Many of my patients suffer from some type of autoimmune illness. These are conditions in which the body generates an immune attack directed at our own cells or organs. If the body attacks the thyroid we call it Hashimoto's or Grave's Disease; if the joints it is Rheumatoid Arthritis; If the intestine it is Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis; the connective tissues, Lupus; the nerves and brain, MS, the skin, eczema or Psoriasis, and so on.
Are these really single diseases? Or are they just symptoms of an immune system out of control due to some trigger in the environment or diet? I and many physicians believe the latter. Although there are certainly genetic predispositions to these diseases, not everyone with the gene gets the disease. Why? The difference is that these unfortunate people have been exposed to some environmental trigger. A trigger can be a prescription drug, a chemical such as pesticides or plastics or industrial chemical, metals like mercury or lead or cadmium or arsenic, bacteria, viruses, yeast, etc. Diet is clearly a trigger for some people, particularly the consumption of gluten and dairy products. An imbalance of gut bacteria is likely a cause for many.
Of course there is no "cure" for these diseases in the traditional medical approach. There are so many different causes, and a single patient may have many of them at the same time.
These conditions are vexing for physicians trained in the traditional model since we have no single cause identified and there is no drug that fixes the problem, only drugs that suppress symptoms of inflammation. Drugs such as prednisone, methotrexate, and the newer TNF-alpha blockers are now the standard of care; however they all have terrible side effects and don't fix the disease. They only mask the symptoms while the immune attack continues unabated, gradually destroying the body or, wipe out the immune response leaving one vulnerable to cancers or infections such as tuberculosis.
The good news is that functional medicine can offer some hope to these patients. In a nutshell, we try to identify the possible triggers for the immune attack and remove them and we replace the nutrients the body needs to self-regulate the immune system. We clean up the diet since these diseases are closely linked to what you eat or don't eat. Finally we use natural products with no toxicity to manage remaining symptoms. Often the body then heals itself; always health is improved. Some cases are truly dramatic with the supposedly incurable "disease" vanishing completely. There are documented cases of MS, Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, going away and patients no longer needing to take drugs with these approaches. Of course, all this takes effort on the part of the patient and the physician and it can be expensive. It is much harder to deal with root causes than it is to mask symptoms with a prescription drug. But, unlike the drug, this approach does really have the potential to truly fix the disease.
Which diseases do I see most commonly? Given that I have a reputation for treatment of hypothyroidism, I see Hashimoto's or autoimmune thyroiditis fairly frequently; other conditions seen in my office include MS, SLE, Sarcoidosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Psoriasis, Sjogrens, and Celiac Disease. All of these conditions respond positively to the techniques of functional medicine.
I will give an example of a patient I recently treated, Doreen. Doreen had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism by her regular physician and was taking Synthroid. When I evaluated her, she was emaciated, losing weight, her hair was falling out and she suffered from chronic fatigue, joint pain, rashes, headaches. Her eyes were reddish and she felt bloated and inflamed all the time. Her bowels tended to produce diarrhea or she was constipated. She had been told she had "IBS."
On lab testing, I found that her thyroid treatment was not optimal. I also found very high levels of TPO antibodies, indicating Hashimoto Thyroiditis-an autoimmune disease. However, rather than stopping there, I looked for possible triggers. We embarked on a thorough workup and discovered she was Gluten-sensitive, was overloaded with Mercury from dental amalgam and eating tuna, or other sources such as coal-burning power plants. She had Candida Enteritis, a condition resulting from using antibiotics with overgrowth of yeast in her gut. When present in large numbers, yeast can be part of the chain reaction that creates an autoimmune reaction by irritating the lining of the gut. She literally had hundreds of food allergies on blood testing, also indicating "leaky gut." Commonly, these patients also have very high levels of pesticides and toxins in their blood/fat.
Using this approach, the "autoimmune disease" is not a real disease; rather it is a symptom of underlying immune chaos triggered by one or more of the factors I have mentioned. The only hope for the patient is to clean things up and let the body heal itself. The process of healing Doreen and other patients like her is slow and can, at times even seem overwhelming; but with persistence and patience, it does achieve positive results.
With respect to Doreen, over a period of one year we have eliminated gluten, grain, refined sugars, and dairy from her diet, placed her on a clean organic diet rich in antiinflammatory oils and plants with adequate lean protein, and healthy fats, detoxified her from the organic chemicals and pesticides present in her body, placed her on a comprehensive nutritional supplement regimen to support her body's repair processes, added products to support and regulate her immune response such as D3, EPA, DHA, Meriva-SR, Vitamin A, probiotics, and low-dose Naltrexone. We have eliminated the Candida overgrowth in her gut with anti-fungal drugs and herbs and restored normal bowel bacteria with probiotics that can calm and regulate immune response. The next step is removal of her dental amalgams and IV or oral chelation to remove the heavy metals in her body. I firmly believe that heavy metals, particularly mercury are at the very root of many autoimmune illnesses. The association between mercury toxicity and various autoimmune diseases is well-documented in the medical literature.
The good news is that Doreen is feeling much better. She has normal weight, no longer suffers from disabling fatigue, looks good with thick growing hair-a sign of general body health, and can live her life normally. Her gut symptoms are gone and she can eat many of the foods she could not previously tolerate. Her joints are no longer painful. On subsequent blood testing, her anti-thyroid antibodies have declined to normal. We have seen this response in patients with MS, IBD, Psoriasis, and RA as well.
If you have an autoimmune illness and would like our help, feel free to contact the office and I and my staff can speak to you.
Dr. Joseph Kaye
300 Trade Center, Suite 4400
Woburn, MA 01801