Autoimmune disorders are confusing, often difficult to treat, and are rising at an alarming rate. There are currently over eighty diseases and disorders that are attributed to autoimmunity, and include such conditions as Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Ulcerative Colitis, thyroid diseases, Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis to name a few.
Autoimmune disorders are caused by a case of mistaken identity on the part of your immune system. Normally, your immune system is able to recognize friend from foe, weeding out harmful viruses, bacteria, pollen, and toxins from healthy cells. However, an autoimmune disorder is caused when your immune system mistakenly attacks your healthy cells, causing a variety of symptoms and diseases.
It’s not entirely clear what causes your immune system to derail, but scientists are narrowing down a number of risk factors. Some autoimmune diseases are genetic in nature, but exposure to environmental toxins, hormonal imbalances, and viral infections are also identified as triggers. Chronic inflammation is also strongly related to autoimmunity.
There is no cure for an autoimmune disorder, however there are a number of treatments that can control your symptoms, some to the point of remission. Standard care varies by condition, but may include correcting hormonal imbalances, medications that suppress your immune system and control inflammation, and steroids. While these medications can help control your symptoms, they may also cause side effects and further compromise your immune function.
An increasing number of people with autoimmune conditions are turning to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treatment. While it’s impossible to say whether Chinese medicine is effective for all autoimmune conditions, research into specific autoimmune diseases is promising. A number of studies have documented that acupuncture causes positive physiological changes in your body within your nervous system, immune system, your brain chemistry, circulation, and in reducing inflammation—all of which have positive health effects for patients suffering from an autoimmune disorder.
In Chinese medical theory, your immune system is viewed a little like a protective shield that surrounds your body to keep out invading pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and pollens. This protective shield is fueled by your body’s energy stores. If you have good reserves of energy, your shield is strong and balanced. But when you become stressed, run down, or exposed to harmful toxins, your energy can become depleted or confused and your protective shield is weakened. When that happens, your immune system becomes compromised, allowing pathogens in and mixing up friendly cells with foes.
Treating an autoimmune disorder in Chinese medicine encompasses several strategies. Your practitioner needs a thorough understanding of your symptoms and health history. From there, they will make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for you. Their general approach is to treat the source of your condition, help you avoid triggering flare-ups, treat your symptoms, and rebuild your immunity by strengthening your energy reserves. In addition to acupuncture, they might do this by prescribing an herbal formula, employing Chinese food therapy, and making lifestyle recommendations to achieve the best results.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.