I call them the Big Four – cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. And it feels like just about every research pound in the UK (and every health care discussion) is directed at these killers.
But there’s another group of diseases affecting increasing numbers of people in the UK right now – maybe even you or someone you love. These are chronic autoimmune diseases that can cause progressive pain, disability, and even death – and we hardly hear anything about them.
There are more than 80 different illnesses that can be classified as autoimmune diseases, and just about anyone can be at risk. In fact, one out of every nine women will get an autoimmune disease sometime in her lifetime and they are a leading cause of death among females in England and Wales.
Some of the most well-known autoimmune diseases include:
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’ thyroiditis
- type 1 diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis
- coeliac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis, and
- multiple sclerosis
There are even some lethal but rare autoimmune diseases like scleroderma, myasthenia gravis and autoimmune hepatitis.
But the good news is that no matter which autoimmune disease you have, the causes are essentially the same.
And that means we can use the same three-step process to help conquer literally dozens of autoimmune diseases and get you feeling better than you have in years.
Autoimmune diseases are a vicious (and painful) cycle
When you have an autoimmune illness, your immune system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign invaders. So your immune system forms antibodies that literally attack your own tissues, causing damage, stiffness, and inflammation.
Even worse, your body begins to form fibrous tissue to ‘heal’ the inflammation, and you end up with more pain and disability. If you have a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, you know all about this cycle.
There’s a scientifically-proven link among many different autoimmune diseases. In fact, once you have an autoimmune disease your risk of getting another one in your lifetime is around 25 per cent.
But conventional medicine insists on treating each illness as a separate problem. Ulcerative colitis is treated by a gastroenterologist; psoriasis by a dermatologist; rheumatoid arthritis by a rheumatologist; and so on.
Instead of taking a bigger picture, comprehensive approach, each doctor works in isolation treating the one illness and ignoring the others.
Worse still, autoimmune diseases are frequently treated by what I call cross-your-fingers medicine. Patients are loaded up on heavy-duty medications such as:
- corticosteroids like prednisone
- anti-inflammatories such as indomethacin and diclofenac
- metabolic poisons such
- as methotrexate, and
- biological response modifiers or TNF blockers such as Enbrel, Remicade and Humira
Each of these medications comes with dangerous – sometimes deadly – potential side effects. And none of them treat the actual underlying cause of the illness. Instead they merely suppress the symptoms in the hope that the inflammatory disease burns itself out.
In other words, doctors simply cross their fingers and hope for the best!
strongThree powerful steps for treating ANY autoimmune disease
While the mainstream is busily trying to treat 80+ individual autoimmune diseases, they’re failing to realise what they really have on their hands. And that’s a single immune system problem with 80+ manifestations.
Let me explain. If your irritated immune system attacks your thyroid, it causes Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. If it attacks the lining of your bowels, it can trigger ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. If it attacks the synovial membrane of the joints, you end up with rheumatoid arthritis.
So the actual cause of all autoimmune diseases (your immune system turning against you) is the same. It’s only where you suffer the damage that can vary.
That’s why I and other doctors who practice integrative medicine take a broad ‘systems’ approach to treating autoimmune disease. It focuses on addressing the actual underlying causes and effects of the disease using three simple steps:
- Control your symptoms
- Identify and eliminate immune system triggers; and
- Restore your immune system’s health.
Step #1: Control your symptoms
It does no good to try to correct an immune system imbalance while someone’s joints are deteriorating, for example.
So the first order of business is always to get symptoms under control. Treatment will depend on which organs are being attacked and may involve both natural therapies as well as, in some cases, short-term medications.
Curcumin (found in the herb turmeric) is an effective anti-inflammatory that can help with everything from bowel diseases to rheumatoid arthritis. In one study, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, rheumatoid arthritis patients were given either curcumin or the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. Curcumin beat the drug and had zero significant side effects.
Fish oil, white willow bark, proteolytic enzymes like bromelain and serrapeptase and the herb boswellia are all effective natural anti- To address thyroid issues, I use natural thyroid supplements of desiccated (dried) animal thyroid, such as Armour Thyroid and Nature-Throid. Bio-identical hormones like DHEA and pregnenolone can often be used in place of synthetic steroid hormones like prednisone.
Step #2: Identify and eliminate immune system triggers
Next we need to try to identify and remove any triggers that are irritating your immune system. And that can be a bit of a tall order.
The Environment Agency, which is tasked with keeping us safe from environmental toxins, has already approved thousands of chemicals for use in our environment, and thousands more are being added every year. Our environment is packed with so many immune system irritants that our immune-cell switches are essentially permanently stuck in the ‘on’ position.
But when working with your doctor to try to discover what’s triggering your body’s immune response, there are some places you should look first.
In a major meta-analysis in 2012, researchers confirmed that there’s a significant association between exposure to organic solvents (like the kinds you find in many paints, pesticides and cleaning products) and an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
And a stack of credible animal studies have found a link between the chemicals contained in Teflon and an increase in autoimmune illnesses.
So you can start reducing your own exposure to some of these damaging chemicals by replacing any non-stick Teflon-coated cookware in your home with cast iron and stainless steel.
Use only natural pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers in your garden, and buy organic fruits and vegetables. Also try to use natural or even organic cleaning products when you can.
You should also get comprehensive allergy testing. Allergies are an often-overlooked trigger for the development of autoimmune disease. And diagnosing – and successfully treating – an allergy can help turn down the inflammatory response of an autoimmune illness.
Step #3: Restore your immune system’s health
Once we’ve eliminated these irritants, we need to restore your immune system – which has been going haywire for years – to good health.
Balancing your Th1 and Th2 lymphocytes can help. Th1 lymphocytes protect cells against invasion by organisms. Th2 lymphocytes prowl the bloodstream, creating antibodies.
In the case of an autoimmune disease (or allergy) your Th2 lymphocytes are overactive, and your Th1 lymphocytes are likely suppressed. But this isn’t the first time your system will have faced this situation.
We come into the world in a similar state. But nature provides us with a powerful immune-strengthening substance called colostrum in our mother’s milk.
Colostrum contains transfer factors, molecules which boost a newborn’s Th1 immunity while quietening down the blood-based antibody response involving Th2. This makes the newborn less vulnerable to cellular viruses, and lowers their risk of having an antibody response to their mother’s blood.
We can mimic colostrum’s powerful immune-balancing effects by supplementing with transfer factors derived from animal sources. You can find these transfer factor supplements online, and I’ve used them with success in my own practice.
White peony extracts, called peony glucosides, can also have a balancing effect on Th1 and Th2 lymphocytes.
One extract in particular, paeoniflorin, balances the Th1 and Th2 lymphocytes in much the same way as transfer factors from colostrum. Inflammatory messengers in the immune system (called cytokines) are essentially switched off. At the same time this remarkable herb offers significant pain relief, helping to relieve symptoms while helping to treat the disease.
Vitamin D3, fish oil and soya isoflavones can also help rebalance a dysfunctional immune system and put you on the road to healing.
Three other steps to strengthen your immune system include:
- Taking a probiotic: Remember, a large proportion of your immune cells reside in your gut, and probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of ‘good’ gut bacteria.
- Switching to a naturally anti-inflammatory diet: I recommend the Paleo or ‘Cavemen’ diet, which focuses on fresh meats and produce and eliminates processed foods and added sugars.
- Reducing your stress levels: Exercise, yoga, meditation, acupuncture and connecting with your spiritual side can help you de-stress. Choose whatever methods work best for you.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 9, Issue 9, September 2015