Autoimmune Disease and Root Cause Medicine
How Root Cause Medicine improves Autoimmune Disease
In honor of the launch of our new name, Root Cause Medical Clinic, I wanted to write about the most common complaints patients come in to see us about and what we do that is so effective and different from what most other clinicians do.
Sometimes I don’t realize how unique our thought process is until I’m speaking to a patient about their problems and frustrations regarding their health. This was one of the reasons we changed our name; we have always discussed our approach of “getting to the root cause” with our patients, and we have found the concept is not only instantly comprehended for its meaning, but most realize they have never been evaluated from that viewpoint before. When they hear how root cause medicine works and experience the thought process as we review through their personal health history, one for one they feel it makes sense and are excited to begin the program.
Common Autoimmune Diseases
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis *
- Rheumatoid arthritis *
- Lupus *
- Type I Diabetes * 9.3%
- Asthma *
- Psoriasis *
- Crohn’s disease *
- Multiple sclerosis * 400,000
- Celiac disease *
- Dermatitis herpetiformis *
- Vitiligo *
- Ulcerative colitis *
- Autoimmune liver diseases *
- Ankylosing spondylitis *
- Amyotrophic later sclerosis *
(* = has a known connection to gluten ingestion)
There are about 100 autoimmune diseases, but it is interesting to note that the most common among them has a known association with gluten as a causative factor.
Over the last few decades, autoimmune disorders have increased dramatically. Researchers have identified 100 different autoimmune diseases and suspect 40 additional diseases of having an autoimmune basis. These diseases are chronic, can be life-threatening, and over 50 million people in the U.S. alone are believed to suffer.
To compare autoimmune disease numbers to our leading causes of death, it is noteworthy that heart disease affects up to 22 million (half that of autoimmune disease), while cancer affects about 9 million.
The NIH estimates the annual health care costs for an autoimmune disease to be about $100 billion while cancers costs are $57 billion.
If you were unaware of the impact both in the numbers of people affected and health care costs, you are in good company. It seems that medical research, too, has not appreciated the impact of autoimmune disease. The National Institute for Health (NIH) research funding for autoimmune disease was $591 million in a given year, while cancer funding during the same time period was $6.1 billion (with a “B”), and heart disease and stroke funding was $2.4 billion.
Medicine is “Specialty” oriented in the U.S.
As you’re well aware, medicine in the United States is very “specialty” oriented. If you had the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis you would see a neurologist. But if you suffered from rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes you would see completely different specialists. What is missing from western medicine is the appreciation of root cause – the understanding that the human body is an integrated whole and every part of it affects every other part. Here at Root Cause Medical Clinic, we appreciate that the underlying root cause of the most autoimmune disease has a common thread, and have spoken out against the standardly prescribed immunosuppressant drugs that lead to devastating long-term side effects. We have, in the past, been “taken to task” for our viewpoint and criticized. Several years after our book, The Gluten Effect, was published, research emerged giving credence to our methodology and treatment protocols as valid.
Why are Autoimmune Diseases becoming more common?
The trajectory of the increase of autoimmune disease in our country is highly concerning. Traditionally we are told the autoimmune disease is genetic and there is no cure. In fact, celiac disease is the only autoimmune disease for which the trigger is known – gluten. For the rest of the diseases, patients are told they have an immune system that is out of control, the problem is genetic, and the best they can do is take immunosuppressive drugs and hope they don’t develop another autoimmune disease.
Hope is one thing, but statistics say differently. The facts are these: when an individual develops one autoimmune disease they are 5 times more likely to develop another one.
Does that seem odd? Does it make sense that if your immune system is attacking your pancreas and creating diabetes, that it might then start attacking your thyroid to develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
Why would your immune system do that?
When you understand the underlying mechanism behind autoimmune disease it actually makes perfect sense. The good news is that once the mechanism is explained, you will find that you are in control and able to take measures to reverse the process.
Are we saying that you can reverse and/or improve autoimmune disease? Yes we are! There is research, along with our own clinical experience, to back up that statement.
What are the underlying root causes?
Hippocrates in 460 BC, said all disease begins in the gut. It turns out he was absolutely correct, and most certainly so when referring to autoimmune disease.
The immune system exists to protect the body from “bad guys”. Be it bacteria, parasites, cancer, or any other type of entity that doesn’t have our best interests at heart, a healthy immune system is designed to identify something as “bad” and summarily destroy it.
What about the “good guys”? The immune system, in order to do its job correctly, must be able to identify those things that are not a threat to the body’s survival. A healthy immune system “tolerates” what it doesn’t instantly recognize and gives it a chance to prove it’s not dangerous – “innocent until proven guilty”, as it were. Due to our obsession with hygiene and worry about “germs”, especially with young children whose immune systems should be developing tolerance to a variety of organisms and foods, we have developed an excessive use of antibacterial chemicals and other substances. As a result, our immune system doesn’t get exposed to an adequate variety of substances it doesn’t recognize and thereby tolerance doesn’t develop as it should. Furthermore, the chemicals that are used in our environment to kill bacteria act to weaken our immune system causing an imbalance of good to bad bacteria in the gut. This imbalance is called dysbiosis and it has now been linked to many diseases of a chronic nature.
Is your immune system hypervigilant?
When the immune system isn’t exhibiting tolerance, it reacts too quickly. It is this “hyperactive” or “hypervigilant” response that explains the increased incidence of autoimmune disease – our immune system have moved over into a “guilty until proven innocent” operating basis.
Here’s an example: if gluten was tolerated by your immune system, it would simply excrete it from the gut as something that wasn’t useful since it’s somewhat indigestible. But when your immune system “sees” gluten as a toxin, problems ensue such as inflammation, destruction of the lining of the small intestine (in those with celiac disease), a leaky gut, autoimmune disease and so much more.
It’s worth mentioning that most of the immune system’s activity occurs where it predominantly resides – the gut. Seventy to eighty percent of the immune system is housed in your intestine.
Your intestine is designed to perform two extremely valuable, yet opposite, services for the body
1.The gut is designed to break down and digest the food we intake, and then deliver the nutrients out to the bloodstream where the 10 trillion cells in the body can eat, repair and stay healthy. Remember, the cells are no different from you; they need to eat in order to function properly.
How does the properly digested food leave the gut? There are openings between the cells of the lining of the intestine that are very small but they allow passage of digested food, water and nutrients.
2.The other job of the gut is to forbid the passage of “bad guys” or perceived toxins into the bloodstream. There is an intelligence at work in the gut that literally closes the door to inhospitable organisms or toxins, preventing them from leaving the gut and having a negative effect upon the rest of the body. This may be where the gut got the name “second brain”. It literally can tell the difference between good and bad – provided it’s healthy and working properly that is.
Any pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms or toxins present in the gut are either destroyed on the spot or are excreted when the body eliminates waste through bowels movements. This is why Mother Nature, in her brilliance, made the gut the home of the immune system.
Your body needs a strong immune system, not a suppressed one
The body needs a strong immune presence in the gut to handle the vast array of “bugs”, drugs, GMO foods, and other toxins that come its way throughout the day.
It’s a brilliant system and when it’s working correctly all is good; health is maintained. The problem arises when the intelligence of the gut becomes compromised. The ability to let good nutrients through while simultaneously preventing the passage of anything “bad” is a big job and requires an immune system that functions optimally.
Unfortunately, the presence of gluten in the diet or inhospitable organisms in the gut can cause a “leaky gut”, meaning partially digested food and “bad guys” can leave the gut and enter the bloodstream unhindered.
Is it any wonder that autoimmune diseases are on such an exponential rise? We have such compromised gut health that we shouldn’t be surprised.
What’s the “REAL” cause of autoimmune disease?
It is “understood”, erroneously, that the cause of the autoimmune disease is solely genetics plus a trigger. Research now supports the third element and perhaps the most exciting, to be the loss of barrier function, or the development of a leaky gut, secondary to the presence of gluten or infectious agents. It is stated that a leaky gut along with the weakening of the gut’s microbiota (population of healthy bacteria) is the true activator of inflammation, the key to ALL degenerative disease, autoimmunity, and cancer! [
The above is no lightweight statement. The reason we mentioned the gut component to be an “exciting” one is that it is believed once the disease process is initiated it does not need to be self-perpetuating. The researchers of Dr. Fasano’s team state the disease process “can be modulated or even reversed by preventing the interplay between the genes and the environment.” In other words, these diseases have the potential to be halted or reversed.
How is your digestive tract related to disease?
How is it that the gut has so much power over disease? The healthy bacteria, or microbiota, actually have the ability to keep bad genes (those that create disease), turned off. You see it’s not whether or not you have a gene that can cause disease, but rather whether that gene is activated, or turned “on”. You could have the gene for rheumatoid arthritis your entire life, but if the gene never got activated, or turned on, you would not develop the disease.
It’s not until the microbiota becomes weakened that it is no longer able to keep bad genes in the “off” position. The genes thus flip “on” and the disease process is initiated. The solution – heal the gut and locate the trigger.
Below is a success story from a patient:
My Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is Gone
When I started treatment with Root Cause Medical Clinic I had been completely dependent on prescription medication Omeprazole for stomach pain and GERD for almost 20 years. I found out through multiple sources that being on that medication for so long had caused some bone loss and was preventing me from properly absorbing nutrients from food.
I also had hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, was pre-diabetic, plagued with high blood pressure, and was suffering from hormonal imbalances. I had constant body pain, fatigue, “brain fog” and inflammation. I wondered if had Fibromyalgia or if all I was feeling was just part of getting older.
Dr. Vikki Petersen and her team first determined that I was reacting to many of the foods I ate most, including gluten, dairy, and eggs. The team at Root Cause Medical Clinic helped me overhaul my diet and, along with some supplements, I got to the point that I no longer needed the antacid, Omeprazole, to control the GERD and stomach pain.
These dietary changes and the clinic’s help with finding the right thyroid and hormonal support has helped me tremendously. My hot flashes have disappeared and I began losing excess weight steadily. My autoimmune Hashimoto’s disorder resolved completely and has remained so, my pre-diabetic issues have improved greatly, my high blood pressure is gone, and my cholesterol dropped 100 points from my first visit to Root Cause Medical Clinic.
I feel so much better now, it’s almost unbelievable. I have more energy, less body pain, no more “brain fog” and I am continuing to lose my excess weight steadily. I am so very grateful for the work Dr. Vikki and the HealthNOW team have done to help me achieve a new level of good health, and I am confident that I will continue improving.
CCW – age 59
Mechanism of Autoimmune Disease Initiation
It always bothered us that the traditional medical model deemed one’s immune system as “bad” and “out of control” when the autoimmune disease was diagnosed. It’s true that the immune system is making a mistake, but as doctors, we are trained to understand the immune system. It is a fantastically brilliant, complex system that is awe-inspiring. That is why it always struck us as wrong, and almost rude, to slap the hand of the immune system, as it were, put it on an immunosuppressive drug, essentially telling it that it’s too stupid to do its job and can’t be trusted. Add to that the risk of the body developing dangerous infections due to the suppressing of the immune system, and the whole treatment protocol just never added up. It certainly didn’t follow the precepts of root cause medicine.
Our protocol, long before there was research to back it up, was to appreciate the brilliance of the immune system and realize that if something that smart was making a mistake, it must be very overtaxed and overstressed. It made more sense to isolate the root cause of that stress and overwhelm and remove it, thereby allowing the immune system to regain its brilliance, rather than removing it from the field altogether.
Our theory worked
Clinically, working with patients, our theory proved out. Research now further supports it, although sadly that data has not yet translated into the day to day treatment of autoimmune patients. But it does work and hopefully, it now makes sense to you why it does.
The simplicity in treating autoimmune disease is to discover WHY the immune system is overwhelmed and what caused the leaky gut.
Once the root cause is identified, be it food such as gluten or an infectious agent, removing it from the equation allows the immune system to heal, reduce its stress load, and regain its brilliance.
It may seem that the ability to reverse the process would depend upon how long it had continued and how much damage had occurred. That’s true typically, but it brings to mind a beautiful exception.
A Rheumatoid Arthritis Success Story
A patient in her early 60s came to see us with very advanced rheumatoid arthritis. She had the condition for well over two decades and had tried every possible drug. Some were very dangerous and had cancer as a potential side effect. She continued to worsen, the pain was miserable, and for her, the worst part was that she had to quit her job because she could no longer use her thumbs. She loved her job and despite being in her 60s, her goal was to return to work. She just needed to be able to use her hands.
Typical of rheumatoid arthritis, her fingers were partially deformed and enlarged. They were so enlarged and protruded so far that the skin was typically raw and open. To say she was miserable was an understatement.
I still remember meeting her for the first time, as if it was yesterday. She was such a sweet woman. She arrived convinced she was reacting to gluten and wanted a test to prove her right or wrong. Her desire to go back to work was so strong and heartfelt that I remember distinctly telling her that I didn’t know if we could accomplish that due to the advanced state of her rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t want to give her any false hope. I did feel good about telling her that we could find out if gluten was a problem, get her body overall healthier, and then we’d see how far that got us towards her goal.
I bring her up because it was a great lesson to never give up on the human body. She was, of course, correct about her gluten reaction, she had gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and she was a great and compliant patient. She also had an infection, as we often find secondary to gluten, and after treating that plus adding in some specialized nutrition, the first thing that happened was the skin on her knuckles began to heal. The swelling went down and she no longer had open sores.
Overall her body felt better and the generalized pain lessened substantially. After several months she literally felt that she had a new life. Her ability to move and care for herself was mostly restored AND she regained enough use of her thumbs to go back to work! It was delightful to see and a great lesson to never give up on the human body or underestimate its ability to heal.
Don’t wait until you develop a second autoimmune disease
Even if it is the case that one autoimmune disease has advanced beyond the scope of complete reversal, do you see the value in correcting the underlying root cause of the autoimmune? That’s right. It vastly diminishes the odds that the body will develop a new autoimmune disease in the future.
As a point of interest, research has discovered that anyone who eats gluten will experience, to some degree, a leaky gut, even if they have no gluten-related condition.
The other known cause of leaky gut is from the overgrowth of harmful organisms in the small intestine. Commonly these organisms are bacteria, fungus, yeast (including Candida), or parasites. It is therefore part of our treatment protocol to evaluate for and treat any inhospitable organisms present in the gut.
The value of Root Cause Medicine and embracing the viewpoint that optimal health cannot occur if all the stressors acting upon the body are not identified is highly evident here. We have stressed the importance of the gut, the fact that it houses most of the human immune system, and how a leaky gut can lead to disease.
Are you ready to get healthy?
As clinicians, it’s our job to explain the best route to truly achieve your healthcare goals, even if that means handling digestion, food intake, dealing with potential infections, inflammation, and balancing stress hormones.
It is this conversation we have very early on in care and is one of the major reasons every new patient receives a free initial consultation. We want each and every patient to have the ability to meet with us and understand our approach before they pay for any visits.
We want success with our patients as much as they want to be successful. This is a team approach. We don’t just hand our patients a pill, far from it. We work extensively together to change diet, lifestyle, repair faulty organ function and more. This doesn’t happen overnight and it won’t occur without help. Therefore we like to ensure each and every patient is ready to embark upon the adventure to regain, retain and reclaim their health with a clear understanding that it will require some work and change on their part. But they won’t be alone; we are right there with them.
As we like to say, with patient compliance, success is all but assured.
Do you need help with your health?
We have the tools to discover why you may be having trouble with a weakened immune system. It’s not difficult as long as you’re ready to make some dietary and lifestyle changes. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. We will hold your hand through the changes and make each step of change an easy one.
Dr. Vikki Petersen DC. CCN
Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr Vikki Petersen is a public speaker, author of two books, several eBooks and creates cutting edge content for her YouTube community. Dr Vikki is committed to bringing Root Cause Medicine and its unique approach to restoring health naturally to the world.