It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Good Business Part II: Treating the Causes of Autoimmune Disease

I love Hondas.  They are all I have ever owned, and I would be quite happy if that is all I ever drove.  I purchased my first Honda when I was 20.  I was a single-mom, a full-time student at the University and a full-time employee at AT&T Wireless.  Needless to say, I thought I was pretty cool.  I didn’t have a lot of money, but my car looked good.  It was a blue Honda Civic and I loved it.  I drove that car all over and never had a problem but for one minor hiccup, it seemed to  leak oil for some reason.  I didn’t know why or how, all I knew is that the oil light came on a lot and an oil stain had appeared in my parking spot.  I took it to Grease Monkey for an oil change, and the tech said that he didn’t see a leak.  Great, I thought, there is no leak, so there is no problem.  I was relieved, except for the fact that the car still couldn’t hold onto oil for some reason.  So I am sure you are wondering why I didn’t take the car to a mechanic to find out what was causing the leak, huh?  Well, such is the way of the young and boneheaded;  why spend money I didn’t have on a problem that could be easily managed if I just kept an eye on the oil light and  simply added new oil when it came on? 

 That’s what I did for several months until the fateful day when my son and I were going to visit grandma two hours away in the middle of nowhere – Oak Harbor, Washington, and my timing chain broke.  Now, if I couldn’t afford to have an oil leak looked at, I sure as hell couldn’t afford to replace a timing chain.  The car was towed to the nearest garage and there the car sat for two months while I worked to come up with money to pay to have it repaired.  The garage saw me coming a mile away:  a young single-mom who knew nothing about cars but was dependent on one.  They could charge me anything they wanted to, and they did. 

This is a true story and I hope you can appreciate the foolishness of it all.  Rather than finding out the cause of the leak,  and fixing it once and for all, I instead just kept adding oil that just hid the fact that there was a growing problem with the car.   Ultimately, I was not able to ignore the problem forever and the result was a much bigger and more costly repair.  All I had to do was find the cause, and fix it – it was a no-brainer, right?…..

The health care system  is designed to prescribe drugs to stop or mask symptoms, and yet more drugs to mask or stop the conditions that crop up as a result of the original prescriptions.  Hardly ever is anything prescribed that actually goes after the causes of the disease in the first place.  They say that the cause is “unknown” but that isn’t entirely true.  One universal cause cannot be nailed down, but there are numerous known causes of autoimmune disease.  The kind of personalized care necessary to identify those individual causes is not currently available to most patients.  In fact, such care would require that the current “patient-on-a-conveyor-belt” system be overhauled.  Such changes are politically and economically unrealistic.  The system is overrun and the pharmaceutical industry is no less noble than the banking industry.  Therefore, it is up to us as patients to take responsibility for our own health.  We must learn all that we can so that we may make the best decisions with regard to our health.  We must make the system work for us.

We laugh at the stupid girl who didn’t get her oil leak fixed, but a car can be replaced.  Our bodies and the time we have on this earth  cannot….

It is important to understand that it is not just our joints being affected by our disease.  Many, if not all of the systems in the body are involved and therefore, should be  considered in treatment.  How many of you have just one condition?  JUST rheumatoid arthritis?  JUST fibro?  JUST whatever?  It’s always something AND something else.  Just like in a car, our systems work together to function properly.  When one area malfunctions (i.e. the immune system) the entire body is going to be affected.  Treatment resembles a “whack-a-mole” game; when symptoms present themselves, a drug is prescribed in the hopes that it will “whack” specific symptoms into submission.  Never mind why the symptoms presented in the first place and let’s not consider the toll the drugs take on the rest of the body because there is another drug to “whack” those symptoms into submission later.  When do we stop pouring oil into the engine and fix the leak?

Genes definitely play a causal role in the development of RA, but not entirely.  My paternal grandmother has rheumatoid arthritis, so you can say it runs in my family.  However, I also have 17 siblings, none of whom have rheumatoid arthritis.  I am the only one.  Yes, I received my grandmother’s legacy.  I AM special.  My point is that if autoimmune disease were genetically inevitable, all 18 of us would be suffering now, but we are not.  We may have the same genes that predispose us to rheumatoid arthritis but which genes are “turned on” and “off” vary from individual to individual.  More specifically, the variety, duration, and severity of stress on the body through diet (which accounts for up to 60% of the negative stress ),  chemical/hormonal differences, and environmental toxins greatly influence if and when genetically present diseases will arise.  This is why a traumatic event can often trigger the onset of a disease and perhaps why more women are afflicted than men…..

That should be enough to get your juices going…. There will be more tomorrow…..=)

Resources:

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It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Good Business: Treatments and the Courage to Feel Better

I may not be on any prescription drugs for my rheumatoid arthritis, but that does not mean I don’t take pills (LOL).  I take a lot of pills, and I don’t even take as many pills now as I used to early on in my treatment!  When I started participating in the RA study, I was just able to take one pill at a time with a lot of water (ok, so it was really soda).  Now, as I am sure many of you can relate, I can take handfuls of pills at once with minimal water to wash it down. 

If you look closely you will see one prescription bottle there on the left.  That is Synthroid for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a common condition for those with not only gluten-sensitivity and celiac, but rheumatoid arthritis, as well.  I have tried to get away from the Synthroid, but my doctor says that it is a necessary evil, that in my particular case, pills are my best option.  By the way, this is the same doctor who has been treating me successfully for my rheumatoid arthritis without the use of pharmaceutical drugs. 

Reading the news or looking online, you will see that there is a lot of controversy over the efficacy of supplements.  I admit that over the years,  I have wondered whether all these pills were really making any difference.  Feeling foolish that I may just be taking a bunch of sugar pills (or worse), I have gone as far as half-kidding-half-demanding that my doctor level with me and tell me if my pills are the “real” stuff.  He has always assured me that they were, but to be quite honest, whether they are real or placebo, really doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things.  The fact that I feel better when I take them makes it all worth it, even if it is all just a part of the “placebo effect.”  I just don’t like looking like a clueless dork raving about magic pills that are actually just sugar.  I would just like to know that it IS in fact sugar that I am praising.

All joking aside, I do believe that my pills are straight, because I haven’t always been very good at taking them and I definitely feel a difference when I go without them for some time.  I hate taking them.  There are so many, and I would rather not be dependent on them, but,  you do what you need to do to feel better, and that is the point to my post. 

“It’s Just Good Business.”

Lord Cutler Beckett, Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End

Autoimmune disease is extremely complicated so it stands to reason that treatment is as well.  Unfortunately, our health care system is not set up with autoimmune disease in mind.  The current system is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies who have a business to run.  In many cases, we are lucky to have medicines that will keep us alive when otherwise we would die, but autoimmune disease is not generally a death sentence.  Drugs  may help patients with autoimmune disease, but they are not designed with consideration to the causes behind autoimmune disease, nor  for how the disease affects the entire body.  From a business stand-point, this is very smart.  By isolating a condition from the rest of the body and not treating the causes, they keep patients dependent on more and more of their drugs.  According to Wikivest.com, “The pharmaceutical market for arthritis generated $15.9 billion in revenues in 2008.”   Abbot Labs, makers of Humira  raked in $4.5 billion alone.  Not too shabby if you ask me.  Let me not forget all of us who invest in pharmaceutical companies to fund our retirement.  We would hate for anything bad to happen to our investment, so we must keep investing in their products.  After all, the industry is a very safe, albeit lucrative bet.  As long as there are sick people, there will be a market for drugs.  It is just all around good business.

I won’t say that the health care system is ideal or even ethical, but I am not opposed to drugs when they help.  I am however, opposed to keeping a closed mind about treatment options.  I am living proof that drugs are not the end all to treatment and that high quality nutraceutical supplements DO work, despite what drug company sponsored organizations will tell you.  There are many things (in addition to or instead of drugs)  that can help improve our condition, if we are open to trying them.  Attitude is everything.  You are much more likely to get favorable results when you believe in what you are doing.  If you believe the treatment will fail before you even begin, then it’s likely it will.  This is true for ANY treatment, pharm-based or not.

 I am not saying to go and stop taking your drugs, that is something you need to take up with your doctor, but I am saying that it could be possible to eventually go away from them or at the very least, reduce your dependence on them.  That is a possibility. Learn all that you can about your disease and don’t ever stop, even when you think you know it all.  There is always something more to know.  And, always consider your source and their agenda.  I cannot stress that enough.  In my research, the majority of information designed for rheumatoid arthritis patients is sponsored by at least one drug company.   That may be a harmless fact if all you want is information on symptoms of the disease.  However, if you are desperate for answers on different treatment options or have questions about diet, you must keep the agenda of the drug company in mind.  Remember, it is not personal, just good business.  There is no incentive to promote anything outside their products.  That could  hurt their bottom line.  That is not criticism, that’s is Econ. 101. 

Finding a combination of treatments that are right for you, with or without perscriptions, is tricky. It requires diligence, bravery, and patience, but it can be done.  We simply cannot give up or give in.  The quality of our lives depends on it….

I have a lot more to say on the subject of patient empowerment, so consider this the first in the series.  I will be supplying resources momentarily, but have run out of time for right now.  I welcome your comments and questions…..

Tell Me About Your Doctor: Dr. Feelgood? Or Dr. Evil?

 

I know that in my posts I come off as a bit harsh toward conventional medicine, but I want to make it clear that it is the system that I believe needs to change.  I mean no disrespect to the good, well intentioned, caring, hard working doctors working within the limitations of the system. 

Do you have a doctor that has changed your life? What did they do that helped you?  Post a comment and tell me about it.  Let all the viewers out their know how your doc has helped you feel better. 

Contrarily, if you have had a particularly bad experience with a doctor, post that too.  Go ahead, getting that trauma off your chest can be very therapeutic.  =) 

As always, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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Challenging Standard Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments: Lessons From Grandma

My grandmother had multiple sclerosis (MS) before medicine recognized it as a disease.  Way back then, just some 40 years ago, MS was viewed by medicine as a psychological impairment, not the autoimmune disease that it has come to be accepted as today.  Prior to its recognition by medicine, patients had two choices:  accept that their condition was all in their head, or heal themselves. 

My grandmother, bless her heart, would not accept this cruel dismissal of her doctors and instead, chose to take her health into her own hands.  It was, in my opinion, the most important and perhaps most courageous thing she ever did.  It saved her life.   Through her own research and sheer determination, she was able to avoid the worst the disease had to offer. She learned that she could manage her symptoms effectively just through the choices she made every day.  Choices in the foods she ate, the activities she participated in, the manner in which she felt and responded to stress,  and the supplements she took.  She kept her faculties and mobility until her passing last Winter.  

MS still remains to be a great medical “mystery”  in many respects, but I contend that, from a patient’s perspective, there are several aspects that MS and rheumatoid arthritis share. 

Allow me to illustrate….

  • Both are autoimmune diseases, meaning that the immune system attacks the body it was designed to protect. As a result, patients will experience “flares,” or periods where there is an onset of symptoms when before, there were none; or when there is an increase in the intensity of symptoms that were already present.   
  • There is no cure for either disease
  • The cause is unknown or at best, a wild guess
  • Both are largely “invisible” – You may have RA or MS, but not look “sick” or appear to be “disabled.”
  • Treatment resembles a Whack-A-Mole-Game, where drugs are the mallet, and the moles are individual symptoms.   Symptoms are masked or delayed temporarily, until they reemerge at which time, more drugs are thrown at them. 

In all fairness, this list could be referring to almost any pair of autoimmune diseases because medicine still does not understand what my grandmother did: the immune system functions best when it is properly cared for, not when it is being artificially suppressed from performing its job of preserving us. 

In almost all non-life-threatening instances, we as patients have great power over our own health.  Too often, those in a position to help us, strip us of the confidence to listen to what our bodies are telling us, or  challenge medical “authority.” We are lead to believe that we are incapable of determining whether we are sick or not.  A battery of tests and a medical degree are the only credible evidence of physical dis-ease.  As a result, we never discover that our immune system is sending us messages and warnings all the time, lest we just listen.  Fatigue, acne, allergies, aches and pains are just a few of the minor inflammatory distress calls that often go ignored, or are treated symptomatically, without regard to the underlying cause of stress in the body.

From the time we are able to experience the physiological effects of stress in the womb, our immune system is engaged in doing its job to protect us.  If it is never given a chance to rest or recover, it is much more likely to malfunction.  Often, the malfunction is in the form of autoimmune dis-ease.  Rather than rehabilitating the immune system (and the other systems that have been weakened in the process),  medicine will seek to will it into submission through drugs designed to impair or even kill it.  And to add insult to injury, without a functioning defense, the already weak systems will have no way of protecting themselves from infection and disease.  Drugs may offer a temporary relief to the patient, but over the long run, they often just create more problems:  additional health issues and diseases, dependence,  and no hope for any real healing. 

My grandmother spent her life listening to her body.  She knew what foods  to eat to help nourish her body, especially her immune system.  She knew to stop when she was beginning to over-do life, and she knew of a variety of ways to reduce her body’s burden of stress.   She wasn’t perfect and she had her share of flares, but she never succumbed to the medically accepted idea that the MS was in her head, nor did she to the disease. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is not usually a death sentence.  We may not be able to do everything we were once able to do, but we never have to relinquish our control over our bodies or health.  We can empower ourselves with the knowledge and the courage to demand that our medical system do more than just throw pills at us for the rest of our lives.  Yes, we may have a disability, but that does not mean our lives are over.   Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated much in the same way that my grandmother treated her MS, it just takes some courage and determination.  Unlike my grandmother, we are not alone.  We are very lucky that today, there are doctors and organizations that support patients who opt for a different treatment path.    There is hope for us who wish to feel better once and for all.

Stay tuned!  More tomorrow!

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What is Functional Medicine and How Does it Differ From Conventional Medicine?

Dr. Mark Hyman MD, Chairman, IFM Board of Directors

An excellent and in-depth explanation of functional medicine…..it’s not too long either =)

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Functioning Well With Functional Medicine: The Low-Down on RA Treatment

The functional medicine approach is different from conventional medicine in that it seeks to find the cause of the problem rather than just addressing symptoms.  That is not to say there is no value in conventional medicine; I am very grateful for it when it comes to emergency care.   As for chronic illness, however, I contend that a functional approach (even when combined with conventional) is superior.  For me, I want to know what is causing my illness so that I can take the necessary steps to feel better, once and for all.  I want the power and control over my health and my body. The functional approach places me in the driver’s seat of my own health.   I can’t stand feeling helpless, and being crippled is a torturous prison cell.  I will do whatever it takes to remain free of those shackles.  

While I am afraid that my rheumatoid arthritis will never go away entirely, the functional approach has empowered me with knowledge and tools to manage it effectively without the use of pharmaceutical drugs.  Perhaps not everyone can do what I have done, but I would be willing to bet that most of us could….

My Treatment: An Overview

  • My doctor took all the standard auto-immune and inflammation related blood tests (and then some) to begin constructing the most complete and accurate picture of my health as possible.   
  • I was given a psychiatric examination to ascertain what my mental and emotional state was and how it may be contributing to my disease. 
  • My diet was analyzed and modified repeatedly to ensure that the foods I ate weren’t exacerbating  my symptoms. 
  • My genes were analyzed to determine if they could be a factor.  And they were, but not so much the typical “RA genes” as genes that were responsible for reacting to stress.  (I apologize for not being as scientifically articulate as I should be here).
  • I have been prescribed a combination of nutraceuticals that not only effectively relieve pain safely and without side effects, but reduce inflammation, and contribute to my overall health. (More on nutraceuticals coming soon)
  • I have been counseled  in fitness, work-life balance, stress reduction, anger management, and so much more – and was even  given the support to practice it all.
  • I received 30 – 60 minutes (depending on the nature of the visit) with my doctor and his undivided attention at each visit.

The best part is, all of it was designed around me.  It was completely individualized for me.  And that is how medicine should be. 

This disease is bad enough without having to deal with some of the horrible side effects related to many of the drugs commonly prescribed for RA.   My heart goes out to all who suffer.  I am not here to judge, condemn, or brag.  I just want to help as many people as I can to feel better.  Spreading awareness about the benefits of functional medicine is something I personnally can do to try and help.

On a side note….Good news! Many conventional doctors are adapting a functional approach to the way they practice medicine.   Ask around, you may be surprised to find these doctors are in your area!

By Me