New Understanding: How to Successfully Treat Autoimmune Diseases

New Understanding: How to Successfully Treat Autoimmune Diseases

      Autoimmune disease rates have been escalating dramatically over the past 30 years, some by up to 23%.  These diseases occur when the immune system, which is supposed to attack invaders like bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast instead attacks one’s own body.  The medical and scientific community does not know exactly what causes autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. (More than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified). 

     The immune system is comprised of white blood cells, lymph nodes and the whole lymph system, the spleen, tonsils, and bone marrow (which makes white blood cells).  It also makes certain types of chemical messengers, while some types of white blood cells make proteins called antibodies.

     The immune system can send out cells that act like Pac-Man, gobbling up bacteria and viruses. It also makes free radicals, which act like miniature bombs to blow up the invaders. Essentially, the whole process is designed to create inflammation in the body that is targeted at killing bacteria, viruses, yeast, and other things that can cause disease.

     For example, with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks joint tissue, which can cause very bad pain and disfigured joints.  With lupus, the skin, joints, and internal organs are affected.  In multiple sclerosis, the immune system eats away at the protective coating around the nerves, preventing them from functioning properly.

     Fortunately, there are a few pharmaceutical medications that disrupt specific aspects of the autoimmune process, but for the most part, the conventional approach is usually either steroids or other medications that suppress the entire immune system.  These drugs aren’t specific, and because they affect the whole immune system, not just the area of the disease, the immune system as a whole is weaker than it should be.  This can result in the person being more susceptible to infections.

     While we don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases, a critical part of treating them is healing the digestive system.  Every patient I’ve seen with an autoimmune disease has been helped to some extent by adopting a specific diet to heal the gut.  Some patients who undertook very restrictive diets, like the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, enjoyed dramatic improvement.  This is because new research is finding that the gut is very important in regulating the immune system.  Good bacteria in the gut actually communicate with the immune system cells there by exchanging chemical messages.  When the gut gets balanced and there is no inflammation there, the immune system benefits regardless of what part of the body is affected by an autoimmune disease.

     For example, researchers in Israel and Germany have noted that the increases in autoimmune diseases have occurred in too short a time to be caused by genetic changes.  Focusing instead on other causes, they discovered a strong correlation between the skyrocketing use of industrial food additives in processed food and the increase in autoimmune diseases.  The studies revealed that processed foods damage the intestinal lining, increasing the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease.

     Other stressors on the immune system include pollution, exposure to toxins, and lack of sleep.  People who work night shifts long term have a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases and cancer, as well.  When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies are missing out on a major time when it repairs damaged cells or fixes mutations in DNA.

     While I have found that pharmaceutical medications are often still needed in managing autoimmune diseases, using diet and natural remedies to regulate the immune system  can bring major improvements and in some cases even lead to remission.  I typically focus on working with patients to develop a healing diet as a foundation.  I will also recommend certain types of probiotics and natural remedies to help heal the gut and regulate the immune system, along with regular acupuncture.  The acupuncture helps reduce pain and inflammation and strengthens the internal organs.  Over time, patients with an autoimmune condition are usually able to live healthier, happier lives with less dependence on medication.

 

When A Child’s Cough Just Won’t Go Away

When A Child’s Cough Just Won’t Go Away

     When children have a persistent cough, one of those stubborn conditions that seem to last forever, it’s only natural for parents to seek an immediate solution.  As a primary care doctor specializing in pediatrics, I understand that parental inclination.  No parent wants to see their child sick or suffering, and there are legitimate concerns about lack of sleep and long term damage.

     Coughing is a natural response to threats or irritation.  It helps get rid of everything from allergens to pollutants to microbes and mucus.  Most children who have coughs that hang on after colds or other viral infections don’t really need any treatment beyond a certain amount of patience.  Studies on OTC cough and cold medications for children show that they have not proven to be any more effective than placebos.  However, there have been many problems with side effects and overdoses.

     When a cough won’t go away, the challenge for a doctor is determining the nature of the condition.  For example, dry coughs are usually less of a concern that a wet cough.  Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing call for a visit to the doctor’s office.  At the same time, there are many times where the best response may be to just wait out the cough until it goes away on its own.

     Fortunately, as a naturopathic doctor, I have many more tools in my kit than conventional medicine provides.  If a child’s cough requires medical treatment, there is a wide assortment of herbs, homeopathics, and other natural formulas that are effective.  If the cough does not need medical treatment, I can give parents other natural remedies that soothe the child while waiting for nature to take its course.  Read the article here or click on the photo.

 

How Much Protein Is Too Much?

How Much Protein Is Too Much?

     People need protein because it supplies indispensable amino acids that our bodies cannot synthesize on their own.  Protein and amino acids combine to provide the essential building blocks to make and maintain muscle, bone, skin and other tissues as well as many important hormones and enzymes.   However, the body can only digest and absorb a certain amount of protein at every meal, between 20 and 40 grams.  The average adult can easily achieve the recommended protein intake in their meals — 46 grams of protein a day for women, and 56 grams for men.  American men average nearly twice that at 100 grams a day.

     Doctors have concerns about the long-term effects of excess protein.  Studies show that protein-rich diets do not preserve muscle mass over the long term and several large observational studies have linked high-protein diets with an increased incidence of cancer, heart disease and other ills.  One study of 6,381 adults found that those who ate a high protein diet between the ages of 50 and 65 were four times more likely to die of cancer than those who consumed less protein, but these affects were significantly lessened or eliminated if protein was plant based.  The bottom line:  I generally advise people to eat a good amount of plant based protein and to consult a holistic physician well versed in nutrition, as different medical conditions can have very different nutritional needs.  Find the article here.

Surpisingly, Most Medicines Are Untested In Pregnancy

Surpisingly, Most Medicines Are Untested In Pregnancy

     When a woman is taking medication for a chronic condition prior to becoming pregnant or is told she should start after becoming pregnant, she enters into a realm of uncertainty and potentially real danger.  Will the drugs be harmful to the developing fetus?  Will they affect the quality of breast milk?

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s a question that could affect the 70% of pregnant women who take at least one prescription drug.  The CDC admits that pregnant women aren’t usually included in drug safety studies, and currently there are only 12 medications approved for use during pregnancy.  Since only a handful of drugs are approved, what are doctors to do if their pregnant patient needs treatment with a pharmaceutical?

     Right now, there are no good answers, so doctors do the best they can. Rather than trying to figure out how to test drugs on pregnant women, I think the best long term solution is for doctors to help women who are planning to conceive treat their conditions holistically.  Some problems are more challenging to treat naturally, but most respond well to improvements in diet along with natural supplements, Chinese and Western herbs, qigong, acupuncture and other natural approaches.   Check out the information here.

Common Food Additives Increase Obesity And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Common Food Additives Increase Obesity And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

     Why are processed foods so bad for our health?  A recent study using laboratory animals published in the journal Nature provides some answers.  The emulsifiers cellulose gum and polysorbate 80, plump up fast food shakes, keep salad dressings creamy, and prevent ice cream from turning into an ugly looking soup.  They are also used extensively in pharmaceuticals, to improve the consistency of gel capsules, to make pills come apart in the stomach, and to keep medication suspended in fluids.

     The study revealed that both of the emulsifiers induced low-grade inflammation, increased weight gain and fat deposits, caused worrisome changes in metabolic function, and changed the mix of bacteria that colonize digestive tracts.  The additives erode the mucous membrane that lines the gut and provides a buffer against potentially damaging microorganisms.  They also boosted strains of gut microbes that promote inflammation and lessened the ones that keep it in check.

     The FDA has labeled the additives as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).  Hundreds of others are also labeled GRAS.  The problem is that under FDA guidelines, GRAS additives are screened for their for short term effects on health and short term cancer causing probability.  They are not studied to determine  long term cumulative effects on inflammation and microbiome diversity.

     The underlying problem is that processed foods cannot be manufactured or last on the shelf without chemical additives.  Is the price we pay in our health worth the convenience that processed foods offer?  In my experience as a doctor, the damage they cause and the pain and suffering they inflict are far more inconvenient.  Read the full article here.

5 Easy Ways To Live Happier Everyday

1. Eat Fruits and Vegetables

0709C06 Pineaples and Rambutan

Pineaples and Rambutan by syntheticaperture, on Flickr

Fruits and vegetables contain the highest amount of micronutrients and support easier digestion, improved bodily function, and a healthy lifestyle.

2. Stretch and Do Yoga Often

Business Club Yoga

Photo by: University of Hawaii - West Oahu (Business Yoga Club)

 Stretching everyday, even for just 15 minutes –  improves your circulation, relieves stress, makes you more flexible and contributes tremendously to your overall well being.

3. Laugh

Two Girls Funny Happy Shaving Cream Fight

Two Girls Funny Happy Shaving Cream Fight by Pink Sherbet Photography (D Sharon Pruitt), on Flickr

Laughter is said to be the best medicine. Laughing is thought to reduce stress, connect you to others, and make you feel great.

4. Gratitude 

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal by limevelyn, on Flickr

Write down 10 things that you are grateful for when you wake up every morning. You will be amazed at the results.

5. Be Positive

Mantra Mar 14

Not only are positive comments more 12 times more likely to get Liked on Facebook, they are also great for your health. In fact, thinking, saying and doing positive things, can benefit you overall health in unbelievable ways.

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