Auto-Immune disorders happen when the immune system, which is meant to protect the body from foreign invaders, begins to recognize a part of the body as foreign. Many different factors contribute to developing an autoimmune disorder. In some cases, genetic factors can be significant contributors to developing auto-immunity but in every case there are environmental factors that we can control. Conventional approaches to treating auto-immune disorders revolve around potent medicines that are meant to suppress the immune system. In some cases, these may be necessary to temporarily prevent destruction of the effected organ in the body and it is important to recognize that these medicines can save lives and improve quality of life. In all cases, simply using these medicines is an inadequate and poorly conceived long term plan. Inevitably, side effects to the medicines develop or higher doses and more potent medicines are necessary to simply control the progression of the disease.
Functional Medicine is a field dedicated to understanding the underlying mechanisms of disease and optimizing the person’s system to reduce any contributing factors. This is achieved by addressing imbalances in the digestive flora, sources of chronic immune stimulation in the environment or diet, nutritional and hormonal imbalances and employing mind-body techniques.
Roughly 80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract. This is one of the major reasons why addressing imbalances of the digestive flora and removing sources of immune stimulation such as chronic infections or food sensitivities is essential to optimizing immune health. Advanced testing of the microbiome and delayed chemical and food allergies allows us to identify and treat in a comprehensive and coordinated fashion this important component of immune health.
Hormone imbalances can be part of the natural process of aging such as menopause or andropause or they can be caused by nutritional deficiencies and sources of immune stimulation that cause the body to release cortisol rather than anabolic hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. When another adrenal hormone, DHEA, is depleted due to chronic adrenal stimulation from immune stimuli or other sources of stress such as poor sleep, psychological stress or blood sugar dysregulation then immune disorders are more likely to develop. Replacing deficient hormones and addressing the underlying cause of their imbalance can be essential to effectively eliminating auto-immune disorders.
Vitamin D deficiency is a known risk factor for auto-immune disease but achieving optimal levels of vitamin D alone has been shown to be more effective than many conventional medicines for controlling the progression of the disease, ie Multiple Sclerosis. Topical Vitamin D can in many cases be more effective than topical steroids for controlling the progression of Psoriasis. Unlike steroids, Vitamin D enhances parts of the immune system that help to prevent infections and cancer (which are suppressed by conventional auto-immune medications) as well as regulating the over active components of the immune system.
Compounded medicines like Low Dose Naltrexone can exploit natural mechanisms in the body to regulate an over active immune system. By intermittently blocking opiate receptors, Low Dose Naltrexone stimulates the upregulation of opiates produced in the body, which has the unique effect of increasing healthy aspects of immune function and decreasing over active pathways that mediate auto-immune disease.
Mind-body techniques such as imagery and meditation have also been studied and shown to help reduce symptoms of psoriasis. These can also be useful in all other types of auto-immune disorders, which we know are significantly impacted by psychological stress. These techniques are able to stimulate different types of brain waves that have downstream effects that effect the genetic expression of immune cells and hormones that can stimulate long term changes.
Acupuncture can be very effective way to achieving these same effects on a more robust level. Dr. Wardwell trained in acupuncture at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine where acupuncture was practiced in an integrated fashion with conventional biomedical approaches to medicine. The combination of acupuncture and other mindbody therapies can help to achieve a lasting and meaningful change in the mind-body related components of auto-immunity.
Regenerative injections can help to stimulate repair of hair, skin, ligaments, tendons and joints that can be effected by auto-immune disorders. Even once the underlying mechanisms of the disease have been controlled, often the effects of the immune attack can be persistent. Regenerative injections and Lasers are able to help remove the end effects of autoimmune disorders. Regenerative injections such as Platelet Rich Plasma and Stem Cell therapy can help to regenerate injured tendons, ligaments and joints in the case of auto-immune connective tissue disorders or rheumatoid arthritis. Lasers, such as BBL and Halo, can effectively eliminate the expression of rosacea on the face.
Intra-venous and Intra-muscular Ozone therapy is a way of reducing cytokines that predominate the chemical landscape of a person with an active auto-immune process. Ozone reduces Interleukin 1 and 6 as well as Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF-alpha), all of which are the primary targets for many conventional auto immune drugs. Ozone therapy has the unique additional effect of increasing Tissue Growth Factor (TGF-beta) and increasing mitochondrial biogenesis and the efficiency of existing mitochondria to make energy and support healthy function on a cellular level.
At the San Francisco Institute for Integrative and Regenerative Medicine we combine state of the art evaluation of the underlying process of autoimmune disorders with procedures that can help to regenerate the effected organs. We do this as part of an integrative approach that understands the pros and cons of utilizing conventional therapy so that patient’s can receive the benefits of either approach when it is more appropriate.