Autoimmune Diseases on the Rise

Who Gets Autoimmune Diseases?

The incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as Addison’s, Crohn’s and Grave’s diseases, ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis have been doubling every 15 years for the past 75 years.  Currently around 24 million people are affected.  Women are two to eight times more often affected by autoimmune diseases (particularly Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s and  scleroderma) than men. Autoimmune diseases are among the ten leading causes of death for women in every age group up to 64 years of age.  Many of the afflicted women are  of childbearing age thus causing a disruption of social and family structures.  Additionally, as a result of their disease, these women are often depressed and anxious.  Autoimmune diseases also affect men, particularly Addison’s disease, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis.  People of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are affected, although some autoimmune diseases impact some races more than others ( i.e SLE targets more black and hispanic women of childbearing age).  In general, disease onset may be from childhood to late adulthood.

Why?

Genetic factors account for about one third of autoimmune disease risk.  The other two thirds is environmentally based, due to:  infections, gut dysbiosis (intestinal bacteria imbalance), stress, trauma, medications, toxins and allergenic foods.  These environmental factors all increase gut permeability resulting in leaky gut syndrome.  When foods, microorganisms or toxins get into the blood  instead of passing through the GI tract, they are recognized by the body as pathogens and attacked by autoreactive effector cells which damage surrounding tissue.  Autoimmune disease starts when immune cells can no longer tell the difference between “self” and “other” and attack the body’s own tissue.

 Treatment

Conventional treatment includes NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, corticosteroids, like hydrocortisone, and DMARDs (disease modifying ant-rheumatic drugs) like salazine (a sulfa drug), and hydroxychloroquine (antimalarial and immunosuppressant) or methotrexate (antifolate and antimetabolate).  These drugs may all cause side effects, such as nausea/vomiting, dizziness, alopecia (hair loss), visual changes, muscle weakness, irritability, blood disorders, severe bacterial infections, stomach or intestinal ulcers or bleeding, canker sores and inflammation of the gums and mouth.  Naturopathic treatment, which  does not cause side effects, includes:  1. decreasing gut dysbiosis and modulating the immune response through specific, high dose probiotics, Vitamin D and mushrooms; 2. using the amino acid, glutamine and various botanical and nutritional supplements to repair the intestinal lining  and reduce inflammation and gut permeability; 3. modifying diet and lifestyle through ensuring adequate sleep (research has shown that sleep disruption exacerbates autoimmune symptoms and shift work increases the risk for certain autoimmune diseases), and testing for or temporarily eliminating all foods that may be inflammatory and allergenic, such as gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, nightshade vegetables, nuts and alcohol.

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