Autoimmune Diseases

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks itself. The function of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign pathogenic factors such as bacterial infections and viruses. A healthy immune system can distinguish between pathogens and its own healthy cells, but in an autoimmune disease the body mistakes its healthy cells and tissues for pathogens and attacks them.

There are many different types of autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease can affect one particular part of the body, or the whole body systemically. Autoimmune diseases present in many different ways depending on the condition, however, some general early symptoms of autoimmune disease include fatigue, muscle aches, redness and swelling, fever, trouble concentrating, numbness, tingling, loss of hair, and rashes. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Graves’ disease.

The diagnosis of autoimmune disease is confirmed by a review of signs and symptoms as well as a combination of tests. The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) is often used to confirm an autoimmune disease. A positive ANA test confirms an autoimmune disease but does not specify which one. Although there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, there are treatments to help manage the symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Conventional medicine typically will treat autoimmune disease with drugs such as immunosuppressants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. There is also research to suggest that the autoimmune diet may be helpful in reducing inflammation and preventing flare-ups of autoimmune diseases.

What Causes Autoimmune conditions?

Western medicine does not know exactly why autoimmune diseases manifest, however, it is suggested that genetics, infections, diet, and environmental factors may all play a factor in what causes autoimmune flare-ups. Although Chinese medicine does not have a singular reason as to why autoimmune diseases occur, symptoms of autoimmune conditions can be categorized by Chinese medicine patterns and treated accordingly.

Autoimmune Disease Natural Treatment

Many people find success using natural remedies for autoimmune diseases. The problem with the conventional treatment of autoimmune disorders is that taking prescription medication is only a temporary fix. Immunosuppressants are effective for a period of time, but it does not solve the bigger underlying problem of why the immune system is imbalanced, to begin with. Immunosuppressants also come with their own risks. Immunosuppressants can not target which part of the immune response to suppress and therefore affect the entire immune response. This means that those taking immunosuppressants have an increased risk of infection. Autoimmune conditions often require more than just medication, which is why so many people seek out natural ways to treat autoimmune diseases.

Diet is often the first thing to look at when determining autoimmune triggers. At Advanced Holistic Center, we often recommend an elimination diet to determine potential food triggers that may be contributing to inflammation. We have also seen success with the Autoimmune protocol diet or AIP, in helping to limit autoimmune symptoms. There is research to suggest that eliminating gluten may be beneficial for people looking to manage their autoimmune condition. In certain people, gluten may trigger inflammation and alter the body’s natural microbiome. Gluten also releases a chemical called zonulin, signaling the intestinal walls to open up which increases intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. Foods such as nightshades, dairy, soy, and citrus may also trigger autoimmune flares. As with all aspects of Chinese medicine, dietary recommendations are largely individualized and given based on the patient’s signs and symptoms. If you are looking for dietary recommendations, talk to your Chinese medicine provider to come up with a specific plan that will best address your autoimmune condition.

Acupuncture for Autoimmune Disorders

Acupuncture is a safe and effective way to treat autoimmune conditions. Acupuncture can help to regulate the immune system, bringing the immune response back into balance. Acupuncture also works to reduce systemic inflammation, which may be contributing to heightened autoimmune symptoms. Acupuncture can also help to treat pain, which affects many autoimmune patients. Studies suggest that acupuncture releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones, which may limit the body’s response to pain. In addition to treating the symptoms of autoimmune conditions, acupuncture and Chinese medicine help to address the underlying cause of the disease. An autoimmune condition suggests that there is either an excess or deficiency within the body. Chinese medicine can treat this imbalance and will provide a specific holistic diagnosis that will address the root condition rather than just the physical signs and symptoms.

Chinese Herbs for Immune System

Chinese herbal medicine is a great tool for helping to treat autoimmune conditions. Prescribing herbs is a highly individualized process, however, there are herbs that are known for being effective for autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune patients should avoid herbs that stimulate the already heightened immune response, such as echinacea. Stimulating the immune system could possibly exacerbate symptoms and lead to a flare-up. Instead, herbalists may recommend herbs which help to modulate the immune response, such as astragalus, turmeric, or American ginseng. Reishi mushroom is another great immune modulator that tonifies the blood and helps to relieve pain. Chinese herbs are recommended based on overall presentation and are not prescribed for specific western diagnoses. Autoimmune conditions present differently in different people and may be caused by different pathologies. For this reason, it is important to talk to your Chinese medicine herbalist to find the right combination of Chinese herbs to best address your specific needs.

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