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Autoimmune Disease: How to Stop Your Body from Attacking Itself

Posted Sep 17 2008 12:00am 4 Comments

The number of Americans that this condition affects – 24 million – has tripled in the last few decades.

In fact, it affects more women than heart disease and breast cancer combined.

==> I’m talking about autoimmune disease.

Actually, autoimmune disease isn’t just one condition.

You’re probably familiar with the most common autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, hypothyroidism, and psoriasis.

But there are many more autoimmune diseases that affect the nervous system, joints and muscles, skin, endocrine gland, and heart.

Simply put, autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues rather than a foreign molecule like bacteria.

This happens when something confuses the immune system. Increasingly, that “something” appears to be the enormous load of environmental toxins to which we are all exposed.

The groundbreaking new book, “The Autoimmune Epidemic,” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa is a breath-taking piece of investigative journalism that seeks the real causes for this epidemic. Her desire to find answers was fueled by her own struggle with autoimmune disease.

Donna lays out very clearly a radical, but unfortunately very true, picture of what’s happening. But she also provides clear solutions for changes in diet, supplements, and our environment that can help people deal with and even reverse autoimmune diseases.

There’s no doubt about it.

Donna calls these environmental toxins “autogens” – foreign compounds that create an “auto” reaction, a reaction against the self.

==> But the fact is that toxins may be the most important cause of the autoimmune epidemic.

We are exposed to astounding amounts of brain pollution. Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety ( www.epa.gov/iriswebp/iris/stand-al.htm ).

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released yearly by large industrial facilities. And 6 million pounds of mercury are poured into our air every year.

In fact, a recent government survey (“National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals” issued in July 2005: http://www.cdc/gov/exposurereport/ ) found an average of 148 chemicals in our bodies – and those were only the ones they tested.

It gets worse.

The Environmental Working Group ( www.ewg.org ) examined the umbilical cord blood of children just as they emerged from the womb.

They found 287 industrial chemicals, including pesticides, phthalates, dioxins, flame-retardants, Teflon, and toxic metals like mercury. And this was before these infants even entered the world!

That’s not to mention the toxins found in our foods and other chemicals typically found in the home, like certain cleaning agents or pest control products – all of which add to the total toxic load on our bodies.

What is all this doing to us and to our children?

In his foreword to Donna’s book, Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that “there is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.”

That environmental toxins are a major cause of autoimmune disease is clear. Yet conventional medicine doesn’t take that into account when treating autoimmune conditions.

Instead, it tries to shut down the immune response with powerful medications including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil and Aleve, steroids like prednisone, anti-cancer drugs like methotrexate, and new drugs like Enbrel and Remicade that block the effects of a powerful inflammatory molecule called TNF alpha.

But those new drugs shut down your immune system so powerfully that they increase your risk of cancer or life-threatening infections.

And they have frequent and serious side effects and often give only partial relief. These drugs may be lifesaving for some in the short run – but in the long run they do NOTHING to deal with the causes.

There’s a better way.

I have successfully treated hundreds of patients with autoimmune diseases by addressing the underlying causes, including toxins, infections, allergens, poor diet, and stress.

==> The roadmap of Functional Medicine and UltraWellness takes us right to the root of the problem.

I have even seen this in myself and in my wife.

You see, I had chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition has autoimmune features and my blood tests clearly showed that my body was attacking itself. Getting rid of my mercury poisoning reversed my chronic fatigue and autoimmune problems.

My wife developed debilitating autoimmunity with joint pain and fatigue. Getting rid of the heavy metals in her body with an intensive detoxification program cured her, too.

And this has been true of so many of my patients.

For each one, I have to find all the causes – toxins, allergens, infections, poor diet, and stress – and deal with all of them while adding back the things the body needs to function optimally, like whole, clean food, nutrients, exercise, stress management, clean water and oxygen, community, connection, and meaning.

The results are amazing.

One of my patients had crippling psoriasis and related arthritis. She was 42 and couldn’t walk up and down stairs, get into a bathtub without help, or properly care for her children.

Yet just nine months after we started treatment – including eliminating gluten and other food allergens, removing her heavy metals, and balancing her immune system – she walked back in my office, not only 30 pounds lighter (remember, being inflamed makes you fat), but completely free of pain and psoriasis.

She’s not alone.

Another man suffered for years with the bloody diarrhea and pain of ulcerative colitis. Dietary changes and various kinds of digestive support helped but he never got better – until we removed the toxins and mercury from his body.

And a recent patient with debilitating fatigue and scars on her brain from multiple sclerosis got nearly complete relief of her symptoms after she had the mercury fillings removed from her teeth and went on a comprehensive detoxification program. And when she repeated her MRI, all of the scars from the MS were gone!

==> So what can you do if you or someone you love suffers from an autoimmune disease?

  • Read “ The Autoimmune Epidemic.” This book will tell you why we have this problem, and how to fix it
  • Find a Functional Medicine doctor who can help you address autoimmunity ( www.functionalmedicine.org )
  • Come see us for an appointment at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts ( www.ultrawellnesscenter.com )
  • Get tested for mercury and other heavy metals
  • Get tested for celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction to wheat and other gluten-containing grains), which causes over 60 autoimmune diseases
  • Take immune-balancing nutrients and supplements, including vitamin D, essential fats (like EPA/DHA and GLA), and probiotics
  • Practice deep relaxation daily through yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or anything that reverses the stress response
  • Practice the precautionary principle, which says that we should avoid anything with the potential for harm. In the US, something has to be proven harmful before it is taken off the market. In Europe, something has to be proven safe before it is allowed on the market. This is also known as “better safe than sorry.”
  • Learn how to boost your body’s own detoxification system.

By addressing the root causes of autoimmune disease, you can start feeling better and getting well – today.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?

How have conventional treatments worked for you?

Do you plan to try any of the lifestyle approaches mentioned here?

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.

Comments (4)
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If you notice that your autoimmune disease improves greatly with an improved diet, please also try talking to a natural health doctor about a good regimen of digestive enzymes. I have autoimmune uticaria brought on by digestive/absorbtion problems and they have saved my _life_. The enzymes with the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet put the condition into a practical remission, but for me it doesn't work without the enzymes.
My husband has narcolepsy, which I recently read is being considered to be an autoimmune disease.  I am in the middle of reading "The UltraMind Solution" and am absolutely determined to find a way to 'fix' my husband's brain and rid him of his narcolepsy!  We have recently started seeing a naturopathic doctor who says that what he does is just like Functional Medicine.  He has tested him for heavy metal toxins, the results of which we will find out next week.  He has started him on B6 for pain in his arms, but I think we also need to add folate and B12.  My husband is doing 30 days without wheat or dairy.  I am doing whatever I can to try to pinpoint his problem.
Hi-I tried this before and don't know if it got to you. I also have autoimmune uticaria and am on 4 24hour antihistamines,and DaPSONE with really no effect. I also have MS which they say isn't related. I think I probably have problems with absorption cuz I have bowel movements very infrequently. What are digestive enzymes?

Hi there, I live in beautiful New Zealand, and have recently been diagnoaed with Autoimmune Hepatitis (not to be confised with viral hepatitis).  At 43 yrs old, having been healthy and eating a moderate diet of organics (although a diet rich in diary products and meats), I was naturally stunned to find myself so ill. 

In my case I became ill over night, being admitted to hospital after turning yellow, having my urine turn black (dark brown), suffering from lack of energy (not normal for me) and I was quite nauseas.  Initially showing signs of a hepatitis infection, it took many days in hospital, under the care of the Liver Transplant Unit, (all this time getting yellower, and sicker as they didnt want to treat me before I was diagnosed) before A.Hepatitis was diagnosed.

Being placed on a course of steroids (prednisone) at high doses immediately stopped the inflammation and after the inflammation was managed and my blood and body recuperated (4 weeks) I was started on immune suppressent drug 'azathiprine' which I will be on for life.  Prednisone has many unwanted side effects and I am really thrilled to be decreasing my doses each month (at 2.5mg daily less each month), this month I am down to 10mg daily and next month it will go to 7.5mg daily (that is after starting on 70mg daily - a signficant reduction).  I also no longer need to take anti nausea medication daily (to counter the nauseas of prednisone) and I no longer need the anti reflux medication (which was prescribed amongst the cocktail of drugs - to counter the effect of the steroids burning my oesophagus)..

All in all, I am very lucky, I am well, happy and back to normal - working ...  And remarkably 8 weeks after my initial diagnosis my weekly bloods revealed my liver has completely regenerated itself, which I must say has been a collaborative approach - I immediately took charge of my recovery and withdrew from everything that 'over works' the liver - so no meat, dairy products, coffee, alcohol, and I have gone to gluten free carbs (pasta, bagels).  The thing that I do struggle with is withdrawing from sugar - I just adore cakes.. but I do understand a diet high in sugar is the number 1 cause of inflammation (and a high diet body can promote certain cancers).   I am now almost vegetarian, and as I cook fabulous food this has been an easy transition.  

Kind regards from Auckland New Zealand,

Lets keep in touch,

Natalie

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