. Goals should be to identify and eliminate offensive substances (toxins, allergies and sensitivities), modulation of the immune system (favored over suppression), reduction of inflammation, and detoxification.
Stress management, dietary improvement with elimination of sugars and bad oils and a concerted effort to get proper sleep are a great place to start!
The identification of toxins, allergens and substances to which you are sensitive can be done through testing. These types of tests are available from multiple sources, including online, but not all tests are of the same quality.
Additionally, you always want to make sure that you will get a good explanation of the results by someone you can work with so that they are useful in your journey.
Modulation of the immune system can be done with herbs and supplements you can obtain yourself, but we always recommend using providers with the expertise you need to guide you on this journey. Good advice will save time, money and frustration in the long term and you do need to approach this from a long-term perspective. Simply put, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine (herbs) are useful in immunomodulation and treating chronic problems, but should be prescribed by someone trained in the practice of Chinese medicine. Likewise, there are prescription medications in the “novel use” category which can be very helpful, and you will need a licensed medical provider who is willing to prescribe and work with you.
At the end of the day, health is not something that just happens. It is the result of intent, focus and effort and a willingness to do some things that others find too difficult. n
Michael Buyze, L.Ac. is a healthcare entrepreneur with nearly 40 years of experience in healthcare and expertise in acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, functional medicine, clinical exercise physiology, and nutrition. He owns and operates East Wind Healthcare, an acupuncture and wellness clinic with a 23-year history of helping people in the Fox Valley with offices in Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. He holds Master of Science Degrees in Chinese Medicine, Business Administration and Exercise Physiology. He and his team offer acupuncture as well as wellness programming for acute and chronic pain as well as many chronic disease states. Acupuncture consultations and wellness consultations are available by appointment. Contact information: East Wind Healthcare, 3000 N Ballard Road, Unit#3, Appleton, WI 54911; 404 N. Main St., Suite 201, Oshkosh, WI 54901 and 180 Knights Way, Fond du Lac WI 54935 (inside Fox Valley Wellness); Tel: 920-997-0511; Website: eastwindhealthcare.com
“…it typically takes individualized attention and a series of “why” questions to uncover what is going on when you are in a “pre-disease” state.”