Autoimmune Disease – A Functional Medicine Approach
Autoimmune disease occurs when inflammation causes the body’s immune system to attack a healthy system or tissues by mistake. These diseases are the most prevalent chronic illnesses in the country, epidemically affecting more than 24 million Americans. General practitioners and other conventional doctors are not trained to find and treat the causes of these diseases. Functional medicine takes a look at the whole body when dealing with the causes and underlying symptoms of any autoimmune disease.
How do you know if you have an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune diseases happen when the body is attempting to defend itself against something it perceives as dangerous. These foreign intruders could be anything from allergens, toxins, stress responses, or particular types of food intolerances. The body is naturally built to defend and heal itself. In these cases, however, it turns against itself causing havoc on your tissues and organs.
A short list of symptoms include:
- Joint or muscle pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin sensitivities (rashes, hives)
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Hair loss
- Temperature intolerance (to hot or cold)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling fatigued and tired
These are just a few of the symptoms that could be present if you have an autoimmune disease.
What to do if you are experiencing symptoms
If you are experiencing any combination of the above symptoms, the underlying cause should be identified as soon as possible. Conventional doctors will only treat the symptoms with drugs that fail to address the cause of the symptoms. In order to identify and treat the cause, a series of tests, your medical family history, as well as a close look at your diet may be needed. A functional medicine physician is trained to treat the body by examining functional imbalances, holistically, to aid the body in self-healing from an autoimmune disease.
Some tests that your functional medicine doctor may prescribe are:
- Blood work to determine various infections, sensitivities and inflammation
- Elimination diet to rule out food intolerances
- Stool sample to determine levels of healthy gut bacteria
Types of Autoimmune Diseases and Treatments
Conventional medicine dictates that disease is identified, labeled and treated with specific drugs that are mass produced for that particular type of disease. Functional medicine, however, will look beneath the symptoms, identify the root cause and ask the question “Why disease?” instead of “What disease?” This holistic view allows the body to be treated as a complete functional system.
Nevertheless, many of the autoimmune diseases that could be present can be identified as the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
A functional medicine physician will treat an autoimmune disease by addressing the root cause of inflammation. By conducting the tests mentioned in the previous section, your functional medicine physician will determine if there are heavy metal toxins, yeast overgrowth in the gut, food sensitivities or intolerances, or any other variables causing the functional imbalances. Once the root cause is identified, your functional medicine doctor may prescribe a vitamin, nutrient or supplement regimen, adjust your diet and suggest ways to decrease stress in your body (yoga, massage, exercise, deep breathing, more sleep). In this way, the body’s healing process is supported and nurtured, thus calming and curing the effects of the autoimmune disease.