8 Myths and Facts About Autoimmune Disease

July 29th, 2016

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8 Myths and Facts About Autoimmune Disease

“If you can’t trust me, we can’t work together,” a doctor told a young woman who later became my patient. This woman lived in a tiny town in rural Texas where there was only one specialist equipped to handle her condition. But because she dared to question conventional medical wisdom, she was left without any treatment at all. I don’t want anyone to have to be in her position again.

I’ve seen the science, I’ve reviewed the research, and I’ve treated thousands of patients. As both physician and patient, I’m confident that The Myers Way works, and I want you to be confident, too. So let’s take on conventional wisdom, myth by myth, dismantling each misconception and replacing it with the truth.

 

1. Autoimmune disorders can’t be reversed.

Yes, there’s a genetic component in autoimmune disorders. But as we have learned from the brand-new field of epigenetics, genetic expression can be modified. For you to develop an autoimmune disorder, something in your environment, diet, or personal circumstances has to turn on the group of your genes that causes autoimmune disorders.

Through diet, intestinal healing, and reducing your toxic burden, you can instruct your problematic genes to turn off again, thereby restoring your beleaguered immune system to health.

 

2. Your symptoms won’t disappear without harsh medications.

It’s sad to say, but most conventional practitioners dismiss the importance of nutrition as a major factor in our health. The very concept of a toxic burden is foreign to most health care professionals, let alone the power of removing that burden from those who suffer from autoimmune disorders.

As a result, when it comes to fighting autoimmune conditions, conventional medicine really has only one weapon in its arsenal: drugs.

Instead of using medicine to suppress the immune system, The Myers Way uses food and supplements to strengthen and support it while you make sure to heal the gut. Medications are not your only option in treating autoimmune disorders.

 

3. When you treat an autoimmune disorder with medications, the side effects are no big deal.

I wish this myth were true — but it isn’t. Conventional practitioners, trying to bring aid and comfort to their patients, are likely to reassure you that your medications won’t cause side effects and that the side effects they do cause are minor. As a former “conventional medicine patient,” I know this all too well.

In fact, the side effects of the drugs most often used to treat autoimmune disorders are common, frequent and disruptive.

 

4. Improving digestion and gut health have no effect on the progression of autoimmune disorders.

I heard it from my doctors when I was a patient, and I hear it from my colleagues now that I’m a functional medicine physician: The immune system and the digestive system are two different aspects of the body, and never the twain shall meet.

Here’s the problem with ignoring the gut: Since the majority of your immune system is located there, it is essential to focus on the digestive system and heal your leaky gut if you want to reverse your autoimmune symptoms. In order to be healthy, you must have a healthy gut. And I can show you thousands of patients who have seen immune system results — almost immediately — from digestive system healing.

 

5. Going gluten-free won’t make any difference to your autoimmune disorder.

“Gluten-free? That’s just some crazy fad people are trying to cash in on. We’ve been eating wheat for thousands of years, so why all of a sudden would it turn out not to be healthy?”

That’s what many people believe about the role of gluten in our health, and most conventional practitioners are no different. Tell your doctor that you are concerned about gluten, and most likely he or she will say two things: “We can run a blood test and see if you have celiac disease” and “Do you have any digestive issues? No? Then you don’t have to worry about gluten.”

The idea that gluten doesn’t make any real difference to your condition is one of the most dangerous myths about autoimmune disorders. Taking apart that myth might be the single greatest service I can do for you.

 

6. Having an autoimmune disorder dooms you to a poor quality of life.

“My doctor said that, over time, I could expect to get weaker and weaker.”

“I’ve had to tell my son not to bring the grandkids over — I can’t take a chance on getting sick.”

“Sometimes the pain gets so bad, I can’t even take a walk with my husband.”

These are the kinds of problems that someone with an autoimmune disorder can frequently expect — but they are by no means inevitable. Although conventional medicine would counsel you to accept a poor quality of life as the likely outcome of your condition, I’m here to tell you that it is not at all inevitable. If you follow The Myers Way, you can expect to be symptom free, pain free and vigorous.

 

7. When it comes to autoimmune disorders, only your genes matter, not the environment.

8 Myths and Facts About Autoimmune Disease

Well, genetics does account for about 25% of the chance that you will develop an autoimmune disorder. But that means the remaining 75 percent of the picture is environmental — and therefore up to you. I find that an incredibly empowering statistic.

So don’t become a prisoner of your genetics. Whatever genes you were born with, you have the power to manage your body’s response to autoimmunity — and the power to create a happy, healthy life.

 

8. Your immune system is what it is, and there’s nothing you can do to support it.

Conventional practitioners treat autoimmune conditions by medicating the symptoms and suppressing the immune system. The Myers Way treats autoimmune conditions by strengthening the immune system, which includes cleansing and supporting the gut.

My approach is fundamentally different. I feel hope every day I go into my office and see the patients whose lives have been changed. I want to share that hope with you, so you can let go of the myths that surround you and embrace the promise of this powerful approach.

 

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  • Michaela Rosenberger

    I have the diagnosis of ITP, among a string of other autoimmune diseases. Along the way, I have shifted many of my beliefs and behaviors. Now, in addition, I am committed to shifting my nutrition. December 19 — platelets 3. January 20 — platelets 157. It isn’t nutrition alone, but many other things as well. I am combining traditional and Western medicine. I believe that I will heal.

    • Barbara Marquette

      Hi Michaela, I had ITP many years ago in my 20’s. I want you to know you can heal yourself. I was on prednisone for a couple of years and dramatically changed my diet to eat healthy. Once I was considered “cured” (meaning I didn’t have to have my spleen out, I was off the prednisone and my platelets were normal) they told me I was “very lucky”. I believe it had much more to do with my belief that since my body was attacking itself, I could choose to have it stop doing that. And most importantly, I believe it had to do with the change in my eating habits. You can do it; just believe in the power you have.

      • Rina

        Hi Barbara, my 10 years old daughter has been diagnosed with ITP. Can you please specify what life style changes helped you get cured from ITP. Really appreciate your response.

        • Michaela Rosenberger

          Rina, this is Michaela. There is an ITP organization. They have a lot of helpful information. What is working for me is diet, managing stress, activity — all the things that Dr. Amy recommends. I also recommend that you check out The Paleo Mom. She is a great resource for information. A big part of this, or any disease, is the belief that your body can heal itself. Doctors do not have all the answers. I believe in wholistic treatment. The more your daughter is empowered, regardless of the progress of the disease, the better she will feel. Michaela.

          • Rina

            Hi Michaela, thank you for taking time to reply. It’s been almost six months since she was diagnosed. The plt count goes up after dexamethasone treatment, but then trends down again. Therefore we’re worried that it might turn into chronic. We have always believed in healthy eating. But now I have put her on Autoimmune protocol diet (per Paleo mom). Can u shed more info on traditional medicine. Are you a pt of Dr. Amy or do you just follow her? Also, I would appreciate if you can give me more info on ITP organization. Thanks again for your time.

        • Barbara Marquette

          Hi Michaela, it was almost 40 years ago. What I remember was my diet was pizza, soda, hot dogs, burgers and fries in college. So when I was diagnosed after graduation, I changed my diet to whole foods, lots of veggies, lean protein. I also ate hard cheese and some homemade pasta my mother-in-law made with fresh pasta sauce. As I mentioned before, I also believed that if my body had just decided to attack itself, I could choose to have it stop doing that by eating better. Hope this helps.

          • Rina

            Hi Barbara, thanks for replying. Knowing that someone has cured from ITP gives us hope that our daughter will also recover. If you don’t mind sharing, how long did your ITP last?

          • Barbara Marquette

            I was on prednisone (started very high 150mg and then was lowered consistently til I was on 5 or 10 mg (I forget) for a year. Whole process was between 2-3 years.

          • Rina

            Thank you so much for sharing Barbara.

      • Michaela Rosenberger

        Thank you, Barbara. I do believe that my body can heal itself, and I support it through everything I do. Thanks for taking the time to reply. xoxo

  • Lisa

    Hi! Dr Myers, could you please give your take on how autoimmune diseases can affect mood and behavior? Is it common or possible that it can be the cause of severe mood swings, volatile tempers, almost bipolar up and down characteristics? Plus, can you please share any information that you might have whether from studies or anecdotally about how eating the wrong things can trigger such extreme behavioral episodes?

    I have a friend who has a long term thyroid disorder and has recently been diagnosed as Hashimoto’s, but thinks that there is no correlation between eating pizzas and whole cakes at one sitting with his deterioration of his thyroid. He also seems to be unaware that he gets grumpy and unpredictably moody or eruptingly reactive to what normal people would consider tiny occurrences a day or two after he binges on carbs and sugar. He laughs when I ask him what did he eat and that the white carbs/ gluten are adversely affecting him and his ability to have any rapport with people.

  • Pingback: What Does Food Have to do with Autoimmune Disorders? | Ray of Light Massage Training()

  • Joy

    Amy, I have never heard of anyone curing Type 1 diabetes. I have been able to reduce my insulin use by 1/3 with the autoimmune protocol diet http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol Do you know someone who has gained back the insulin making cells without a transplant? Or what should I expect?

    • Carol Allison

      Hi Joy, I wonder the same thing you just asked. My grand-baby is 6 and has type 1. My daughter feeds him healthy food, some organic, but he gets LOTS of gluten and sugar. I can’t make her understand. I’m totally off gluten and following the Meyers Way and have never felt better.

    • I never state that i can ‘cure’ anything. Certainly if you have an AI disease that affects vital hormone producing hormone like Hashimotos or DM1 — then if you get on this plan right at diagnosis you may be able to prevent going on Insulin or thyroid hormones (I have helped people do that) or if on meds reduce the meds — but if it has been years and too much tissue/ organ damage then maybe only reducing meds is the best we can get. BUT if you don’t deal with underlying issue you are 3x more likely to get another AI!!!

  • Marta

    On the whole there is so much here that I agree wholeheartedly with but I do have a problem with number 2. Despite being a person who would have taken the non medicinal route on pretty much 99.9% of possible situations, this is not good advice for people who have diseases that can get out of control quickly and kill them. This is what I have. So an autoimmune disease like Wegener’s Granulomatosis, that killed 85% of patients within 4-8 months of diagnosis before the current treatment, is not one that I would be advising people to forego the current medical treatment. I know there are a number of others that are deadly if not addressed immediately, with heavy hitter drugs that have almost as much risk associated with taking them as the diseases themselves, but if you want to see your kid grow up, there is some cases where gambling with your life is not good advice.
    If you ‘cure’ an autoimmune disease, that means you know the etiology of it and therefore have a cure for all 100+ diseases. So I hate hearing the word ‘cure’ associated with any autoimmune disease because it’s misleading. If caught early enough it can be reversed, but once your immune system develops an issue with recognition of self vs non self, it’s on a downward slide, and the patient has to be vigilant and really on top of their game.
    Before getting sick, I did everything right. I ate organic food cooked from scratch, I biked, hiked, cross country skied, downhill skied, I spent a big chunk of my free time in the woods being active, breathing clean air, and eating healthy, clean organic food. I got the H1N1 vaccine and my life changed for ever. The only reason I’m alive today is because of the heavy chemotherapy for over a year, heavy steroids (I just got off them after 5 years) and low dose chemo for life. I am planning on being there for my daughter’s graduation (she’s 8 now and was 3 and a half when I got diagnosed – my avatar is two months before diagnosis,) and as much as I hate to admit it, I am here because of the crappy drugs I have to take. But also I have to take the crappy drugs I have to take because I took the crappy vaccine that was supposed to be all safe and protective.

    • Elise

      Marta, I am so sorry that you are in this situation. I don’t purport to have a complete understanding of what you are dealing with but I also have Wegener’ s. I do not know the origin of my condition as you do, although my father was also diagnosed with it. I also underwent chemotherapy (Cytoxan), as well as courses of Methotrexate and Prednisone. I am happy to say that at this point I am off of all medications due to a strict adherence to an anti inflammatory diet and exercise. My rheumatologist and nephrologist swore up and down that I would be on medication for life and that my quality of life would be compromised. I am glad that that is not the case. I struggled for a long time but finally found what works for me. I only tell you this because I believe you should not give up hope. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you are or are not capable of. As long as I believed my doctors that I would not get well, I didn’t. It wasn’t until I fought against those beliefs that I healed. We have unimaginable resilience but we must not lose faith. Continue doing what you must to stay healthy but know that true health is within your reach. Best of luck!

      • Marta

        Elise, wow, another Weggie on here. A chink of our wine glasses together. I too was on Cytoxin for just over a year, have just stopped the pred after five years, and really want to go drug free. I will try later on when things are stabilized, and I so believe that there are alternatives, I just don’t want people to forego the only treatment possible for acute, nasty disease activity like WG. You are only alive because you were on the CTX, pred and MTX during your flare. If you didn’t take care of that acute disease activity with those drugs that kept you alive, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try the alternatives that keep you healthy today. Yes, I too have made some changes to my diet because I didn’t know the negative repercussion of wheat and GMO foods on our health, but now I know because it involves keeping a semblance of my life pre dx, and allowing me to stay alive to watch my kid grow up. So kudos to you for surviving, and kudos to you for making the necessary changes to stay optimum. Peace fellow Weggie.

        • Elise

          Yes Marta, exactly…I know I had to go through the I initial treatment to save my life. There was no doubt I was out of options at that point. I totally understand your predicament. I also have long-term repercussions from that treatment. Premature ovarian failure, Graves disease, etc. It completely changed the trajectory of my life, but despite all the difficulties, I learned to adapt. I’m happy that you have retained such a positive attitude and are staying informed. I wish you all the best in life and health, and yes, that is my wine glass you hear chinking;)

          • Marta

            I’m 100% with you. If you want to do something crazy, started by a fellow Weggie, here’s a link to what we’ve been doing in our town to raise the level of awareness. Please feel free to join in and start something in your neck of the woods, and watch for the next fun thing in awareness. http://findthecommonthread.com/2015/01/27/another-year-another-pj/
            You can also see the short article I wrote today with some tips for the newly diagnosed. It’s the latest post in the Blog section.

            All the very best to you and may you have a long, happy, healthy and prosperous second life.

    • I agree with you, although I’m talking specifically about chronic care. The beautiful thing about functional medicine is that it uses conventional, acute treatments when necessary but aims to get to the root cause of the problem by adopting significant lifestyle changes. But sometimes medications are necessary for an immediate intervention, and specifically when symptoms are life-threatening. I am not anti-medication, I use medications in my clinic where they are necessary. But I don’t like that the conventional thought is to ignore things like diet and stress and rely solely on medication to control a disease. Anything you can do to lower the amount of dependence you have on these drugs (because they do have such damaging side effects) is helpful!

      • Marta

        100% in agreement. Thanks for the reply.

      • Marta

        After this conversation with you, you keep popping up on my radar, and a friend just sent me a video of a talk you’re doing, and it’s a little freaky how you’re talking my kind of talk. From the way AI disease is treated by western meds, to the gut and biome, to gluten, to corn, to GMO and it being a pretty low common denominator for AI disease, all that stuff. Wow. So is there a Functional Medicine Centre in Canada that I could hook up with? I’m working on starting an Autoimmune Disease Centre in my town and I would love to have a functional medicine component to this endevour. Any direction from you would be pretty appreciated, as I am so on your wagon, again it’s slightly freaky.

        • I’m not sure about Canada but the Institute for Functional Medicine is located in Washington State: https://www.functionalmedicine.org/ If you contact them, they may know of another organization in Canada!

          • Marta

            Thanks a ton. I’ll contact them after our awareness raising event. Put your PJs on for all your buddies with autoimmune disease, Friday February 27, 2015. #PJday

          • Marta

            Thanks again. Here’s our PJ Day in Jasper to raise awareness for Autoimmune Disease. A buddy in town did the video rant, but it’s pretty awesome. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqjjSbcfG-s Maybe next year, you can join in our PJ revolution against Autoimmune Disease.

        • GiGi

          Marta, join the site Black Mold Symptoms on Facebook and in the files there is a list of Functional doctors all over. Maybe you can find 1 there.

          • Marta

            Thanks GiGi. I’ll check it out. We’re in the early stage of making our town a destination for healing the life of an autoimmune disease patient. Hopefully one day we can actually say ‘cure’ Thanks for the tip.

          • Marta

            Holy crap Gigi. I went on that Facebook page and the first post I read was a lady looking for help with her symptoms, and they happen to be exactly the symptoms for my stupid, rare disease. Docs don’t know it because it’s so obscure so it’s usually someone just out of school who still has it fresh in their head or someone who’s been into the literature that ends up picking it up…. or another patient who’s gone through the crap cycle. Thank you for sending me there. It almost feels like divine intervention. I hope that lady on there asks her doc if he’s ruled this particular thing out. I’m pretty sure her doc will have his tail between his legs when she asks him.
            Thank you!

  • Carol Allison

    Dr. Meyers, I am following The Meyers Way. 🙂 I’ve been off gluten for 4 months. My question: today at work I had to set up food for a meeting and had to handle wheat bread/subs. Can I get contaminated with gluten in my body, by just touching those sandwiches?

    • It’s possible if you are very very sensitive–gluten can theoretically enter your body through your skin. I would guess that it wouldn’t affect you unless you were handling it for a long time.

  • cvryder2000

    I had IBS; I say *had* because it seems to have been cured by the removal of about 16 inches of colon that had been destroyed by a pelvic abscess. Before and after the surgery I had tried going gluten-free and it did not seem to make any of difference. What *did* make a difference, however, was getting off all REFINED foods. I eat a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and meats in moderation, organic dairy products, and “good” fats and I no longer have problems. Husband was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and follows the same diet, has lost 30 lbs and his blood sugars are in normal range now.

  • clorene

    No matter the severity of the autoimmune disease, everyone benefits from improving their nutrition and overall health by any means. What’s nice about improving your diet is that it can be done in conjunction with conventional protocols of medication. Improved nutrition may lessen side effects and improve the efficacy of your medication. More importantly, if you should have to change medication (or abandon it due to severe side effects) you will have a healthy gut that can improve your chronic symptoms. I know this because my mother has had rheumatoid arthritis for 40 years, and nutrition does make a difference with pain and inflammation.

  • Hi Dr. Myers! Thank you for your work and dedication! 🙂 I have severe digestive issues (chronic loose/watery stools that float, extremely foul, sudden urgency, undigested food particles, film often on the water, and frequency depends on the day it seems)…I have been GF, DF, SF for well over a year and have been kind of following a semi-version of Paleo diet…would you recommend the AIP diet as an overall diet to follow to heal the immune system? I am struggling with not being able to eat rice, quinoa or some form of carbohydrate like this (veggies are great but I don’t feel like they are doing much for my hunger). I am awaiting results from the 2200 Genova Stool Analysis but honestly the diet I have been following doesn’t seem to really make a difference when it comes to potty time. I have a feeling that before my diagnosis last August of Hashimoto’s the health of my gut has catapulted my immune system into the disease I know battle with (the health of my gut has been consistently bad since 2009). Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much and sorry for the details about my poo! 🙂

  • Steve M

    Have you heard of MSA multiple system atrophy. The symptoms read like autoimmune but it,s not recognize d as one. Could this illness be helped by your method?

  • Gwynn32

    I have Hashimoto’s (as well as Celiac, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, and a
    neurological, as yet undiagnosed, condition causing wasting and muscle
    weakness of my quadriceps). I have to take Synthroid .75mg. Without it I
    was sleeping 18-20 hours a day for over a year and couldn’t function at
    all. I’ve been on it for almost three years now and, while not 100%,
    the difference is night and day.

    Is there any hope of healing
    the thyroid? Of reversing the damage and not needing thyroid medicine
    anymore? Or is it that once you are taking it you have to take it
    forever because the body destroyed the thyroid and the medicine told
    what was left of it to stop producing the hormone? Can Hashimoto’s be
    reversed after years on Synthroid? (I have read that without some form
    of thyroid medicine you can go into a coma and die.)

    • Hi Gwynn, it depends. Some people are able to lower their antibodies to the point where they are able to get off of medication, and some people need to remain on a thyroid medication. Either way, stopping the assault of inflammation on the body is extremely helpful. It can be a quick process for some, or a long one!

  • Gluten-Free Bebe

    Dr. Myers – You do such a great job reminding people that they can take control of their health and reset their bodies by building their immune systems! I’m as passionate about gluten-free as you, so thank you for all the great information you provide to the gluten-free community! Always happy to pass it on to my followers! 🙂

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