Autoimmune Disease Treatment

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Natural Treatment Of Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease treatment is possible with natural medicine. This article will continue with auto-immune conditions but look at little more closely at some of the primary causes and offer some solutions as to the prevention and treatment of various  auto-immune conditions.

Autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes are among the leading causes of death among women under age 65, according to a study in the US Journal of Public Health (Sept. 2000)  The significance of autoimmune diseases in mortality rates has gone unrecognised since they are not really classified in the same way as other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Most autoimmune disorders are not in “The List”, prepared by the statistics that doctors use when recording cause of death. For example, researchers (in America) examined national mortality data for 1995 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looking for mention of 24 different autoimmune disorders, and found that, when grouped together, these disorders accounted for a large portion of the deaths, putting it among the top 10 causes of death in women. It is safe to assume that such statistics are very similar regarding women in NZ. I did not realise that autoimmune disease is one of the top ten killers of women. I find it quite amazing that we have such major group of diseases which cause lots of health problems particularly in women which account for such a high number of death and disability, yet we have no real concrete idea of the cause.

Immunity and the hygiene hypothesis

clean freakOne interesting point to make is that there has been a lot of attention paid recently to the  so-called “hygiene hypothesis”. The hygiene hypothesis basically is the theory that by living is a “sterile” environment and not being exposed to germs, especially during early childhood, the immune system is not properly “trained” and, lacking any real invaders to attack, and may begin to develop improper immune responses to non-pathogenic substances and may the immune system under these conditions may even attack the body’s own cells. I firmly believe that it is important for a child to be exposed to germs in their environment; as this is how immunity develops into a strong and resilient inner force, capable of defending the body against a wide range of pathogens, as well as being more than able to handle recognising self from non-self.  We worry needlessly about germs on the one hand, whilst we pollute our minds and bodies with the effects of stress and environmental toxins (cell phones, chemicals, food additives, etc) on the other which we perceive as safe. Is it any wonder our immune systems are being adversely affected?
Are you worried about auto-immune issues? Then regardless if you have an auto-immune disease or not, improve your immunity in general by ensuring that it remains vibrant and strong naturally by consuming antioxidant vitamins A, C & E, herbs like echinacea & goldenseal, consuming a healthy diet, undergoing a regular detox as well as being aware of how stress affects your immune system. You also improve your immunity by decreasing potentially high-risk behaviors like junk or processed foods, inactivity and/or obesity, the consumption of regular alcohol and tobacco, by not washing your hands and by being exposed to toxins and chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs. If your resistance and inter-personal transmission is slow (through good hygiene) your health increases because your susceptibility has been decreased. If, on the other hand, your resistance is very weak (poor health) and poor immunity is favoured by poor hygiene, poisons, stress, etc, then the opportunity is created not only for all sorts of fast-growing and highly virulent strains of bugs to dominate, the opportunity is also there for your immune system to go “off the rails”. It can literally have a mind of its own, it does as it pleases and it may prove quite unpredictable indeed. Hey, this sounds like my teenage daughter.

Environmental toxicity

According to Dr. Hess, Professor of Medicine (University of Cincinnati College of Medicine USA): “Anything we eat, drink, breathe or absorb into our bodies can be environmental agents that trigger autoimmune diseases.” Researchers from the University of California reported a long list of xenobiotic (foreign) substances that were examined. Many of these substances were found to trigger an autoimmune response. The list of known substances that trigger antibodies to attack their own tissues includes: mercury, vinyl chloride, silica, UV radiation and ozone, and there are many more to add to this list.
According to Dr Crinnion, A US expert in Environmental Medicine (linking disease with poisons, chemicals and heavy metals in our environment) the development of autoimmunity has long been linked with chemical exposure. The notion of chemically-induced autoimmune states is not new, since many chemicals are known to induce the onset of systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE). Pharmaceutical drugs that have been definitively associated with “drug-related” lupus include: chlorpromazine, hydralazine, methyldopa, and minocycline. Since 1957, at least 70 pharmaceutical drugs and other agents have been linked with autoimmune diseases. Some chemicals, including formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are thought to induce tissue-specific autoimmune reactions by acting as “haptens”. These extremely tiny molecules bind to various tissues in the body, making a new toxin our immune system reacts too. The immune system then produces antibodies to this new combination, which can attack the “parent” tissue with or without the chemicals even being present. Many people who have been exposed to certain chemicals often present with elevated antibodies to certain of their body tissues, including anti-myelin (nervous system), anti-parietal (stomach), anti-brush border and anti-smooth muscle (bowel) antibodies. And the more toxins you take in, the more likely your immune system will behave like that teenager.
A study of 298 patients with exposure to industrial chemicals showed that environmental chemicals can affect your body’s immune system basically three ways:
  1. A decrease in ability to fight infections, tumors and cancer. (poor cell-mediated immunity)
  2. An allergy. (increased sensitivity)
  3. An increased ability to develop autoimmunity.
Think about this for a minute – industrial chemicals have been linked with an increased incidence of infections, tumours and cancers, allergies as well as auto-immune disorders. How many people in NZ, and the rest of the developed world are coming down with these health complaints? That’s right, countless people. And I’ll bet most of these people have never heard of detoxification or perhaps understand the true value of cleansing the body periodically.
My belief is that one of the main reasons why the medical profession views auto-imune conditions as having “no known cause” is that they don’t generally screen for toxins, chemicals or heavy metals in a patient who presents to their rooms with an auto-immune problem. I find this strange, when Cornell University research in 2003 found that almost 40% of all deaths now on Earth can be related one way or another to environmental toxicity! Auto-immune symptoms are treated with drugs, which conveniently masks the real problem, suppresses the symptoms and when you think about it only adds to the problem of toxic burden.

The mind/body connection

Guess what I have found what happens to many auto-immune patients in the clinic who become enlightened about natural ways of improving their health? The penny drops and they start noticing that there are so many ways they can heal their bodies naturally. Most health care professionals will be quick to tell you that there is “no know cure” of an auto-immune condition. Why are we always so hung up about wanting to “cure” people? You know by now that the body heals itself, then how do you think that you will be “cured” from a chronic condition such as an auto-immune condition with a drug ? If you take any positive step in improving your health, no matter how small, and your body will respond and it will respond in direct proportion to the changes you are willing to make. Any suggestion that the mind has influence over immune function (psychosomatic) is unfortunately still viewed generally by traditional immunologists as being just one step removed from voodoo and witchcraft, but ground breaking German research in the late 1990’s was able to show that people can almost double the activity of helpful white cells in their body, simply by using relaxation and visualisation techniques. The truth of mind having effects on immune function is absolutely unquestionable, and scientists need to find out exactly where that truth lies, because when we do, then we’ll be able to use such powerful techniques as one of the best ways of treating our auto-immune compromised patients.
Have you ever bumped your head? What was your first reaction? That’s right – you probably wanted to rub your head. Funny that – you didn’t need a pill after all, just a jolly good rub on the head. And didn’t that feel great? Remember when you first started your exercise program, it was hard. But after a few weeks you started to feel some benefit, and after several months you felt awesome! You may even have felt better towards people generally, your mood improved, your outlook on life improved. In fact, one could almost say that you felt “born again”. Your friends and family even commented on your improved looks, your weight loss and your positive mood. Wow – and all you did was exercise. This proves the point I am trying to make that when you improve the way your body functions, your whole life changes for the better. This is what happens to many people I have seen over the years – once they become proactive about their health, their whole world changes. So can yours, yes, even with your auto-immune condition. The first thing you need to do is believe in yourself, and never believe for one moment that you are stuck with this disease and all it’s manifestations for life.

Turning off the pain of inflammation

painMany auto-immune conditions have a component of inflammation, and this can spell pain for many with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and many other manifestations of auto-immunity. What we want is to switch off this pain signal, and we can help the body achieve this in several ways. Whilst just about every conventional and natural treatment plan is aimed at reducing inflammation by way of correcting the myriad of biochemical pathways involving the body’s faulty immune system, it makes the most sense to me with auto-immunity to regenerate the very system which reduces the body’s inflammation naturally: the adrenal glands. We will go into a lot more detail about the adrenal gland and the cortisol pain connection in a subsequent article about ulcerative colitis.

Many people accept “their lot” as far as chronic pain and auto-immunity and strong drugs are concerned. This is partly due to the fact that most of the medical treatment is aimed at suppressing the symptoms, particularly in reducing the pain. Once a condition is “controlled” the case is generally considered closed – the patient is simply kept on combinations of various pills, and anti-inflammatory drugs are the norm here. Prolonged dosages of pain-killing drugs and anti-inflammatory preparations are not the solution, simply because their long-term side effects are so severe on the human body. To me it is like not paying the bills and buying everything on credit, “buy now and you pay nothing until 2010”. Have you seen those advertisements on TV? How convenient, but one day you have to face the music. Sorry, I’d rather pay cash or do without, because I’m not into champagne lifestyles on a beer budget! That way I can sleep at night knowing that tomorrow I won’t have the debt collectors at my door. You pay a price for everything in life, including symptom suppression with drugs – no matter how much or little you take. And the more you take the bigger is that price. The stronger your reliance on pain relief (like being in debt) the bigger the mess when one day you “come down” off these drugs. I had a patient once who was considerably overweight with a bad back. But instead of losing weight (sensible eating) and exercising, he has remained on increasingly strong painkillers including morphine. Now he is in a real mess and has become literally hooked on pain relief. Remember when you got your credit card statement and you freaked out because you didn’t think you purchased so much? Call it a reality check, because one day you will have to reduce your dosage of Prednisolone, Paradex or Methotrexate and it doesn’t feel good when the pain increases. I am not suggesting you cut up your credit card right now (or to stop taking your pain killers) but go in with your eyes wide open and be sensible, knowing that you are in control here. Try to learn to control pain and inflammation other ways than just by way of a reliance on drugs. As this magazine is all about your healthy options, you have various options you can read about in terms of controlling the pain and inflammation. Your naturopath or natural health care professional can usually offer you non-pharmaceutical drug ways to decrease inflammation, and show you how natural medicine can be of benefit. Acupuncture has been of benefit to several of our auto-immune patients by way of decreasing inflammation, and I do refer a patient to a skilled acupuncturist is certain cases.

Being Overweight Will Only Increase Inflammation

According to Dr. Barry Sears, President of the Inflammation Research Foundation, stored fat is a very active source of “silent” inflammation. Therefore, the first line of defense against inflammation should be the reduction of body fat because it produces an excess of the hormone called insulin. As the glycemic (carb) load of the diet increases, more insulin is secreted. This in turn activates a powerful enzyme (delta 5 desaturase), which produces arachidonic acid (AA). As the level of AA increases in the fat cells, more inflammatory mediators are produced. The end result is an increase in systematic inflammation that started with an increase in “silent” inflammation in the fat tissue. Thus the current NZ obesity epidemic is in reality an epidemic of silent inflammation! This is very relevant information, because New Zealand is now officially the 6th fattest nation on Earth, and our obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. So remember – being fat can cause you pain in more ways than you can imagine!

Anti-inflammatory Diet & Lifestyle Tips

There never will be a natural treatment (or drug) which can overcome or negate the effects of a poor diet, inadequate nutrition, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy stressful lifestyle. Your diet happens to be one of the most important interventions for autoimmune disease. Other issues that are frequent problems are emotional stresses in your life, and I’ve often seen patients who have had so much stress in their lives culminating in the eventual breakdown of their immune system. Over all, when you are choosing anti-inflammatory foods to help reduce your inflammation and pain, choose fresh foods instead of heavily processed foods. Here are some tips:

  • Please avoid all white flour, and best to avoid wheat entirely and reduce gluten as much as possible. Throw out the sugars and refined carbohydrates as usual. This is more difficult than it sounds but very important if you want to start to really heal your digestive system.
  • Incorporate more fruit and green, orange and yellow vegetables, and lean meat (fish and chicken) generally into your diet and limit the amount of processed or packaged foods that you consume.
  • Diets rich in omega-3 fatty oils – found in many type of nuts, fatty/oily fish, and seeds – are a great way to alleviate some of the inflammation discomfort naturally.
  • When following an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to ensure that your body receives an adequate amount of water to keep it hydrated. Hydration will help lubricate joints and reduce some of the pain caused from inflammation.
  • Add ginger and turmeric in your cooking, they have good anti-inflammatory actions. Grate fresh ginger and add to salads, stir-fry dishes and even casseroles. Have 1 tsp of turmeric powder daily, mix in a little water to make a paste then add more water. Drink up, it does taste a little “earthy” but the results long term may well be worth it !
  • Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products and eggs. While all of these foods are important source of minerals and vitamins, you don’t need all that extra saturated fat. These foods also contain fatty acids called arachidonic acid. While some arachidonic acid is essential for your health, too much arachidonic acid in the diet may make your inflammation worse. Be sure to choose low fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat, which will not promote inflammation. You may recall an article I wrote some time back on multiple sclerosis, and the saturated fats are a real “no go zone” here.
  • Another possible source of irritation comes from the nightshade family of plants. Some vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, chili and eggplant may actually make pain from inflammation worse. These vegetables are part of the nightshade family of plants and contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine. Solanine can trigger real pain in some people. While there isn’t any formal research findings that back the claim about nightshade plants, you can avoid them for a few weeks to see if your pain and symptoms of inflammation improve.
  • Berries are a great food choice for auto-immunity, especially blueberries and strawberries which are packed with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and anti-oxidants. The pigments in brightly colored fruits, vegetables and berries contain dozens of phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. One example is quercetin, which is found in apple and red onion skins and has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Breakfast could be rolled oats served with fresh berries and walnuts, with a cup of soy milk. Are you still worried about all the constant hype surrounding soy milk? Soy is a much better choice than cow’s milk for auto-immune patients, unless of course you are allergic to soy. Another trick is to alternate soy and rice milk on a regular basis. There are studies which show that soy actually can benefit the auto-immune patient, and has several anti-inflammatory as well as anti-tumor actions.
  • Snack on whole fruits, nuts, seeds, rice crackers, and fresh vegetables throughout the day instead of biscuits, muesli bars or sweets.
  • Green tea contains plenty of anti oxidants and is a good beverage for those with inflammation.
  • Eat a lot more fish and less fatty red meat, and pork. Avoid sausages, yuk!
  • Stay away from deep fried foods (pro-inflammatory) and bake or stir fry your meals instead.
  • Choose green, orange, and yellow vegetables for your side dishes.

Functional Medicine Testing

What would I do if I had an auto-immune condition? I’m glad you asked, I would have a food allergy test completed (Elisa test) to determine if I have any food allergies, and probably have a low acid and high alkaline diet. I’d certainly avoid all the known allergenic foods (dairy, banana, eggs citrus, soy, peanut, etc) until I knew they were ok for me. Why have your diet work against your immune system?
The auto-immune diagnosis through your GP and specialist rests on accurate history and physical examination, and high index of suspicion surrounds a backdrop of certain abnormalities in routine laboratory tests – for example, elevated C-reactive protein (hsCRP) as well as the auto-immune specific marker such as ANA (see Part 1 of his series). I’d also have a Hair Analysis completed to check for any heavy metal toxicity (common with auto-immunity) and any mineral imbalances. I will be covering a condition called ulcerative colitis in a future article, and in this bowel related auto-immune condition, I would probably recommend a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA). They are quite expensive, but generally worth every cent because complex chronic cases benefit so much from pinpointing where the problem areas are. Much more on this later.

Digestive Health

About a hundred years ago, researchers found that most people with auto-immune conditions appeared to have bacterial or viral infections. In fact, many researchers today have found this still to be true. Dr. Leo Galland from New York was one of the first doctors to find that patients with ankylosing spondylitis have a klebsiella (bacterial) infection in their intestine. Your gut is actually a tube going through the body that is open to the outside environment via the mouth. Because of this, over 60% of the body’s immune system (lymphatic tissues/nodes, immune cells, etc.) resides in your small intestine. A healthy gut provides “surveillance” against all types of bugs and functions as a barrier to prevent passage of foreign particles into your body’s interior. However, in the case of auto-immunity, there is often intestinal inflammation that challenges this surveillance and then compromises the barrier function due to improper cell to cell junctions lining the gut wall. These improper cell junctions lead to a condition you most probably have heard of this called “leaky gut”, where undigested and potentially antigenic food particles and/or bugs can be released into the blood stream leading to auto-immune reactions.
Additionally, the bowel flora (vital for GI health) is often out of balance or “dysbiotic” creating further challenges for the immune system.
To assess your GI function, stool analysis (CDSA) can be performed which assesses the presence of beneficial bacteria, pathogens, GI inflammation, digestion function, leaky gut, etc. To restore gut function, various treatments are available including amino acids and proper fats to restore gut tissue, probiotics to restore proper flora, herbs and supplements for a variety of mechanisms. See your naturopath!

Nutritional supplements for auto-immunity 

As per usual, see your naturopath or health-care professional when taking any supplement or herb with auto-immune issues. This is particularly so when you also take any pharma drugs, as there may be an interaction. Whilst I have my favourite supplements and herbs in auto-immunity, in chronic complex cases I prefer to advise the patient to seek professional help.
Auto-immune disease is a complex process that poses a challenge for any health care professional. By addressing immediate needs through conventional medicine (only if necessary), and by using natural medicine to uncover the actual causes for the disease process, a truly comprehensive treatment can provided – providing you go in with your eyes open as I mentioned regarding strong pain relief. Don’t despair, always remain positive and you will be pleasantly surprised at how your immune system responds to natural ways.

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