An autoimmune disease occurs when the body essentially attacks itself. The prevalence and incidence has skyrocketed over the last couple decades. Approximately 50 million people in the United States are affected, and it is one of the leading causes of death among young and middle-aged women.
Researchers have identified over 100 different autoimmune diseases that are chronic and possibly life-threatening. They can affect nearly every organ system and tissue in the body.
People are often unaware that they have an autoimmune disease until it becomes acute, because initial symptoms can be intermittent and nonspecific. Conventional medicine has limited treatment options, and immunosuppressant medications can lead to adverse long-term side effects.
The list of autoimmune diseases is long, and includes such disorders as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease. Even certain types of diabetes are thought to be autoimmune. One very common autoimmune disease is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which brings us to the all-important topic of thyroid health.
Thyroid hormone impacts all major systems of the body. It controls energy production and metabolism, maintains body temperature, helps children grow, and profoundly affects our brain chemistry, influencing our moods and emotions.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and most are unaware of their condition. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder.
Hypothyroidism is quite common and can present with weight gain, depression, infertility, mental fuzziness, fatigue, constipation, hoarse voice, cold intolerance, dry skin, and hair loss.
The hyperactive version known as Grave’s disease is a rare autoimmune disease, which may include symptoms such as weight loss, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, heat sensitivity, and bulging of the eyes.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. The result is insufficient thyroid hormone and many related problems. In the U.S., women are affected 10 times more often than men, and prevalence increases with age in both sexes. Post-partum thyroiditis can develop within the year following childbirth. The signs and symptoms of Hashimoto’s can be similar to hypothyroidism.
Thyroid disorders are often misdiagnosed. Even when a person seeks help, the care they receive is often inadequate. They may be told that their lab test is normal and that they are “fine,” when, in fact, not enough thyroid blood markers were taken to make a definitive diagnosis. Or, at the other extreme, they are immediately put on thyroid medication for life when the core issue might be an immune dysregulation as opposed to a thyroid problem.
This is where Functional medicine and Chinese medicine shine as they strive to treat the root cause of disease. We treat the person who has the autoimmune disease, as opposed to treating the autoimmune disease as a separate entity from the whole person.