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WOMEN'S HEALTH MONTH: Autoimmune Diseases & Functional Medicine


Autoimmune diseases are tricksters. Imagine your immune system, which is supposed to defend your body from harmful invaders, suddenly turning on you and attacking your healthy cells instead. It's like your body's security system has gone haywire! Unfortunately, women are hit the hardest by these conditions—nearly 80% of autoimmune disease patients are female.


So, why are women more likely to get hit with autoimmune diseases? It boils down to a mix of genetics, hormones, and environmental factors. For starters, women have two X chromosomes, which might make them more prone to these conditions. Then there's the hormonal rollercoaster—estrogen and progesterone can really mess with the immune system. Add in stress, infections, and exposure to certain chemicals, and you've got a perfect storm. All these factors combined mean that women face a higher risk, making it super important to have healthcare approaches that cater specifically to their unique needs.


In this article, we will discuss some of the most common autoimmune diseases affecting women, what causes them, the symptoms to watch out for, and how Functional Medicine can help you manage and even thrive despite these challenges.


Most Common Autoimmune Diseases in Women


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting the joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, which results from wear and tear, RA involves the immune system attacking the joint lining, leading to painful swelling.


Symptoms:

  • Joint pain and swelling

  • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after inactivity

  • Fatigue and fever


Causes:

While the exact cause is unknown, factors like genetics, hormonal changes, and environmental triggers (such as smoking) play significant roles.


Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, SLE)


Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease affecting the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs. It is characterized by periods of illness (flares) and wellness.


Symptoms:

  • Fatigue and fever

  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling

  • Skin rashes, often a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose

  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight)


Causes:

Genetics, environmental triggers, and hormonal factors contribute to lupus, with infections, sunlight, and medications known to trigger symptoms in predisposed individuals.


Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis


Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).


Symptoms:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness

  • Weight gain

  • Cold intolerance

  • Dry skin and hair loss

  • Muscle aches and joint pain


Causes:

Genetics, excessive iodine intake, radiation exposure, and viral infections are potential triggers.


Multiple Sclerosis (MS)


Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system where the immune system attacks the protective sheath covering nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.


Symptoms:

  • Numbness or weakness in limbs

  • Partial or complete loss of vision

  • Tingling or pain in parts of the body

  • Tremors and lack of coordination


Causes:

Though the exact cause is unknown, genetic susceptibility combined with environmental factors (such as low vitamin D levels) is believed to contribute to the development of MS.


Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Autoimmune Diseases



Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine offers a patient-centered approach, focusing on identifying and addressing the root causes of autoimmune diseases rather than just managing symptoms. 


Here’s how Functional Medicine can be beneficial:


1. Personalized Nutrition and Diet


Food plays a crucial role in managing autoimmune diseases, which is why I recommend an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Specific diets, like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), can help reduce inflammation and improve gut health.


2. Gut Health Optimization


The gut is central to immune function. Dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria, can trigger or exacerbate autoimmune responses. We’ll address gut health through probiotics, prebiotics, and dietary changes to restore balance and improve overall health.


3. Stress Management


Chronic stress is a significant trigger for autoimmune flares. Functional Medicine incorporates stress-reducing practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques to help manage stress and support overall well-being.


4. Detoxification


Exposure to environmental toxins can trigger autoimmune reactions. Your Functional Medicine treatment plan will emphasize reducing toxin exposure and supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways through dietary changes, supplements, and lifestyle modifications.


5. Hormonal Balance


Hormonal imbalances, particularly estrogen, can influence the immune system. We’ll assess hormonal levels and use natural therapies to restore balance, helping to manage autoimmune symptoms.


6. Tailored Supplementation


Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and curcumin have anti-inflammatory properties and support immune function. Your plan will include a tailored supplement regimen to meet your needs. 


Autoimmune diseases in women present a complex challenge, but with the holistic and integrative approach of Functional Medicine, symptoms can be managed effectively, and quality of life improved significantly. By addressing root causes and focusing on individualized care, Functional Medicine offers hope and healing for those struggling with these chronic conditions. 


If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, schedule a Discovery Call with Dr. Hazzah to explore a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan.



Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It is important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding any questions or concerns you may have about your health or treatment options.


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