Autoimmune diseases have many different symptoms and names, but what they all share is an overactive immune response of the body against some of its own cells, with the body treating them as an invading organism. Multiple Sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and lupus are examples.
Sean Branham of Premier Health Care treats women with a particular type of autoimmune disease: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed.
“The patient has classic symptoms of primary hypothyroidism: low energy, foggy thinking, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, depression, inability to lose weight and brittle nails,” he explains. “Physicians recognize these symptoms as caused by lack of thyroid hormones, so they run a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and it comes back elevated. They put the patient on a synthetic thyroid medication and have her come back in six months to adjust the dosage.”
That’s the problem, he says. “In a recent issue of Clinical Thyroidology, researchers report on a study of 3,000 women with a diagnosis of primary hypothyroidism. More than 92 percent of them, when tested further, had Hashimoto’s disease. The medical profession doesn’t test for Hashimoto’s because there isn’t a drug to treat it.” Branham says thyroid supplements have no impact on the cause of the disease so, “You must take thyroid for life because the immune system is destroying the gland, further decreasing thyroid production.”
Branham’s approach is to do advanced testing and a comprehensive immune panel to see where the immune system is dysfunctional. Then he can customize a diet and treatment plan, including herbs and nutriceuticals, for that individual patient. He says often the condition becomes controlled and the patient can return to the prescribing physician for weaning off medication.
F. Afua Bromly of Acupuncture St. Louis specializes in Chinese medicine and is a naturopath. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) top the list of autoimmune diseases treated in her office. She says through Chinese diagnosis, the immune system can be balanced. She examines the tongue for color, coating, shape and the regions corresponding to different organ systems. Pulses are taken at three different positions on the wrist. “There are 28 different qualities of pulses,” explains Bromly. “Once we establish the root problem, we can determine the treatment. Lupus, for example, can affect people differently and can attack different organs. Often it’s a kidney or liver issue, which determines acupuncture sites.” She adds that diet therapy is important.
Bromly says some people respond much more quickly to treatment than others. One older man with lupus came in taking 15 medications. Now, he is on three medications, and his doctor plans to take him off all of them. She says for the most part, autoimmune diseases are stress-induced, either by physical or environmental stress. Patients can go into remission with diet, adequate sleep, and Eastern treatments such as acupuncture.
Dr. Rachel Feinberg’s work with autoimmune patients at Injury Specialists is focused on getting them moving again. “We see patients who have had a flare-up of RA, lupus, MS or fibromyalgia. When in flare, the involved connective tissue affects the joints. Having body work and myofascial release can decrease pain by 50 percent.”
Autoimmune diseases are not always active, Feinberg says. When they are, the fascia can glue down and need release. Simple massage won’t do that. “During an MS flare, the body becomes unstable and isn’t able to move well,” she says. “After the flare and being bed-ridden, soft tissue work gets it moving again. With as little as 72 hours of immobility, the body’s sense of where it exists in relation to the environment gets confused, and it loses its sense of gait.” She says these flares and bouts of immobility cause soft tissue to tighten.
After trigger point injections and muscle work, patients continue their rehabilitation program at home with the help of stretches and exercise aids, Feinberg notes. “If patients don’t keep up with the stretches and help retrain the body, it will revert back to rigid and painful.”