Inflammation is a “hot” topic in medicine. It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease - from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression. Other inflammatory diseases such as allergies, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disease are increasing at dramatic rates.
Physicians are trained to shut off inflammation with aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication, steroids, and increasingly more powerful immune suppressing medication with serious side effects. But they are not trained to find and treat the underlying causes of inflammation in chronic disease. Hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, inflammatory diets, and stress are the real causes of these inflammatory conditions.
Autoimmune diseases, supposedly affect 8% of the French population and include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. These are often addressed by powerful immune suppressing medication and not by addressing the cause. That’s like taking a lot of aspirin while you are standing on a tack. The treatment is not more aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack. It you want to cool off inflammation in the body, you must find the source.
Functional medicine, the emerging 21st century paradigm of systems medicine, teaches to treat the cause, not only the symptoms. Functional medicine is a different way of thinking about disease that helps physicians understand and treat the real causes of inflammation instead of finding clever ways to shut it down. Medicine as it is practiced today is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while a fire burns down your house!
We are facing an epidemic of allergic, asthmatic and autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and the many other hard-to-classify syndromes in the 21st century. These are all autoimmune conditions, and they are connected at their root by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.
Your immune system is your defense against invaders. It is your internal army that should clearly distinguish friend from foe. Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system gets confused and your own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire. Your body is fighting something - an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or the stress response - and somehow it redirects its hostile attack on your joints, your brain, your thyroid, your gut, your skin, or sometimes your whole body.
This immune confusion results from what is referred to as molecular mimicry. Conventional approaches don’t have a method for finding the insult causing the problem. Functional medicine provides a map to find out which molecule the cells are mimicking.
Interestingly, autoimmune disorders occur almost exclusively in developed countries. People in poor nations without modern amenities like running water, flush toilets, washing machines, and sterile backyards don’t get these diseases. If you grew up on a farm with lots of animals, you are also less likely to have any of these inflammatory disorders. Playing in the dirt, being dirty, and being exposed to bugs and infections trains your immune system to recognize what is foreign and what is “you.”
In Western countries, autoimmune diseases, when taken all together, are a huge health burden. They are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient’s lifespan by eight years. Unfortunately, many of the conventional treatments available can make you feel worse. Anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, immune suppressants like methotrexate, and the new TNF-alpha blockers like, can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and diabetes, not to mention overwhelming infection and cancer.(1)
When used selectively, these drugs can help people get their lives back. But they are not a long-term solution. They shouldn’t be the end of treatment, but a bridge to cool off inflammation while we treat the root cause of the disease.
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