HEALTH Q&A

Au­toim­mune Disease: Nat­u­ral So­lu­tions Jonny Bow­den, PhD, CNS, dis­cusses treat­ment strate­gies.

Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - — R. Pierce, Biloxi, MS

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A:

ere are be­tween 80 and 100 au­toim­mune diseases, and only one of them— one of them— has a known, iden­ti­fied trig­ger.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute. at means we know the cause of only one spe­cific au­toim­mune disease—celiac, which is trig­gered by gluten, 100 per­cent of the time. e rest are some­thing of a mys­tery.

e list of au­toim­mune diseases is pretty daunt­ing. Mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, Alzheimer’s disease, di­a­betes, in­flam­ma­tory bowel disease (col­i­tis and Crohn’s), ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), thy­roid disease (Graves and Hashimoto’s), pso­ri­a­sis, and rheuma­toid arthri­tis are all au­toim­mune diseases, and that’s just a par­tial list. What’s more, ex­perts like Tom O’Bryan, au­thor of e Au­toim­mune Fix, and Amy My­ers, MD, au­thor of

e Au­toim­mune So­lu­tion, re­gard au­toim­mu­nity on a spec­trum, with the fully di­ag­nosed, iden­ti­fi­able “disease” state be­ing just one ar­bi­trary point on that spec­trum.

Most of us prob­a­bly fall some­where on this spec­trum, and have some de­gree of au­toim­mu­nity dys­func­tion— some less so, some more so. And we should all be pay­ing at­ten­tion. Au­toim­mune dys­func­tion is likely hap­pen­ing well in ad­vance of any no­tice­able symp­toms.

In one fas­ci­nat­ing study, Melissa Ar­buckle, MD, PhD, looked at the pa­tient his­tory of 130 vets in the VA hospi­tal sys­tem, all of whom had been di­ag­nosed with lu­pus, a sys­temic au­toim­mune disease.

ose in the ser­vice have their blood drawn reg­u­larly through­out their tours of duty, so Ar­buckle looked back at their records. Ev­ery sin­gle one of them had mark­ers for no less than seven di er­ent an­ti­bod­ies—years be­fore they ac­tu­ally showed symp­toms and got a lu­pus di­ag­no­sis.

As O’Bryan puts it, “You can’t ar­gue with an­ti­bod­ies.”

yroid an­ti­bod­ies, for ex­am­ple, show up in the blood—a sure sign of im­mune sys­tem ac­tiv­ity—well in ad­vance of thy­roid hor­mone ab­nor­mal­i­ties. O’Bryan, My­ers, and oth­ers who share this view be­lieve that the time to be aware of how your im­mune sys­tem is do­ing is now—even if you’ve never been di­ag­nosed with an au­toim­mune disease.

O’Bryan and My­ers are prac­ti­tion­ers of func­tional medicine, an ap­proach that sees the body as a func­tion­ing whole in which each part a ects all the other parts. Func­tional medicine prac­ti­tion­ers un­der­stand and in­ves­ti­gate all com­po­nents of a pa­tient’s health, not just his or her iden­ti­fied disease. It’s an ap­proach that’s uniquely suited to au­toim­mune disease.

UN­DER­STAND­ING THE IM­MUNE SYS­TEM

e job of the im­mune sys­tem is to de­fend against for­eign in­vaders. It’s like hav­ing your own per­sonal, built-in Home­land Se­cu­rity sys­tem, the only job of which is to keep you safe. is se­cu­rity sys­tem con­sists of all kinds of

spe­cial­ized im­mune sys­tem cells like T-cells, B-cells, and macrophages, all of which are on the alert for some­thing that doesn’t be­long in your body or in your blood­stream. When a threat is per­ceived, in­struc­tions are sim­ple: take it out!

When this sys­tem is work­ing well, it does in­deed keep you safe—or at least safe from ill­nesses caused by un­friendly mi­crobes. But some­times, the com­plex, ever-vig­i­lant im­mune sys­tem makes a mis­take.

at mis­take is the im­mune sys­tem equiv­a­lent of an army’s “friendly re.” Your im­mune sys­tem misiden­ti­fies as a “for­eigner” some­thing that has a per­fect right to be there. It thinks there’s a threat when there isn’t one.

When your im­mune sys­tem at­tacks the myelin sheath that cov­ers your nerves, it’s called mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. When it at­tacks the thy­roid, it’s Hashimoto’s thy­roidi­tis. When it at­tacks the glands that pro­duce tears and saliva, it’s Sjo­gren’s syn­drome. And when it at­tacks cells and tis­sues through­out the body, a ect­ing any­thing from the joints to the heart, it might be lu­pus.

WHAT’S IN­FLAM­MA­TION GOT TO DO WITH IT?

O’Bryan re­calls a metaphor for this that he learned from Je rey Bland, PhD, con­sid­ered the fa­ther of func­tional medicine. Bland likened the in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse in the body to lling a foot­ball eld with mouse­traps laid side by side, each loaded with a ping pong ball. If you then toss an ad­di­tional ping pong ball on top, bam! Sud­denly there are two balls in the air, the one you tossed into the eld and the one that popped out of the mouse­trap it set o .

ese balls hit a cou­ple more mouse­traps, and even­tu­ally all the mouse­traps will be set o , mak­ing the whole thing sound like a re­works dis­play on the 4th of July.

at’s how au­toim­mune diseases of­ten work. Some­thing—a food, a com­po­nent of food, a toxin, sugar, a chem­i­cal, even a stress­ful life event—trig­gers in­flam­ma­tion, but then the ox­ida­tive stress that goes hand in hand with in­flam­ma­tion in­creases faster than what your in­ter­nal an­tiox­i­dant army can keep up with.

When your im­mune sys­tem is set o by trig­gers like gluten or tox­ins, your own tis­sue could be col­lat­eral dam­age.

My­ers be­lieves that there are four key fac­tors trig­ger­ing the alarm­ing in­crease in au­toim­mune dis­or­ders:

e fi rst is gluten, which is ubiq­ui­tous in our diet, and in­flam­ma­tory for many peo­ple. It’s also of­ten found in foods that have other in­flam­ma­tory com­po­nents like sugar. Tox­ins are the sec­ond factor. ey’re ev­ery­where and we’re ex­posed to them in all sorts of com­bi­na­tions. At some point the cu­mu­la­tive e ect—what’s called the toxic bur­den—over­whelms the body’s abil­ity to

ght back, weak­en­ing im­mu­nity even fur­ther.

Stress, the third factor, can trig­ger—and make worse— au­toim­mune diseases. My­ers

thinks this plays a sig­nif­i­cant part in the cur­rent au­toim­mune epi­demic. Fi­nally, there’s leaky gut. e lin­ing of the in­testines is, amaz­ingly, only one cell thick. ink of it as a thin layer of cheese­cloth, pro­tect­ing the blood­stream from par­ti­cles that don’t be­long. But some­times there are tears in the cheese­cloth, and the lin­ing of the gut is said to “leak.” is al­lows big­ger, less di­gested par­ti­cles called macro­molecules to get through the “cheese­cloth” and go into the blood­stream. e im­mune sys­tem looks at these mol­e­cules and calls out the troops. e cy­cle of in­flam­ma­tion, leaky gut, and more in­flam­ma­tion con­tin­ues.

at’s why heal­ing the gut is so high on the list of pri­or­i­ties for any func­tional medicine ap­proach to au­toim­mu­nity.

BE­YOND THE CON­VEN­TIONAL AP­PROACH

Any real, e ec­tive treat­ment plan has to in­clude ev­ery as­pect of life—diet, sleep, stress, and emo­tions. e or­gan that’s a ected—the place where you ac­tu­ally see and feel the symp­toms—is the sole fo­cus of con­ven­tional medicine, but it is just the start­ing point for a func­tional ap­proach to au­toim­mune disease.

e func­tional ap­proach sees the to­tal in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity of ev­ery­thing you do—from eat­ing foods high in nat­u­ral an­ti­in­flam­ma­to­ries and an­tiox­i­dants, to tak­ing in­flam­ma­tion-quench­ing sup­ple­ments, to get­ting enough sleep, to hav­ing enough joy in your life, to mov­ing your body and strength­en­ing your gut. e func­tional ap­proach goes way be­yond sim­ply “man­ag­ing” symp­toms with harsh phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals—it o ers a mes­sage of hope.

healthy'tip! An ap­ple a day, along with other an­tiox­i­dant, anti-in­flam­ma­tory foods, can help im­prove symp­toms of au­toim­mune diseases.

The func­tional medicine ap­proach ad­dresses the phys­i­cal and emo­tional as­pects of disease treat­ment. did you 'now...

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