Have you been diagnosed with or do you think you have an autoimmune disorder? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, while the estimate of American Autoimmune Related Disorders Association (AARDA) is 50 million. The NIH’s estimate is lower because the estimate only includes 24 diseases for which they have epidemiology studies. According to researchers, there are 80-100 autoimmune disorders that have been identified, plus a suspected minimum 40 additional conditions that are based on autoimmunity. Many cases are complex because the symptoms cross multiple specialities and all or many body organs are affected.
Causes of Autoimmune Diseases
According to the preponderance of research studies, there is not just one cause of autoimmune disorders, but many, including:
- Poor microbiome development from early life, which typically happens with C-section birth and/or little or no breastfeeding
- Damage to immature immune system in early life, such as accidental lead or mercury exposure in young children and potential reaction to vaccine adjuvants
- Environmental toxins
- Mold and mycotoxin exposure from water damaged buildings
- Increased exposure to artificial electromagnetic radiation, such as cell phones, wireless transmitters, bluetooth devices, etc.
- Repeated artificial light exposure during sleeping hours.
- Molecular mimicry cross-reactivity damaging tissues (e.g., viral infection immune response damaging pancreatic beta cells)
- Nutrient deficiency and/or poor nutrient absorption
- Long term adverse drug reactions (e.g., autoimmune hepatitis from long-term methotrexate use)
- Bad lifestyle habits (i.e., smoking, excessive alcohol, poor sleep habits)
The above causes are magnified in those with certain genetic variations.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s
Hypothyroidism is a condition where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient thyroid hormones. This condition is also called underactive thyroid. This hormone controls your metabolism, the process that converts the fuel from food into the energy. Thus, common symptoms are fatigue and weight gain.
Mainstream medicine considers a person has hypothyroidism when their TSH is above 4.5. However, many people are suffering many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism without having their TSH above 4.5. A more thorough Functional Medicine approach considers a more complete look at the pituitary and thyroid hormones regulating the thyroid. A full thyroid panel should include TSH, total T4, free T4, total T3, free T3, reverse T3, and thyroperoxidase antibodies and thyroglobulin antibodies. I cover all of these in detail in my ebook titled, “Patient Guide to Hypothyroidism Diagnosis & Treatment”. Get a copy here.
Hypothyroidism is fairly easy to treat. By considering the relationship of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid-gonadal (HPATG) hormonal axis, I am not just looking at simplistic effects of the TS, T4 and T3. Considering the combined effects of how stress induces increased cortisol from the adrenals and increases conversion of T4 to reverse T3, plus the influence of excess estradiol with low progesterone adversely affecting thyroid function, we don’t treat this condition by simply supplementing thyroid hormones, typically with levothyroxine.
The major causes of hypothyroidism are:
- Autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (the most common cause of hypothyroidism)
- Partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland
- Radiation treatment
- Congenital hypothyroidism (being born with it)
- Some prescription drugs
- Iodine over abundance or deficiency
- Damaged pituitary gland
- Other rare disorders affecting the thyroid
Hyperthyroidism and Grave’s Disease
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid is overactive — producing too much of thyroxine. This is the opposite of hypothyroidism.
Common Causes of Hyperthyroidism:
- Graves’ disease
- toxic adenoma
- Plummer’s disease
Like Hashimoto’s, Grave’s is caused by autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland. It’s not uncommon that I see a patient who started with Grave’s, and later progresses to Hashimoto’s. This occurs far too often because of some autoimmune trigger and perpetuating process which induces antibody production against the thyroid gland.
As a practitioner that focuses on identifying and treating root causes, I consider what triggered the antibody production, or what perpetuates the antibody production. In other words, what are the underlying causes. So, beyond the above causes, I dig deeper to identify the underlying causes.
Common Underlying Causes:
- In the vast majority of cases, increased intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) is the cause and trigger of antibody production
- Heavy metal exposure can be a trigger of an autoimmune disorder. A common source of heavy metal exposure, particularly mercury, is mercury amalgam dental fillings.
- Mold and mycotoxin exposure may be a trigger of autoimmune condition. Anyone who has had as little as 72 hours of relatively consistent exposure of living or working in a water damaged building with indoor mold growth can have chronic inflammation triggered together with autoimmune disorder. Those who have HLA-DR gene that have increased genetic susceptibility to mold-induced illness can be much more susceptible to induction of mold-induced autoimmune disease.
- Chronic inflammation, due to any reason, can also be a trigger of autoimmune disease.
Diabetes is essentially a disorder resulting in elevation of blood sugar (glucose). There could be many causes of blood sugar elevation, but it can be summarized into two words: diet and lifestyle. Below is a list of causes that can be traced back to bad diet and lifestyle.
Common Causes of Diabetes
- Autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic beta-cells that produce insulin (Type 1 diabetes)
- Resistance of insulin receptors on cell membranes to bringing glucose circulating in the bloodstream to the inside of tissue cells (insulin resistance) as in Type 2 diabetes
- High simple sugar, high grain/starchy carbohydrate diet
- Lack of regular exercise
- Progression of truncal and central obesity
- Cholesterol lowering statin drugs inducing diabetes
Insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes development may be preventable before autoimmune attack destroys all the pancreatic beta cells by removing potential autoimmune triggers, such as gluten, and using vanadyl sulphate for prevention of beta cell destruction. Type 2 diabetes reversal is often successful using a Functional Medicine approach, which is focused on diet and lifestyle.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a serious, long-term illness that affects many body systems.” According to conventional medical perspective, the cause is unknown.
Previously, many in alternative medicine attributed CFS to be primarily induced by an adrenal dysfunction (aka “adrenal-burnout” or “adrenal fatigue”) where cortisol production by the adrenal gland is very low. However, this is only one factor often present in CFS. Mold illness-induced Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), Lyme’s Disease, and chronic elevation of heavy metals are some of the health conditions that must be ruled out if CFS with lowered cortisol output is detected. In other words, low cortisol “adrenal fatigue” may only be a symptoms of CIRS, Lyme’s or elevated heavy metals.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, when people with celiac disease eat gluten, found in high amounts in wheat, rye and barley, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, the small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, which promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
From a Functional Medicine perspective, Celiac Disease is the extreme manifestation along a continuum of variable degrees of gluten intolerance. According to the research on gluten intolerance over the last 20 years, gluten sensitivity does occur in those even with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity just means that there is not severe damage to the intestinal villi, though gluten is involved in other intestinal damage.
If you have any of the above autoimmune disorders or other autoimmune conditions not mentioned here, I highly recommend that you seek treatment that is focused on reversing the processes that cause your health condition.
Douglas Husbands DC IFMCP
Dr. Husbands is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner, Doctor of Chiropractic and Certified Clinical Nutritionist. He specializes in digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, mold-related illness, and musculoskeletal conditions, such as herniated disc and sciatica. He’s been in practice for over 28 years, with the last 12 years in San Carlos, CA.
He is a San Francisco native, and he loves the Giants. [Read Full Bio]