An Approach to Treating Auto-Immune Disease

By Dr. Keivan Jinnah, ND, L.Ac

I see many patients in my practice with auto-immune conditions and am always amazed at the limited understanding offered to people in the conventional medical system. Auto-immune disease seems to be exploding around us, and in fact it is! In naturopathic and Chinese medicine we have many therapies that can help.

There are many different auto-immune diseases including multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, Hashimoto's, Grave's, auto-immune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing colingitis, myasthenia gravis, sjogren's, scleroderma, psoriasis, vitiligo, polymyositis, hemolytic anemia, Guillain Barre, diabetes Type 1, and alopecia areata. I have seen all of these in my practice.

There are also many disease labels that are not typically thought of as auto-immune but I believe have a strong underlying auto-immune component to them. These include hepatitis C, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and many more.

I tell my patients with auto-immune disease that the real issue is not the part of the body being attacked, which defines the diagnosis, but rather the immune system itself. All auto-immune diseases are similar. The cause is that the immune system has become dysregulated and is attacking tissue in the body that it is supposed to be defending. The question becomes, which I don't think gets asked often enough, why is my immune system dysregulated? Or why does my immune system not recognize these cells as part of me?

The auto-immune process starts decades before it is diagnosed and before symptoms appear. The ground work is laid when the immune system is still developing, prior to age 10. This is the period of time in our development that out immune system is maturing and figuring out what is self and what is other. The immune system's job is to go after what is other. In auto-immune conditions something has interrupted the proper development of the immune system. Exposure to trauma, viruses, other infections, heavy metals, or other environmental pollutants at this crucial time can all result in the immune system becoming imbalanced and developing a susceptibility to auto-immunity.

My treatment of auto-immune disease, which is a functional medicine approach, is first to identify and remove the triggers that are flaring up someone's auto-immunity. For someone with auto-immune disease their immune system is on high alert and anything in their environment, whether food sensitivities, environmental exposures, or stress, that fires off their immune system will make their condition worse. Imagine your immune cells (white blood cells) as guards holding machine guns (or machetes, if you prefer) ready to fire at any foreign invader. In auto-immune disease those guards are trigger happy with a little PTSD. What this means is that anything that looks the least bit foreign is going to receive the wrath of the white blood cells resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.

After identifying triggers, which can involve lab testing and food avoidance, the second stage is to repair the gut lining. The gut lining is the first line of defense of the immune system. Intestinal hyperpermability, or leaky gut, is always a past or current underlying issue in auto-immunity. Due to stress, medications, poor sleep and/or poor diet it is increasingly common for the integrity of the gut wall to break down. The result is larger holes in the gut wall that will allow for larger food proteins to enter into the blood stream. These larger proteins are not supposed to be in the blood stream and consequently our immune system will rightly see them as foreign. The immune system becomes fired up (remember those trigger-happy guards firing at anything in sight) and generates antibodies to those food proteins. Those food antibodies can cross react to similar looking proteins in our cells causing tissue damage and auto-immune flare-up.

In treating auto-immune disease we can use a special form of homeopathy called Biotherapeutic Drainage to "drain" and clean the cells of heavy metals, viruses, and pollutants. I also use herbs and nutrients to help balance the immune system so it is not so "trigger-happy" and is able to respond appropriately to challenges that it is exposed to. I also use nutrients and herbs such as glutamine, aloe, and DGL that are wonderful for healing a leaky gut. In addition, I use acupuncture as a way to relax the nervous system which is crucial for the body to be able to heal.

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