There are approximately 308 million people living in the United States. 50 million of them have an autoimmune disease. It is also estimated that up to 2/3rds of Americans are living with abnormal autoimmune reactivity. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) the National Institute of Health (NIH) spend $591 million dollars a year researching Autoimmune disorders and $6.1 Billion dollars is spent on Cancer research. Contrast that with the costs of treating autoimmune disorders compared to cancer. The costs of treating autoimmune disorders is double that of cancer $100 Billion dollars a year are spent treating autoimmune conditions compared to the $50 Billion used to treat cancer.
I don’t think we should remove the money that is being spent on cancer research but more needs to be done to understand this financially and physically exhausting section of the healthcare system. We need to be aware and rethink our understanding of autoimmune disorders.
What is an Autoimmune disorder?
A simple explanation is this…Normally our immune system is designed help us deal with threats. To fight off infections or help us to deal with toxins in our environment. When the body recognizes our own cells as the threat a problem arises. Everyone can picture the scenario of a cold virus entering your throat because you breathed in the air of a sick person standing next to you in an elevator. Normally your immune system will react by sending white blood cells to the area of your throat where the virus is trying to set up shop and the battle begins. This is actually why you get a sore throat. Your immune system is fighting the virus. This is a form of inflammation. This is a really important concept to understand because inflammation is a GOOD thing! Without that inflammation the virus would simply take over your body and kill you. So we need some inflammation which is simply a byproduct of our immune system working. The problem is when that inflammation is out of control.
Now lets transpose that situation onto your own cells. I’m going to use the thyroid as an example because people with autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s or Graves) are the most common issue I see in my office. Here’s what you can picture, our immune system begins to see your thyroid gland as a foreign invader that it needs to get rid of and it creates a little inflammation. Remember on a very small scale this is OK, it’s one of the body’s innate strategies of keeping our health in check, a little damage and then a little repair and healing. If the inflammation is severe though it means our immune system has sent way to many “soldiers” to battlefield and there is more damage that the tissue involved can handle. This causes the organ/gland/muscle/joint whatever is being attacked to start malfunctioning and/or feeling bad. Yes this is a very basic description of the autoimmune problem but It’s a good place to start your understanding.
What types of Autoimmune disorders are out there?
There are more than 100 known autoimmune diseases. Some of the most prevalent are:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism – An autoimmune reaction to the thyroid gland that leads to symptoms of hypo thyroid (low) hormone like weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, depression, constipation, memory loss…
- Graves – An autoimmune thyroid condition that leads to hyper thyroid (high) like weight loss, irritability, anxiety, sleep disorders, heart palpitations…
- Psoriasis – an autoimmune condition of the skin that leads to skin that has patches of redness, flakiness, itching and can even lead to psoriatic arthritis (pain in the joints).
- Multiple sclerosis – an autoimmune issue that affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to weakness and even paralysis in the body.
- Lupus – An autoimmune disorder that can affect multiple organ symptoms, everything from skin to hair, to joints, to kidneys and Gut issues.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – an autoimmune condition that primarily causes inflammation in your joints.
- Diabetes Mellitus or Type 1 Diabetes – yes Diabetes is not only a condition of poor lifestyle choices but it is also an autoimmune condition that affects the pancreas and your ability to handle sugar.
- Scleroderma – an autoimmune condition that leads to thickening of the skin and other soft tissue and causes circulatory issues and pain.
- Polymyositis – Poly means many, myo means muscle, itis is inflammation. Put them together and you have many areas of inflamed muscle.
- Sarcoidosis – Affects the eyes, lymph nodes , eyes and skin and can lead to issues with breathing.
This is a list of just some of the more common types of autoimmune issues that I seen in practice but there are many more.
There’s hope for people with Autoimmune disease
Typically there is a common theme in the medical approach to treating autoimmune disease. I won’t get into specifics here because my focus is on getting you healthy, not merely treating your symptoms. The 2 most common treatments available in traditional medicine are:
- Anti Inflammatory medications – as simple as OTC ibuprofen and as severe as high dose steroids.
- Immune suppressing drugs.
The use of these medications is commonly based upon the severity of the symptoms that people have. The problem with this approach is that neither of these address the cause of autoimmune symptoms. They simply look to help the symptoms. That is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have got to the point where the symptoms are so severe that you need relief in a hurry then the drugs may help. What I also understand is that when you look to get your entire body healthier, there is no need for the medications.
My Approach to helping people with Autoimmune issues:
Pay attention to that heading “…people with Autoimmune issues.” My focus is always to treat the person with the autoimmune issue rather than treating the symptoms. To be honest, once you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune problem it won’t be cured, BUT it can be so well managed that you have very few if any symptoms. So what is it that I do when I help patients? Basically I work on supporting whatever needs support. What does that mean? Well every single person I have seen with autoimmune issues has had their own unique chemistry and set of problems. My approach is simply to assess you as an individual and help you in any and every way possible. What are the more common systems we work with?
- The Gut – The digestive system is probably the single most important system to address when there are autoimmune issues. When there are Gut related issues, anything from Acid reflux, Leaky Gut, SIBO, parasites, yeast and candida it up regulates the immune system and that’s one of the reasons why the immune system will overreact and cause increased amounts of inflammation.
- The Brain – Your immune system, or any other system of your body, cannot function optimally if there are signaling issues with the brain. Simple strategies I teach for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression helps get the brain on your side so you can heal.
- Inflammation – There are two ways I work with normalizing the inflammatory response. First and foremost with food. The number one priority is to discover which foods are triggering inflammation and which ones are healing you. Secondly, there are so many supplements and phytonutrients that help you to handle inflammation. My job is to find the right combination based on your unique chemistry needs.
I have found that when you address, the Gut, The Brain, and the chemistry of the body that people always feel better.
DR. JASON PIKEN, CNS, DC
Dr. Jason Piken is a Chiropractor, Certified Nutrition Specialist and Health Coach in NYC offering a unique holistic and whole body approach to nutrition and wellness. Since starting his practice in 1996, Dr. Piken has taught people how to heal from various problems ranging from chronic pain to digestive disorders. When you walk into his office, you know you are in an environment where you are going to be personally cared for. His midtown Manhattan office, Innate Wellness Group, functions as a primary source for healthcare without the use of drugs or surgery.