Just because something is common does not mean it’s normal. Being chronically sick is all too common these days. We see just how common it is in the health stats. Almost 70% of Americans between the ages of 40 and 79 regularly take prescription medication. For those who do, they take an average of five. That’s their “normal.” But it’s not normal to medicate while claiming to be healthy overall. Anyone who is on medication is sick. While being sick is not normal, it is common. Most American adults have a condition that prompts them to take some type of prescription drug to feel good or prevent further degeneration. Often, it’s a drug to control some type of autoimmune disease, which is seen as a lifelong condition. But is it really? We need to expand our approach to health and wellness.
Statistics on Autoimmune Diseases
Just look at some of these statistics.
- The Autoimmune Association reports that there are currently over 100 diagnosed autoimmune diseases.
- Autoimmunity is on the rise in the United States, according to Harvard University.
- According to data published in the journal Arthritis Rheumatology, blood indicators of autoimmunity rose from 11% in the late 1980s and early 1990s to 16.1% from 2011 to 2012. It’s likely even higher 10 years later in 2022.
- According to Johns Hopkins, the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S. is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism). Immediately following is Graves’ disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism). The third most common is rheumatoid arthritis.
If you look at those statistics alone, you might think that chronic illness is the norm –especially as we get older. We disagree. If having a chronic condition is normal, then there is nothing you can do about it. You just go to the doctor if you’re not feeling well, and he or she will tell you if you’re sick. Basically, you wait around to see what life gives you in the illness lottery. This way of thinking takes control away from the individual and gives it to the medical system.
The Fireman, The Carpenter, and Autoimmune Disease
It’s not that we don’t need doctors or surgeons. They can remove a tumor when needed or save your life if you have a heart attack. They can even step in with drug interventions when an autoimmune flare-up is out of control and is life-threatening. At The Wellness Way, we refer to these doctors as “Fireman doctors.” These medical professionals have two tools they can use to help us: an axe and a hose, representing surgery and medications. Sometimes, they are exactly who and what we need to get us through a health crisis or major injury.
Fireman doctors can help a lot in the short term. But we also need doctors who have an expanded view of health –doctors we refer to as “Carpenter doctors.” These are the doctors and practitioners who will support us on our journey to health. Rather than simply removing parts and medicating, these doctors focus on supporting the natural function of the body with dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Many people believe being on a corticosteroid medication (the fireman’s hose) for an autoimmune condition is normal. They focus on alleviating their symptoms with the right drug rather than looking at the causes of symptoms and conditions. This is the view of the medical field. It’s why there’s so much emphasis on “early detection” for some conditions and “daily testing” for others.
People worry more about testing to find disease than testing to learn how they can support the body. They have forgotten that the body is designed to be healthy.
What Conditions Are Considered Autoimmune?
Autoimmunity can affect any organ or system in the body; it just depends on what parts of the body the immune system attacks. That’s why autoimmune conditions can vary so much in their symptoms. They can affect thyroid hormone production, cause hair loss, and lead to muscle weakness or joint pain. Here are some examples of common autoimmune conditions:
- Type 1 diabetes (autoimmunity to the beta cells of the pancreas)
- Multiple sclerosis (autoimmunity to the myelin sheaths)
- Systemic Lupus erythematosus (autoimmunity to multiple tissues)
- Psoriasis (autoimmunity to skin cells)
- Psoriatic arthritis (autoimmunity to the skin and joints)
- Dermatomyositis (autoimmunity to the skin)
- Scleroderma (autoimmunity to connective tissue)
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (autoimmunity to the intestinal tract)
- Celiac disease (autoimmunity to the lining of the small intestine)
- Myasthenia gravis (autoimmunity to acetylcholine receptors in the muscles)
- Sjögren’s (autoimmunity to tear and saliva glands)
- Autoimmune vasculitis (autoimmunity to blood vessels)
- Pernicious anemia (autoimmunity to the parietal cells in the stomach)
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmunity to the thyroid)
- Graves’ Disease (autoimmunity to the thyroid)
The most common test for these conditions is the Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test. The doctor will often follow up with additional blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. The medical system generally treats these conditions with immune suppressant drugs and steroids, all of which have side effects.
What is Really Behind Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune conditions might be common, but they aren’t normal. They are not a normal part of getting older, and autoimmune disease doesn’t just run in the family –although there can be a genetic component. Research has shown that genetics only influence 30% of autoimmunity. The remaining 70% comes from intestinal hyperpermeability and environmental factors.
Researcher Alessio Fasano, MD, describes susceptibility to autoimmune disorders as a 3-legged stool:
- A genetic predisposition
- “Leaky” gut (intestinal hyperpermeability)
- An environmental trigger – which we categorize into trauma, toxins, and thoughts.
All three must be present for someone to develop an autoimmune disease. A compromised gut combined with one or more of these environmental triggers along with genetic susceptibility can lead to one or more autoimmune conditions. Notice that it’s not your genetics alone that determine health. You aren’t necessarily going to develop a condition because it “runs in the family.” Yes, you can have certain risk factors, but there must be an environmental cause.
At The Wellness Way, we always go back to the concept of the 3 Ts, constituting the environmental causes. Originally from the field of chiropractic, this concept states that there are three categories of stress that take a toll on the nervous system and create dis-ease: trauma, toxins, and thoughts.
Traumas and Autoimmunity
Traumas are physical stressors that strain the nervous system, setting disease processes into motion. Autoimmune diseases are often initiated by a traumatic experience or injury, especially early on in life. Examples of traumas that may trigger a chronic immune response include:
- Chronic subluxation in the spine
- Childhood trauma
- A traumatic injury like a car accident
- Sexual assault/rape
- Being a witness to violence or natural disaster
- Military combat –PTSD
- Divorce (yourself or your parents)
- Death in the family
- Severe illness or infection
- Having a baby –major stress on the body
Even a major chemical exposure or infection can be a trauma to the body. It’s anything that can create an emergency situation where the body is put into survival mode.
Toxins and Autoimmunity
The toxin category refers to biochemical stressors on the body. These can be both natural and synthetic toxins. They may be toxins created by infections, like mold toxins or even too much sugar or alcohol. Toxins also include medications. Here are some examples of toxic exposures increasing a person’s risk of autoimmune disease:
- Sugar – Sugar in excess acts like a toxin in the body, leading to inflammation, leaky gut, and autoimmune disease flares.
- Food allergies – Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten, which serves as a toxin and environmental trigger.
- Metal toxicity – There’s a such thing as metal-induced autoimmunity. Mercury is the main culprit, along with lead and arsenic. Women with high mercury exposure were over 2X as likely to have thyroid antibodies.
- Mold and mycotoxins – A Finnish study found that those exposed to mold and mycotoxins had higher rates of autoimmune conditions.
- Viral infections – Scientists have also confirmed that Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is an autoimmune trigger.
- Pesticides – A 2007 study of death certificates linked pesticide exposure to systemic autoimmune disease in farmers.
Being in a stressed state at the time of trauma or a toxic exposure can compound the problem. An emotional nervous system weakens the body’s ability to effectively respond to physical and chemical stressors.
Thoughts and Autoimmunity
The category of “thoughts” as a stressor refers to chronic psychological or emotional stress that causes someone to be chronically triggered. Stressful thoughts put our nervous system into “fight-or-flight,” triggering inflammation and turning on genes for a disease. Some contributors to thoughts as a stressor include:
- Paying attention to the news (fear/worry)
- Emotional stress from major life changes (marriage, new baby, graduating, divorce, moving)
- Psychological stress from relationships, career, or financial challenges
- Anger/holding a grudge
Research published in Frontiers in Immunology confirms the link between psychological stress (acute or chronic), leaky gut, and a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. Stress was shown to increase your risk of developing autoimmunity and worsen symptoms if you already have an autoimmune condition. A feeling of “dis-ease” can lead to physical disease over time.
The Swiss Watch Principle and Autoimmunity
At The Wellness Way, we describe the systems of the body as working together like the gears of a Swiss watch. Consequently, if one of the “gears” is somehow restricted, it will affect all the other gears, and the watch will not work like it’s supposed to. That’s also the case in the human body. In autoimmune disease, the gut, the nervous system, and the immune system are all important gears to look at. Autoimmunity is an indication that inflammation is out of control and the body needs major detoxification support.
If we think being sick or on medication is normal, we won’t support your body the way we should. That’s because we think that it’s not in our hands –that it’s outside our control. However, eating healthfully, allowing the body time to heal, and addressing the underlying lifestyle leading to dis-ease, can lower antibodies. Autoimmune symptoms then subside. The good news is that you can do something. You can support your body with wellness choices that complement our current healthcare system.
Supporting The Body to Quell the Autoimmune Response
How do you support your body in turning down the autoimmune response, allowing it to heal? Again, it goes back to making sure all those “gears” are working properly so that the whole system works well. Here are some ideas of where to start.
We Say it ALL the Time – Get Tested!
Many people haven’t been tested properly to see how their body is functioning. If they have been tested at all, it is usually very incomplete and has just been done to look for abnormalities –thyroid testing is a good example of this. Your tests can be within what is within a medically “normal” range when your body isn’t functioning optimally. Proper testing, whether that’s food allergy testing or a stool (gut health) test, can reveal valuable insights into your health. At The Wellness Way, we go beyond the conventional Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) test for autoimmune disease and run the Autoimmune 30+ Target Specific Antibody Test. This lab tests for 30+ specific antigens that are known to be associated with over 20 common autoimmune disorders.
Nutrition for Your Unique Body
Nutrition can literally be the difference between enjoying a vibrant, healthy life or living with pain and disease, and barely coping. Many people are eating toxic, processed foods that raise inflammation in the body, cause intestinal dysbiosis and leaky gut and mess with their hormones.
Others think they are following a healthy diet, but it isn’t healthy for them due to blood sugar issues, gut dysbiosis, or food allergies. Kale might be great food for many people, but you may be allergic to it. That means every time you eat it, you’re creating inflammation in your body, ramping up the immune response and increasing antibodies.
Testing will look at your allergies and the overall function of the body to help determine what you need to be healthy. After all, we are all individuals with different needs.
Regular Chiropractic Adjustments for the Whole Family
The alignment of the spine affects the nervous system in a direct and undeniable way. Subluxations are misalignments in the spine that interfere with the nervous system. When the spine is out of alignment, the misaligned vertebrae can irritate the surrounding nerves. That leads to a sympathetic (“fight-or-flight”) response that impacts every system of the body, leading to inflammation throughout. The nervous system is the central gear in the Swiss watch of the body. For that reason, regular chiropractic treatments can help support your body’s ability to heal.
Detoxification to Support the Body
We are exposed to so many toxins these days –even if we are careful. They are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and many of the products we use daily. The body is designed to naturally detoxify, but we now encounter so many toxins that they can overwhelm our detoxification pathways. That can lead to a buildup of toxins and subsequent imbalances throughout the body. A good detox that is customized to you can aid your body in removing toxins, lowering inflammation, and restoring the body’s normal functions.
Reducing Stress is Important
Stress is one of the most common contributing factors to illness we see clinically. Unfortunately, it can be one of the most difficult factors for patients to address. Even when people see how high their stress hormones are on their lab results, they find it hard to do anything about it. However, reducing stress is one of the most important things you can do to support your body because stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, gut, immune system, and your health in general. Need ideas for reducing stress? Check out this article and ask for help from family and friends.
Autoimmune Disease is Not Normal: The Wellness Way Can Help
Your health is more in your hands than the current medical system would lead you to believe. That’s why we see rising rates of illness in our country instead of rates that are going down—because the medical system and media are trying to normalize autoimmune diseases. They are trying to normalize being on medication. Even TV commercials advertise medications showing healthy people running on the beach. They are trying to convince the public that being on medication is a part of being healthy. That’s where Dr. Patrick Flynn and The Wellness Way doctors and practitioners speak up, saying “I disagree.” Being sick is not normal. You don’t have to wait around to see whether your health will decline and whether you need a new medication to add to your regimen. There’s no need to suffer unnecessarily. Start supporting your body now. Make vibrant health common and normal. Contact a Wellness Way Clinic today and start your journey to wellness.
Part of The Wellness Way’s unique approach is the Swiss Watch Principle. When you understand how everything is connected, everything else makes more sense.
- Prescription Drug Use Among Adults Aged 40-79 in the United States and Canada – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Autoimmunity indicators on the rise among Americans – Harvard Health
- Increasing Prevalence of Antinuclear Antibodies in the United States – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Prevalence of Autoimmune Diseases – Autoimmune Disease | Johns Hopkins Pathology (jhu.edu)
- Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
- High Glucose Intake Exacerbates Autoimmunity through Reactive-Oxygen-Species-Mediated TGF-β Cytokine Activation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Toxicology of Autoimmune Diseases – PMC (nih.gov)
- Mercury and thyroid autoantibodies in U.S. women, NHANES 2007–2008 – ScienceDirect
- Severe Sequelae to Mold-Related Illness as Demonstrated in Two Finnish Cohorts – PMC (nih.gov)
- Epstein-Barr Virus and Systemic Autoimmune Diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Systemic autoimmune disease mortality and occupational exposures – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Psychological Stress, Intestinal Barrier Dysfunctions, and Autoimmune Disorders: An Overview – PMC (nih.gov)
- Neurobiological basis of chiropractic manipulative treatment of the spine in the care of major depression – PMC (nih.gov)