It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the United States are living with an autoimmune disease and 75% of those affected are women. Autoimmune disease is a broad category of conditions all linked by their underlying cause: Instead of fighting external bacteria or viruses, for example, your immune system mistakes your own healthy cells as invaders and repeatedly attacks them. Many common conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rohn’s, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and more are all examples of autoimmune diseases. Interestingly, autoimmune disorders occur almost exclusively in developed countries leading to the theory that perhaps we live in “too clean” of an environment and that, from a young age, perhaps our immune systems aren’t well trained to determine what is foreign and what is you.
WHAT CAUSES AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?
The cause of autoimmune disease is a topic that is still under a great deal of research. While genetics certainly play a role (you are more likely to have an autoimmune disease if a family member has one as well), it is also thought that an external insult must take place, for example, becoming sick with a bacteria or virus, being exposed to environmental or chemical irritants, or taking a prescription drug you did not respond well to. Furthermore, systemic inflammation and stress can add to the mix, causing a full blown autoimmune flare.
HOW SHOULD I TREAT MY AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?
While in some cases taking prescription medications are necessary to get someone out of an autoimmune flare or to prevent permanent damage to vital organs, these medications do not treat the cause of autoimmune conditions. Anyone who would like to get to the root cause of their autoimmune disease should consider the following questions:
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE AN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?
It can be difficult to know if you have an autoimmune disease as autoimmune diseases can attack a variety of different organs or tissues. Depending on whether your immune system is attacking your thyroid or your small intestine, your symptoms will be very different. One of the best ways to determine with certainty whether or not you have an autoimmune disease is to see a functional medicine practitioner with experience diagnosing and treating autoimmune conditions. Dr. Winter sees patients with autoimmune diseases on a daily basis in her practice and works with them to create an individualized treatment plan that gets to the root cause of their condition and symptoms.
Dr. Elizabeth Winter practices integrative and functional medicine in San Diego, CA and sees patients from a distance via Skype. For more information about her and her practice philosophy visit About Dr. Winter.