Autoimmune conditions are characterized as diseases where a person’s immune system attacks cells that aren’t harmful. The immune system attacks its own bodily tissue which does not need to be messed with in the first place. The immune system basically gets confused about what is foreign bacteria and what’s not. Some of the most common autoimmune conditions include the following: type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease, Addison’s disease, Graves’ disease, Sjogren’s, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, andceliac disease.
Before you get your pitchfork out, not all cytokines, even the ones listed above, are bad. They are our body’s way to signal that something is wrong; there is an infection that we need to do something about. These signaling cytokines are like our gas lights, engine lights and emergency lights on our cars. We don’t just pull out the light bulb when its flashing! We pay attention when the gas light comes on head to the mechanic, right?
So, the “botanical” model to autoimmune care is: for rheumatoid arthritis, take phellodendron, because we know that, in studies, it decreases IL-6; and take holy basil, because it decreases IL-17; and take vitamin D and turmeric because they decrease TNFa. That’s great, right? But do you want to spend the rest of your life being dependent upon a botanical cocktail? Half the time, autoimmune patients aren’t even digesting these supplements because of compromised digestive tracts. Or, they are taking low quality, uncertified supplements that wouldn’t help even if their digestive tract was functioning properly. Or, they just have way too many other bad inflammatory cytokines that the number of botanicals and supplements they are taking will never make any improvement.
Get off the hamster wheel! There is a better way. In my clinic, we encourage every patient to work with his/her primary care physician to get comprehensive, up-to-date, yearly blood tests. This helps everyone make sure they’re on track to well-being. There are many markers on a regular CBC and metabolic blood test, which are covered in a yearly physical, that can pin point what caused your immune system to go haywire. This is the key with all autoimmune conditions. Some thing tipped your immune system off balance. In the functional medicine world, there are four main causes to any disease, and especially to autoimmune conditions:
1. Out of balance blood sugar
2. Poor detox system
3. Microbiome/intestine problems
4. Essential fatty acid imbalance (cholesterol)
Reading blood tests isn’t magical. It is an objective look into someone’s health. I can remove my bias and the patient removes his/her feelings and we get right to the healing. Once I get someone’s blood test and identify where the problem is, we administer diet and lifestyle changes that work for the patient. This way, you’re not chained to taking supplements your whole life, and you’re not banned from your favorite foods forever. Moderation is always key. With blood tests in hand, I can get to work with my patients on the quickest, easiest, most relaxing and most powerful part of their healing—medical acupuncture.
If someone has a high CRP on his/her blood tests, meaning the serum IL-6 is high, we can target that in a different way than we would if the CRP was low. Acupuncture has been proven through research to stimulate and decrease TNFa, IL-1B, IL-6 and IL-10 just to name a few. It is an extremely strong therapy that can bypass the digestive tract. It’s so strong, we often have to worry about giving too strong of a treatment to first-time patients. The stimulation of cytokines can induce temporary feelings of headache, fatigue and a temporary increase in pain. The best part about medical acupuncture is continuous nerve stimulation (which is precisely what medical acupuncture is), which forces your brain to make anti-inflammatory cells in response. After a few sessions, your brain and body start to do this on their own (make and stimulate anti-inflammatory cells). This is called the “opioid peptide metabolism.” Unless, of course, you are doing something that is self sabotaging to your health, which is why we coach patients on changing, or at least making them aware of, their habits that are not helping their autoimmune conditions. The most rewarding piece is to see patients year after year where their blood tests have dropped into the normal range and their symptoms have disappeared! Autoimmune conditions aren’t a mystery or puzzle—they just take persistence and teamwork!
Dr. Christina Fick (DAOM)
Organic Certified Supplements