Autoimmune diseases are a group of illnesses where the body’s immune system turns against itself.They are similar to allergy-related conditions because in both the immune system is over-active.The examples of autoimmune diseases are
- Glomerulonephritis, ( a group of several types of kidney disease leading to kidney failure)
- Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Eczema and several other types of skin problems
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis
- Different types of vasculitis, or inflammation of blood vessels
- ITP, Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, a bleeding disease caused by low platelet count
- Asthma: it is either allergic or autoimmune
- Many other conditions
In all these conditions the body’s immune system is inappropriately activated and various organs become it’s target as if they were foreign invaders.
The causes or instigating factors are unknown.Hereditary predisposition may play a role, as may some environmental factors.More information can be found in the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoimmune_disease.
In considering treatment, one must first have a clear understanding of what one is treating with any modality used.Are we treating at the “hardware” or “software” level?Are we addressing the underlying disturbance or just suppressing its manifestations?Are we just removing symptoms or actually curing the problem?In most cases a multi-prong approach is best.Most of the treatment systems discussed below are practiced by corresponding specialists.In most cases these specialists are trained only in their particular system and are not particularly aware of other effective modalities.C’est la vie… Sometimes your practitioner may suggest some appropriate referrals, but unfortunately in most cases it is up to the patient to do the research and find what works for them. Even the most open-minded physicians can’t know it all.They just don’t have the time and energy to keep up in their own specialty and learn about all the others at the same time. Word of mouth, publications, seminars, internet… use everything, ask many questions, don’t trust completely any single authority.Give all treatments sufficient time to know whether they are effective. When something does not work, try something else.There is always another modality to consider, there is always hope.Do not settle just for symptom relief.Look for deeper more comprehensive modality which can arrest or reverse the disease and restore organ function.When somebody tells you, you are incurable and should just wait for the inevitable (whatever the inevitable is in your case), take what you can from that practitioner (like a prescription for pain killers) and seek other advise elsewhere.Don’t be upset at the practitioner.As I said, most specialists practice in their own paradigm and don’t understand others.
In conventional medicine paradigm we first acknowledge that we don’t really understand why the condition developed.Actually, most MDs won’t put it to you this way, but if you quiz your doctor enough, you will find this statement to be true in almost all cases.In this paradigm most of these conditions are incurable, unless you consider organ destruction and overwhelming suppression of the body’s functions a cure.How ironic is the fact that this is the only profession allowed a claim to a cure, but almost never able to deliver it!This is definitely a “hardware” approach.Our goal here is to suppress the overactive immune system if possible and to remove symptoms to enable the patient to lead a normal life as much as possible.We are not trying to cure the disease.If the disease destroys an organ, we somehow take over the function of this organ in a different way.We use the least toxic and most effective modality possible. Different conditions respond better to different modalities.In many cases more than one modality is required. In my opinion, in just about all cases of autoimmune disease, especially in the beginning stages, these modalities should be used strictly as complementary, not as the main treatment approach.The common modalities include:
- Physical therapy to improve and maintain function and for anti-inflammatory effect
- Pain killers and Non Steroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) for painful conditions
- Steroids (topical, IV, oral) to suppress inflammatory reaction present in most of these conditions
- Immunosuppressant (chemotherapy) and immunomodulating drugs, such as methotrexate, immuran, Enbrel, etc
- Organ destruction (surgical removal or some other method, like burning it out with a radioactive substance) in some cases where an overactive organ causes trouble, as in ITP (spleen) and Grave’s disease (thyroid)
- Taking over the function of the organ which has been killed by the disease or the doctor, such as hormone replacement, platelet transfusion, joint replacement, kidney transplant or dialysis, etc
In naturopathic medicine we want to know what may be putting the patient’s system under stress so it reacts in this way. This is also a “hardware” approach.We try to improve the body’s functioning by using different modalities to calm down the overactive immune system and enable it to work as designed, that is to leave the body’s organs alone and direct its attention at invaders, such as infections, foreign bodies, etc.. We ask the following questions:
- Is the patient’s body overwhelmed by some toxins from some environmental source?
- Is the patient particularly sensitive/allergic to some substances in their food, air, environment, which people don’t usually react to?
- Is the patient deficient in some nutritional elements, which weakens the system and makes it react inappropriately?
We do some testing of blood and other body fluids to see if any of the above is true, then try to fix the imbalance in some way.These modalities attempt to create a harmonious environment for immune system function.They include the following and many others:
- Detoxification: many different methods, including diets, colonics, juicing; of various degrees of complexity, some easy to do at home, some requiring extended retreats and expert guidance
- Varying attempts to limit environmental exposure, such as restrictive diets, special cleaning of the patient’s environment, removal of offending agents from patient’s life (like giving away your cat or replacing the detergent you are particularly sensitive to)
- Organotherapy, or attempts to redirect the attention of the overactive immune system by introducing a substance similar to whatever the immune system is trying to kill.For example, some preparations of animal thyroid gland are used to take the immune system’s attention away from native thyroid gland
- Nutritional supplementation with vitamins, minerals, aminoacids and other food components in order to replace what is missing or increase the body content of particular components to above normal, if normal levels are not enough for smooth functioning in a particular case.
Various types of manipulation, such as chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, may remove some mechanical blocks to proper organ function and enable the immune system to work better.I have seen some types of chiropractic manipulation relieve asthma and other conditions.
Acupuncture, homeopathy and other “energy” modalities are used to “debug” the body’s “operating system” and allow it to function properly.Once the body’s “software” is “debugged”, it detects abnormal “hardware” functioning and corrects it, thereby restoring balance wherever possible.My specialty is homeopathy. I have seen it cure many autoimmune cases, by which I mean restoration of homeostasis (inner balance), enabling natural reversal of the disease, resolution of inflammatory process and restoration of normal organ function in cases where the damage was not too severe, including thyroid, kidney, lung, joints, platelets (ITP cases), etc.In most cases of autoimmune disease this is my preferred modality to start with, complementing with all other modalities discussed above when necessary.When I am not an expert in any particular modality I feel might be useful, I usually suggest another expert to handle that side of care.