Although few doctors know how to successfully manage autoimmune disease — a condition in which the immune system attacks the body — researchers say it has become a modern epidemic, affecting more people than heart disease and cancer combined. Conventional medicine also argues autoimmune disease has mysterious origins and is primarily genetic, but again research paints a different picture — autoimmune disease has largely been traced to the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our environment.
It takes the average person five years and visiting at least five different doctors before they receive a diagnosis for autoimmunity. Despite many published and peer-reviewed scientific studies about autoimmunity, rare are medical doctors who know how to identify symptoms of autoimmunity, properly screen for it, or appropriately treat it.
Most autoimmune patients are prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, told they need to exercise more or lose weight, or told they are making up their symptoms. More than 75 percent of patients with autoimmunity are women, which suggests the sexism shown to exist in medicine stands in the way of better treatments.
If medical doctors do diagnose autoimmune disease, it is typically only after the disease has almost completely destroyed the targeted tissue, whether it’s parts of the brain, the thyroid gland, or the sheaths that coat the nerves. At this point they can offer invasive treatments such as steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.
Examples of popular autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and vitiligo. Although about 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified so far, the truth is the immune system can attack any cell in the body and researchers believe there are probably more than 100.
If you would like help understanding Epidemic Autoimmune Diseases, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Why autoimmunity is becoming so common
Autoimmunity rates are skyrocketing. Consider the following:
- Type 1 diabetes rose 23 percent between 2001 and 2009 in the US
- Crohn’s disease rose 300 percent in 20 years in the UK
- Inflammatory bowel disease has risen more than 7 percent every year in Canada
- An Israeli study showed autoimmune rates are rising worldwide
- Studies show autoimmune rates rise the most in developed nations and in countries that are developing while they are lowest in the least developed countries.
“Developed” has become synonymous with “toxic.”About 80,000 chemicals that haven’t been tested on humans are in our environment in the US and about 5,000 new ones are added every year. Random blood sampling studies show that we all have dozens, if not hundreds (depends on how many they test), of these chemicals in our bloodstream. One study of fetal cord blood found almost 300 different chemicals in newborns around the country.
Other studies link different chemicals to different autoimmune diseases. For instance, mercury has been shown to trigger lupus and pesticides are linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
Rising autoimmune rates are also traced to poor diets high in processed foods and low in plant fiber. This compromises the gut microbiome, or gut bacteria diversity, which has been linked to poor immune function.
Low vitamin D levels, high chronic stress levels, hormonal imbalances, high sugar consumption, and sedentary lifestyles are some of other common reasons for the autoimmune epidemic.
A functional medicine approach to autoimmune disease
When it comes to autoimmunity, functional medicine shines.
For one thing, we listen to you. We know you are not crazy, making up your symptoms, or attention seeking. Autoimmunity is frustrating and confounding in its wide variety of symptoms and mysterious nature. We understand how demoralizing this can be.
Although symptoms vary depending on the tissue being attacked, common symptoms among all autoimmune sufferers include fatigue, malaise, pain, brain fog, depression, and periods where you “crash,” or have such low energy you can’t function.
In functional medicine we use lab tests that screen for multiple autoimmune conditions at once. This allows us to identify an autoimmune reaction taking place that may not be advanced enough yet to cause extreme symptoms. This allows us to halt or slow its progression.
We also can test for the triggers in your environment, such as certain foods you may not be aware are sending your immune system into a tailspin, such as gluten, or specific chemicals, such as benzene. Avoiding these triggers can help you feel better.
Successfully managing autoimmunity is not necessarily about managing the part of your body that is being attacked. Instead, it’s about addressing your hyper zealous and misguided immune system. The immune system is very complex and always in flux, but thankfully new research is continually helping us learn new strategies to balance immunity, dampen inflammation, tame autoimmune flares, and prevent autoimmunity from progressing and devastating the body.
In fact, some autoimmune patients say their autoimmune disease has taught them how to live more balanced and healthy lives than they would have otherwise.
Ask my office for more information about how to manage your autoimmune condition.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
If you’re getting your TSH levels checked to monitor your thyroid health, it’s best to get that done in the morning. Otherwise, your results may come back normal even though you have hypothyroidism.
All the body’s hormones follow a daily rhythm, including thyroid hormone. This means there are times of the day when it naturally higher or lower. Researchers tested the blood of hypothyroid subjects both before 8 a.m. and again between 2 and 4 p.m.
In hypothyroid patients both untreated and on thyroid medication, TSH dropped was substantially lower during the afternoon test. This means an estimated 50 percent of people with hypothyroidism are not being diagnosed.
In the untreated group, TSH was 5.83 in the morning and 3.79 in the afternoon. In the treated group, TSH was 3.27 in the morning and 2.18 in the afternoon.
A 2004 study also showed late morning, non-fasting TSH was 26 percent lower compared to the early morning, fasting TSH. This means even a late morning blood draw could result in a failure to diagnose. Do you really want to know what is going on with your thyroid? Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Consultation with Dr. Celaya.
TSH blood test timing and functional medicine ranges
The timing of your blood draw plays an important role in reading a thyroid panel. However, there is more to it.
Even with an early morning blood draw, many doctors will still fail to diagnose hypothyroidism because they use lab ranges that are too wide and that do not reflect genuine thyroid health.
Many doctors still use a hypothyroidism TSH range of 0.5 to 5.0 even though the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends 0.3 to 3.0.
In functional medicine, we use an even narrower range of .25 to 1.25. We also know that only looking at TSH can miss hypothyroidism.
For example, TSH may be normal but other thyroid markers are off. That’s why it’s important to order a thyroid panel that includes total and free T4 and T3, reverse T3, free thyroxine index (FTI), T3 uptake, and thyroid binding globulins. Many conditions can cause poor thyroid function, including inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and chronic stress. Ordering these other thyroid markers provides more insight into such imbalances.
Always include a test for autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
In addition to these markers, anyone with symptoms of hypothyroidism should also test for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.
Why? About 90 percent of hypothyroidism cases in the US are caused by Hashimoto’s. To screen for Hashimoto’s, order TPO and TGB antibodies.
Thyroid medications may be necessary to support thyroid function, but they do not address the autoimmunity attacking the thyroid gland. Failing to manage Hashimoto’s increases the risk of developing other autoimmune diseases such as pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, and Type I diabetes. It will also make it more difficult to manage your symptoms.
Want to see if Dr. Celaya is the right fit for you? Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Consultation with Dr. Celaya to talk about your thyroid.
A recent study found regular use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for acid reflux raises the risk of stomach cancer. PPI users (Prilosec, Prevacid) in the study had twice the risk for stomach cancer compared to those who used H2-receptor acid reducing drugs (Tagamet, Pepcid).
About 20 percent of Americans suffer with acid reflux and heartburn. Most people attribute acid reflux to excess stomach acid. However, the problem is too little stomach acid. How does low stomach acid cause acid reflux? Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15 minute consultation with Dr. Celaya.
The stomach is highly acidic by design so that it can quickly break down foods and kill bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens. Good stomach acidity also helps absorb minerals and signal the rest of the digestive tract to release the right hormones, enzymes, and emulsifiers. Sufficient stomach acid is an important first step in ensuring overall digestion runs smoothly and that you are less susceptible to heartburn, indigestion, belching, gas, food allergies, bacterial infection, and abdominal pain.
What causes low stomach acid?
Common factors that cause low stomach acid include stress, bacterial infection, poor diet, and nutritional deficiencies. However, an H. pylori infection, which is linked to stomach ulcers, is the most common cause of low stomach acid.
Other factors that play a role in low stomach acid include hypothyroidism, pernicious anemia, and deficiencies in zinc B12, magnesium, or chloride. People who have been vegetarians or vegans for a long time may be deficient in zinc and B12, which are abundant in meats.
How low stomach acid causes acid reflux
In order for the small intestine to receive food from the stomach, the contents must be acidic enough to trigger that passage. When this fails to happen, the food shoots back up into the esophagus.
Although the food is not acidic enough for the small intestine, it is too acidic for esophageal tissue. This is what causes the burning of acid reflux, or heartburn.
Why antacids worsen acid reflux in the long run
Antacids or acid blockers bring temporary relief but can cause bigger problems in the long run. Without stomach acid to trigger the release of enzymes, digestive hormones, and emulsifiers, nutrient absorption suffers and the digestive tract is more prone to infection, inflammation, and damage.
How to improve low stomach acid
The first thing to do with low stomach acid is address the root cause. As we age, stomach acid naturally decreases. You can boost stomach acid by taking a supplement that contains betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl). However, if you have stomach ulcers or stomach autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys tissue), supplementing with HCl could make you worse. In these situations you need to address the existing condition first.
If you would like to get to the root cause of your heartburn, you can schedule for a free consultation with Dr. Celaya.
A recent study showed a low-carbohydrate, whole foods diet low in inflammatory foods significantly decreases thyroid antibodies — the marker for autoimmune thyroid disease, or Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland; it is the cause of about 90 percent of hypothyroid cases. This study is further evidence you can profoundly influence autoimmune Hashimoto’s through diet and lifestyle interventions.
In the three-week study, almost 200 people with Hashimoto’s were divided into two groups. One group followed the low-carbohydrate study diet while the other followed a standard low-calorie diet.
The results were significant: Levels of several different thyroid antibodies that serve as markers for Hashimoto’s dropped between 40 and almost 60 percent! This group also lost a little weight.
Meanwhile, the group that followed a low-calorie diet saw antibody levels go up between 9 to 30 percent!
What the study group ate to tame Hashimoto’s
The study designers chose a curious route for their research in having their subjects follow both a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet as well as a diet low in goitrogens. Goitrogens are compounds that lower thyroid function and are found in raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), soy, and other foods.
Before people understood the mechanisms of autoimmune Hashimoto’s, it used to be the rule of thumb was to avoid goitrogenic foods.
However, through the evolution of functional medicine, we have learned most people with Hashimoto’s can safely eat normal amounts of cruciferous vegetables. In fact, they contain many beneficial nutrients as well as fiber. People with unresolved small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or genetic difficulty metabolizing sulfur may not do well with these vegetables. So we don’t know how subjects would have fared in this study had they included these vegetables.
Soy, on the other hand, has been shown to lower thyroid hormone levels in studies and is best avoided by those with Hashimoto’s.
The study diet that improved Hashimoto’s
Here is the diet the study subjects ate that lowered their thyroid antibodies:
- Low carbohydrate diet that was 12 to 15 percent carbohydrates, 50 to 60 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fats. (Most people eat a diet that is about 50 percent carbohydrates.)
- Lots of different vegetables. Research shows a diet high in veggies improves immune health through its impact on beneficial gut bacteria.
- Lean meats and fish.
- No goitrogens: cruciferous vegetables (which, if not eaten to excess, improve beneficial gut bacteria), canola, watercress, arugula, radish, horseradish, spinach, millet, tapioca, nitrates.
- Eggs, legumes, dairy products, bread, pasta, fruit, and rice. In functional medicine we know gluten and dairy exacerbate autoimmune Hashimoto’s for the most part. Eggs, legumes, and grains are inflammatory for many people as well. People with poor blood sugar stability may need to limit their fruit intake.
In functional medicine, we see the best results with a diet very similar to this one called the autoimmune paleo diet (AIP). In fact, a recent study showed the AIP diet significantly improved autoimmune gut disorders.
Ask my office for more advice on managing your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other autoimmune disease.