6 Ways Conventional Medicine Gets Autoimmune Disease Wrong
Conventional medicine is a “one-size-fits-all” approach that focuses on treating symptoms rather than trying to help you prevent chronic illness in the first place. The same is true for how it approaches autoimmune disease, an epidemic that has increased threefold over the past 50 years and affects approximately 50 million Americans, or one in five people.1 Unfortunately, conventional doctors are still using this outdated model of dealing with autoimmunity, despite the ever-increasing need for true solutions in this realm.
Now, more than ever, we need answers that conventional medicine simply can’t provide. Conventional medicine failed me, and I have made it my mission not to let it fail you too. Whether you have lupus, Hashimoto’s, Graves’, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, or one of the other hundreds of autoimmune disease, I will show you that there IS another way and you CAN find relief from your symptoms and achieve lasting wellness.
Let’s take a look at how conventional medicine gets autoimmune disease wrong, and clear up some myths that have been perpetuated by this system.
1. Your environment has nothing to do with it–it’s all in your genes
Conventional medicine would have you believe that autoimmunity is all in your genes, and you are essentially a victim of the genetic lottery. And, yes, there is a genetic component–accounting for roughly 25% of your risk of developing an autoimmune condition. However, that means 75% of your risk is environmental, whether due to leaky gut, food sensitivities, toxins, infections, stress, or a combination of factors. I find that an incredibly empowering statistic! It means YOU have the ability to manage the majority of your risk by addressing the external triggers of your autoimmunity.
2. Once you’re diagnosed, your symptoms will only get worse
Joint pain, weakness, GI distress, skin rashes, fatigue–these are all symptoms of autoimmunity that your doctor may tell you will be with you for the rest of your life; you can only expect them to worsen over time, and you will be prescribed ever-larger doses of medications that may or may not help. The fact is, autoimmunity is not a black-or-white issue. Instead, there is what I call the autoimmune spectrum, and depending on how much inflammation your body has at any given time, you can move up or down on that spectrum.
On one end you have full-blown autoimmune disease and all its accompanying symptoms. On the other end you have zero inflammation and no symptoms–although this is rare, even in the healthiest of people, because of the toxic modern world we live in. As you reduce your inflammation, you can reverse your symptoms and even see them disappear!
3. Autoimmunity is a disease of a single organ
The conventional medicine approach to autoimmune disease is one of specialization. If you have a thyroid condition, you see an endocrinologist; if you have IBS, you visit your gastroenterologist, and so on. All of these “specialists” treat autoimmune disease as if it only affected the symptomatic organ. This type of treatment is fundamentally flawed.
Autoimmunity is not a disease of a single organ. Rather, it is a disease of the immune system as a whole. Without addressing what it is that caused your immune system to go awry in the first place, you are simply masking the symptoms of a deeper issue. It is functional medicine’s approach of taking a holistic view of the body as the complex, interconnected system that it is, that makes it possible to reverse autoimmune conditions so we can properly address the epidemic we are facing today.
4. Medications are the only way to relieve your symptoms
The first line of defense in conventional medicine is not prevention. It’s medication. Now, medications aren’t all bad and can sometimes be necessary for treating acute conditions and infections. However, the problem with conventional treatment is that you are given no other option. You have to wait until you get sick for doctors to do their job, which they see as prescribing harsh medications that could have been avoided with “an ounce of prevention.” These medications often come with a long list of side effects that can make you feel worse than you did before, including weight gain, depression, increased infection rates, and even cancer! What’s more, the type of medications given to patients with autoimmunity typically work by suppressing the immune system, when what you really want is to support it.
5. Diet plays no role in autoimmune disorders
Did you know that only 30% of U.S. medical schools require students to take a course in nutrition? And only 40 schools meet the minimum 25 hours of nutrition training recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, with a national average of 23.9 hours.2 So it’s no wonder that conventional doctors do not believe in the power of diet to both trigger and reverse autoimmune disease.
If you think about it though, with nearly 80% of your immune system housed in your gut, food has an enormous influence on your immune health. Gluten is the number one culprit in causing leaky gut, which is proven by the research of Dr. Alessio Fasano to be a necessary precursor to autoimmunity. There are a number of other foods that contribute to inflammation, including dairy, corn, soy, grains, and legumes, not to mention the toxic substances we invite into our bodies every day such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, pesticides, GMOs, and artificial ingredients found in packaged goods.
The good news is that because diet plays such a HUGE role in autoimmunity, it’s also one of the easiest ways you can take control of your health by making smart choices about what you put on your plate.
6. Autoimmune disease can’t be reversed
This is one of the biggest myths of conventional medicine, and why I went into functional medicine after my own battle with autoimmune disease. In reality, autoimmune disease CAN be reversed by repairing your gut, ditching inflammatory foods (gluten and dairy in particular), taming your toxic burden, healing your infections, and relieving your stress. By uncovering the root cause of your condition, you can address the factors that are contributing to your autoimmunity and work your way back down the autoimmune spectrum. With some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can watch your symptoms vanish and start feeling your best again.