Natural Partners
Working Together Toward Health
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

California Naturopathic Doctors Association

Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians

American Academy of Environmental Medicine
International & American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists 

Autoimmune Challenges

Medicine is just beginning to recognize and deal with the myriad of disorders that can be labeled "autoimmune".  Autoimmune responses are our body's normal response to unrecognized material (such as bacteria, parasites, etc.) that has gone out of control and is now mistaking our own body tissues and organs as something foreign.  This can happen to any tissue in any organ and can happen throughout our lives.

     Common examples include:

          * Rheumatoid Arthritis
          * Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus
          * Autoimmune thyroid conditions like Grave's Disease
               & Hashimoto's.
          * SLE (Lupus)
          * Psoriasis
          * Many gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn's,
               ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, etc.

          And many, many more; up to 100 other types.

There are support groups for many of the autoimmune conditions.  Here is a good on-line forum with a lot of information and fellow-patients called Inspire.

Autoimmune diseases affect the body in many different ways and, in fact, the same autoimmune disease can affect different areas in different individuals and can have a different progression.  For example lupus can affect the skin and joints in one individual while it may affect predominately the lung and kidneys in another.  Some autoimmune problems are temporary and do not progress, some are permanent, some can be fatal, and, frustratingly most seem to wax and wane without cause.  All this means that the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases is very challenging.
Often patients with autoimmune conditions spend many years and go to countless doctors without being diagnosed properly.  This seems to be especially true in women.  Sadly there has been a historically tendancy to dismiss general and nonspecific complaints based on gender.  The American Autoimmune Disease Association estimates that apprximately 45% of those individuals suffering with autoimmune diseases have been labeled "chronic complainers" by at least one of their doctors -- with the possibility of both psychological damage as well as missed physiological damage, either of which can lead to a lifetime of problems.  Failure to achieve a proper diagnosis is especially common at the early stages when no specific laboratory tests or imaging results are definitive and the symptoms are very subjective and general.

As is seen in the diagram on the right, presentation of autoimmune diseases is usually a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental stimulus, and immune function. 

Autoimmune Conditions are Common!

Autoimmune diseases affects up to 10% of the US population, which means that autoimmune diseases (if viewed as a category) constitute the third most common category of diseases in the US, after cancer and heart disease.

Women are hit the hardest.  The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association estimates that autoimmune diseases strikes women three times more often than men (with some autoimmune diseases having an even higher incidence in women).  They also estimate that autoimmune diseases are the 4th highest cause of disability among women in the US.
Women (dark red) are usually more often affected than men (orange)

Because of the factors involved with most autoimmune presentations, a successful approach needs to involve more than just pharmacological symptom relief.  However, the current treatment protocols are usually inadequate and often even dangerous. (Even those well intentioned doctors using these protocols often question their safety and long term effictiveness).  Most current treatments involve strong toxic immunosuppressive drugs, like steroids.  These drugs usually do stop the attack on the body's own tissue, but also drastically lower the body's ability to accomplish normal immune defense.  In addition to their side effects (like sleep problems, weight gain, and digestive disturbances) there are long term problems like osteoporosis.

While naturopathic treatment might necessitate some use of these drugs, especially during acute outbreaks, our broad approach is more gentle on the body and is aimed at deeper healing and prevention of episodes. 

One important approach that needs to be investigated is gastrointestinal health.  A permeable (leaky) intestinal lining can provide an introductory route for antigens (foreign bodies that the body reacts to) and this can trigger an autoimmune reaction.  The body's normal healthy defense against these uninvited antigens can be followed by an abnormal attack on body structures that may resemble these antigens.  In addition, leaking of antigens through the intestial wall can trigger outbreaks or acute attacks of other existing autoimmune conditions.