Autoimmune diseases, unfortunately, are still poorly understood by doctors and scientists. We know that an autoimmune response develops when our immune system mistakes our own body tissues or organs as foreign and attacks them. Autoimmune diseases encompass over 80 different conditions, affecting almost all human organ systems, including connective tissue, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems, nerves and muscles, and more.
Common autoimmune diseases:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's and ulcerative colitis)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Grave's disease
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
Autoimmune disease sufferers are particularly challenged for two reasons: First, it often takes them a while to get an accurate diagnosis, and second, even when diagnosed, often no effective treatments exist.
Searching for the right diagnosis
Patients suffering from autoimmune diseases may spend years going from doctor to doctor, looking for an explanation of their symptoms. That's because autoimmune diseases pose a great diagnostic challenge to physicians, especially in early stages. For most conditions in this category, no definitive laboratory or imaging tests exist. Patients are often left to monitor the progression of their disease and report it to their doctors. The vagueness of symptoms that occur with some autoimmune diseases also add to the challenge.
Most autoimmune diseases tend to "wax and wane"—going through wave-like periods of better and worse—making an accurate diagnosis even harder. If you're looking for a cause for your symptoms of discomfort in your gut, joints or skin, consider consulting an immunologist. Immunologists are the doctors who specialize in evaluating and treating dysfunctions of the immune system. They can point you in the direction your gastroenterologist, rheumatologist or dermatologist may have missed. This type of teamwork can lead to a quicker diagnosis and less frustration for you, the patient.
Current treatments are woefully inadequate
Many autoimmune diseases are treated with potent and toxic immunosuppressive drugs, such as corticosteroids. While this means that your immune system will be less likely to attack its own tissues, it also means that it won't attack foreign ones, making you very susceptible to infection. Steroids can also cause rapid weight gain, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal problems. Long-term use—common with autoimmune diseases—leads to weakening of the bones and osteoporosis.
Some autoimmune diseases are treated with strong pain relievers, biotherapeutic agents and synthetic hormones. Most of these have serious side effects that can be managed in the short term but are not a good long-term solution. None of these treatments actually cure autoimmune disease, they just suppress it until the next time it rears its ugly head.
Natural and Holistic Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases
Anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease should consider trying a holistic protocol, especially since Western medicine has so little to offer for autoimmune sufferers. Allergy testing, nutritional counseling, supplementation, acupuncture, herbal therapy and detoxification may be helpful. It's very important to work with a qualified doctor who will try to figure out why your immune system is reacting to your own body. Is it something in your diet? Is it a chemical or a pollutant? Is there an underlying food sensitivity or intestinal dysbiosis? This and many other questions should aim at one answer: What's causing your autoimmunity?