Have you heard of the “microbiome”? This is the word for a small ecosystem made up of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Everyone has ecosystems like these in their body, such as the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome, and pregnant people even have a placental microbiome inside their uterus. These tiny ecosystems are responsible for generating and absorbing essential nutrients, helping with digestion, and even providing a backbone for your immune system. In fact, 70-80% of your immune cells are in your gut!
We all know that the mother’s health affects the health of the baby. This is why pregnant women are advised against taking certain medications and drinking alcohol. Research shows that the microbiomes involved in birth- the placental and vaginal microbiomes- also have an important impact on the long-term health of the baby, including their risk of autoimmunity.
Importance of Infant Microbiome
The gut microbiome plays a key role in disease development, especially during early life. The foundation of a child’s gut microbiome is built during the first 3 years of life. This is a critical window because any disturbances to the microbiome during this time can have life-long consequences such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and neurological conditions. Studies have also shown that the microbiome in the first 3 years of life can influence a child’s chance of developing an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease.
During infancy, the gut is dominated by a type of bacteria called “bifidobacteria”. Having higher levels of bifidobacteria have been associated with lower risk for obesity, allergies, and autoimmunity. These specific organisms also make nutrients that are vital to early development, such as sialic acid, which is essential for brain development!
So, we know that an infant’s gut microbiome is incredibly important to their future physical and mental health. We have to make sure to build a proper foundation. What are some factors that affect an infant’s microbiome?
The Maternal Gut Microbiome
Studies have proven that the microbes found in the placenta match those in the mother’s mouth. The first microbes that a fetus learns come directly from mom! This means that an expecting mother’s gut health directly affects their baby’s future gut health.
Infants born before 33 weeks have less gut biodiversity than infants born full-term. Biodiversity= having many different types of microbes. Having more biodiversity in the baby’s gut helps their immune system develop properly.
Mode of Delivery
Infants born via C-section show overall lower biodiversity in their gut during the first 2 years of life. The low levels of healthy microbes in C-section babies allowed harmful bacteria to take over. Lower gut biodiversity in infants= higher risk of infection! The bacteria that the mother passes to the baby during vaginal births helps protect them against infection and immune system issues such as allergies. One study of 6,000 babies in New York found that those born via C-section were twice as likely to develop food allergies or asthma by age 3.
Mode of Feeding
Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. A mother’s milk is specific for the needs of their baby. The probiotics in the milk depend on the mode of delivery, gestational age, and environmental exposures.
One interesting environmental factor that seems to be important for healthy breast milk microbiota is actually the stress involved with birth! Who knew that stress could ever be a good thing? But it’s true- mothers who had an emergency C-section or a vaginal delivery had healthier breast milk microbes than mothers who chose to have an elective C-section. The only difference between an elective C-section and an emergency C-section is the amount of stress that the mother experiences during the birth. (Sorry, moms!)
Check Out Your Gut!
Having a healthy gut is vital to having a healthy immune system, no matter your age. The root cause of autoimmune conditions almost always includes gut dysbiosis. Many of our clients get a “GI Map”, which is a very comprehensive stool test that detects bacterial overgrowths and undergrowths, viral and parasitic infections, bacterial pathogens, fungi, and more. We have found no other stool test that is more comprehensive.
Maybe you are an expecting mom, trying to get pregnant, or curious about your child’s gut health. In any case, if you are interested in finding the root cause of your condition or checking out the health of your or your child’s gut, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page!
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is joint inflammation in children 16 years of age or younger, lasting for at least 6 weeks. Unlike adult rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that is chronic and can last a lifetime without proper diagnosis or intervention, children usually outgrow JIA. But do they really?
JIA is…drum roll please…an autoimmune disease. Children with predisposed genes, such as a part of a gene called HLA antigen DR4, could be at a higher risk for developing JIA. Even if the symptoms of JIA subside, the risk of developing an autoimmune condition later in life is probable. All autoimmune conditions can be connected to “leaky gut”, a problem where the gut barrier breaks down and inflammation begins to trigger an autoimmune response. Even if your child does not have gut-related symptoms, it is quite common that those with JIA have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, undergrowth, or other infectious bugs that must be brought under control with proper evaluation and support.
There is evidence that early exposure to antibiotics and compromised gut health could be contributing factors. Additional studies support the connection between JIA, type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Infants who were born vaginally vs. by c-section tend to have more Bifidobacterium in their gut, which is associated with a strong immune response. Nursed infants also have higher levels of this same beneficial bacteria in addition to Lactobacilli and Streptococci. Bottle-fed infants could be lacking these healthy bacteria, and may be at increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
- Systemic onset JIA affects one or more joints, combined with high fever and a skin rash. It may also cause inflammation of internal organs, including the heart, liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. It is the least common type. It affects 1 in 10 to about 1 in 7 children with JIA.
- Oligoarticular JIA affects 1 to 4 joints in the first 6 months of disease. If no more joints are affected after 6 months, this type is called persistent. If more joints are affected after 6 months, it is called extended.
- Polyarticular JIA affects 5 or more joints in the first 6 months of disease. Blood tests for rheumatoid factor (RF) will show if this type is RF-positive or RF-negative.
- Enthesitis-related JIA is arthritis and swelling of the tissue where bone meets a tendon or ligament. It often affects the hips, knees, and feet.
- Psoriatic arthritis may have both arthritis and a red, scaly skin disease called psoriasis. 2 or more of the following symptoms may be present:
- Inflammation of a finger or toe
- Pits or ridges in fingernails
- A first-degree relative with psoriasis
- Undifferentiated arthritis is arthritis that has symptoms of 2 or more JIA types above. Or the symptoms might not match any type of JIA.
Symptoms of JIA may include:
- Pain, swelling and tenderness in the joints. The joints may also feel warm.
- Morning joint stiffness
- Limping gait (younger children may not be able to perform motor activities that they recently learned)
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fatigue or irritability
- Eye redness, eye pain, and blurred vision
How do you know if your child may have JIA? A physical exam may not be enough to determine a clear diagnosis. A MRI or X-ray could show the degree of inflammation, and a comprehensive blood panel may show the presence of the substance’s antinuclear antibody (ANA) and rheumatoid factor. These tests can help rule out other diseases. As well, the most significant and accurate marker for rheumatoid arthritis, cyclic citrullinated peptides (CCP) should be run.
Functional medicine excels at this aspect of determining the root cause and how to rehab the immune system. If you suspect your child may have juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Dr. Autoimmune can help. Click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page or call today to schedule a new patient evaluation with Dr. Ian Hollaman: 303-882-8447, press 0 to speak with Felice.
Diabetes affects 11.3% of people in the US, and 90-95% of those people have type 2 diabetes. What many people may not know, however, is that all forms of diabetes will increase your risk of dementia. Glucose (sugar) is an essential source of energy for your brain, so when your insulin is not metabolizing it in a way that makes it useful, your brain misses out on important fuel. A pre-diabetic state is marked by insulin resistance, which is when your insulin cells can’t use glucose effectively.
Some early signs of insulin resistance include:
The catch is, even if you try to get your diabetes under control with medications such as metformin, you will still be increasing your chances of getting dementia.
The Misfortune of Metformin
Metformin may be prescribed as generic, or by brand names such as Fortamet or Glumetza. It is a commonly used drug for type 2 diabetes and has been prescribed to over 120 million people worldwide.
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between use of metformin and chronic vitamin B12 deficiency. Typically within one year of consistent usage of metformin, your ability to absorb B12 becomes compromised and you may experience symptoms of B12 deficiency including:
- Lightheadedness especially coming from seated to standing
- Feeling cold
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
- Loss of reflexes, which may progress to depression, confusion, and memory loss
B12, also known as cobalamin, is a vitamin that is essential for brain health and nervous system function. It is needed for the creation of red blood cells, which help distribute oxygen to the rest of our bodies (including our brains). It is no wonder, then, that low B12 levels have been linked to dementia. Researchers Norbert Goebels, M.D. and Michael Soyka, M.D wrote:
“Cobalamin deficiency has been shown to be the most frequent associated physical disease in patients with dementia.”
So, diabetes can lead to dementia, and the medication for diabetes can also lead to dementia. Not to mention the recent national recall for metformin based on a batch containing a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemical. Is there no way to win here? Well, our office has a different approach.
What Else Can Cause B12 Deficiency?
Besides medications like metformin, there are other risk factors that can lead to a B12 deficiency. Age is one of these factors. Ten to thirty percent of people over the age of 50 produce too little stomach acid to release B12 from the foods they eat. A certain amount of stomach acid is required to break down the carrier foods and release the B12 vitamin. This could mean that even though you are eating foods that technically contain B12, you may not be breaking the food down enough to actually absorb the B12. The older you get, the less stomach acid you produce, so this risk only increases.
MTHFR is a gene that helps our bodies convert folate, A.K.A. vitamin B9, to an activated version that our bodies can use. All B vitamins need to be converted to their methylated forms in order for our bodies to use them. What does this have to do with B12?
Our bodies need activated (methylated) folate in order to use B12. So, when there is a mutation on our MTHFR gene, it affects our body’s ability to make activated folate, and therefore our ability to use B12. This creates an interesting dynamic where someone can have completely normal levels of B12 in their blood, but are actually deficient in the vitamin and have the corresponding symptoms.
At Dr. Autoimmune, we are able to order specialized blood tests to detect mutations on the MTHFR gene when Dr. Ian suspects this may be a concern.
Managing Diabetes Naturally
Instead of prescribing medications that increase your risk of dementia, our office seeks to address the underlying cause of your condition and develop a management plan using lifestyle changes and proper supplementation.
One tool we frequently use is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help our clients learn exactly how different foods affect their blood sugar. While we use this tool to manage and make decisions about diet changes, we also dive deeper.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes. Insulin resistance is caused by systemic inflammation in the body. This can be caused by gut dysbiosis, food sensitivities (particularly to gluten), toxin exposure (such as mold), stress, and hormone imbalances, just to name a few.
By identifying and addressing these root causes, rather than managing symptoms with a band-aid medication, our patients find that their bodies have exceptional healing abilities when given the right tools! If you are ready to change your life, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page.
Dr. Ian recently went viral with a video about MTHFR and B12 deficiency related to metformin use. Make sure to subscribe to him on TikTok to get daily health tips and kernels of knowledge!
The skin is the largest organ of your body and will sometimes hint at what’s going on beneath the surface when an individual is suffering from certain autoimmune conditions.
Did You Know?
The skin is made up of five distinct layers of skin, and the two top ones are most often affected by autoimmune skin diseases.
The top layer is called the epidermis, and it is the outermost layer. The underlying layer is the dermis, and it contains vital cells, tissues, and structures.
When either of these layers become compromised by an autoimmune disease it can cause certain symptoms.
Symptoms Of Autoimmune Skin Diseases Can Include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin inflammation (swelling)
- Small patches of red, scaly skin
- Skin scarring
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed or itch
- Thickened, pitted, and ridged nails
- Stiff and swollen joints
Autoimmune skin diseases occur because the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues.
When these antibodies attack healthy tissues, they are called autoantibodies.
With autoimmune skin conditions, autoantibodies attack skin cells or collagen tissues.
Triggers & Other Factors
Researchers link a variety of triggers for the development of these conditions, including ultraviolet radiation (from the sun), hormones, infections, and certain foods.
Even some prescription drugs may play a part in the development of certain autoimmune disorders.
Other factors can also play a role in autoimmune skin diseases- like stress! Stress can also trigger autoimmune skin conditions.
Some researchers even think that some people have a genetic predisposition for certain autoimmune skin diseases.
And people with specific genes also have an increased risk for developing particular skin conditions- but only if other trigger factors exist.
What You’ve Learned So Far
So far you’ve learned about your skin and the different symptoms of an autoimmune condition.
You’ve also learned the causes & triggers of what could cause a flare up on your skin.
So now let’s go over a few of the most common autoimmune diseases that will show up on your skin.
Common Autoimmune Diseases That Will Show Up On Your Skin
- Also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. The most common symptom is inflammation and it usually targets the joints, brain, kidneys, and the skin. It’s also been known to cause joint pain and even arthritis.
Common symptoms are generally a butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and the bridge of the nose.
Sometimes individuals will have rashes elsewhere on the body, and will also cause the patient’s skin to be hypersensitive to the sun. Even small amounts of sunlight can create scaly patches across the skin that can scar over. It is these scarred sections of skin that have an increased risk of developing carcinoma and melanoma, the two common forms of skin cancer.
Localized Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease that causes extreme hardening of the skin, caused by vast overproduction of collagen.
This autoimmune skin condition is seen in only a few places on the skin and it seldom spreads.
In fact, it progresses relatively slow and affects the skin of the hands, feet, and face. It sometimes can also damage the lungs, esophagus or intestines.
Diffuse Scleroderma is another form of this autoimmune disease and it can progress very quickly, affecting the skin across the entire body.
Dermatomyositis is a chronic disease that causes muscle inflammation, which often leads to muscle weakness. It is one of a group of diseases known as inflammatory myopathies.
The first symptom of dermatomyositis is a skin rash that will appear on the eyelids, nail cuticle areas, and/or on muscles that are used to straighten or extend joints including heels, elbows, and knuckles. The rash is bluish-purple or red and is usually patchy.
This autoimmune disease results in skin rashes and fluid-filled blisters along the legs, arms, stomach, or on the mucous membrane (this includes the mouth, eyes, nose, throat, and genitals).
There are different types of pemphigoid, and they are characterized by where the blistering occurs on the body.
Bullous Pemphigoid: Blistering happens on the arms and legs, mostly around the joints
Cicatricial Pemphigoid: Blistering occurs on the mucous membrane, typically affecting the eyes and mouth.
Pemphigoid Gestationis: This is when the blistering occurs shortly after or during pregnancy, usually on the arms, legs, and abdomen.
Pemphigus looks very similar to pemphigoid, as they are both characterized by blisters on the skin and/or the mucous membrane.
The difference lies in the fact that the immune system attacks a different part of the skin in each disease. The affected part of the skin in pemphigus is more fragile because it is closer to the surface, so any blisters than form burst very easily. Patients that have this autoimmune disease usually have visual signs of more ruptured blisters, and the individual is usually covered with scabs.
Pemphigus is considered a more serious disease since burst blisters present a higher chance of infection, which is dangerous for someone with an already compromised immune system.
There are two main types of pemphigus:
Pemphigus Vulgaris: Blisters begin in the mouth and spread to the skin or genitals. Generally, these blisters are painful but not itchy.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: Blisters that appear on the chest, back, and shoulders. These are usually more itchy than painful.
One of the more well-known autoimmune skin diseases is psoriasis.
This autoimmune condition speeds up the life cycle of skin cells, causing excess skin cells to collect on the surface of the skin. This buildup forms itchy and painful scales and red patches.
There are many different types of psoriasis, but some common symptoms include:
- red patches of skin with silvery scales
- itchy scaling spots
- extremely dry skin that may bleed if it cracks
- swollen and stiff joints
Patches can range in size from a few smaller spots that can look like dandruff, to much larger affected patches of skin.
Psoriasis typically goes through cycles, and patients will experience flare-ups for a short period of time, and then go into remission.
See A Specialist
For Boulder, Colorado residents that are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions mentioned above seek the help of the best autoimmune doctor and team in the state- Dr. Ian Hollaman and the Dr. Autoimmune team.
Click Here to learn more about the conditions we treat, and to view our New Patient Special!
Discover how eating these foods can get you a healthier gut!
We’ve all experienced these symptoms more than we can count! Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and the general feeling of blah.
That’s a common feeling after eating a large greasy meal. Or indulging in a rich dessert. Or grabbing a bunch of convenience food when you’re running late.
It’s easy to brush off short-term discomforts from these foods, but daily consumption can lead to long-term gut health problems.
So how can we achieve a healthier gut?
Well, what if I told you that food is the answer to achieving a healthier gut! It’s true, but there’s good food and bad food for your gut!
Healthy food is nature’s medicine as it can ease digestive symptoms and prevent certain conditions.
By adding gut-healthy foods to your diet it’s a lot easier and delicious to achieve a healthier gut than you may realize!
Let’s face it – we sometimes feel too busy to go searching for healthy food on the go. So we settle on what’s around us.
The problem is, a lot of those ‘quick’ foods contain high sugar, fats, and cholesterol – with limited nutritional values. This leads to inflammation and unbalanced digestive enzymes.
Good & Bad Bacteria
Your gut health depends on the functioning of trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that occupy your small and large intestines and the rest of your body.
These organisms make up what’s called your microbiome. The microbiome is a delicate system that plays a crucial role in your digestive system, immune system, and production of serotonin.
The microbiome can be aided or weakened by many factors. One of these factors is the food you eat.
In the following paragraphs, we’ll review foods that can restore healthy gut flora. But first, let’s go over why it’s so important that you make adjustments to your eating habits for a healthier gut.
Why we should change what we eat.
In a perfect world, we would eat whatever satisfied us. Our body would easily process the food as it passed through our gut, and then absorb the necessary nutrients while eliminating what we didn’t need through our bowel movements.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and some foods can make us feel really lousy over time. Which is why many of us should adjust our diet in order to improve our gut health.
The first step is to eliminate or reduce any processed foods, refined sugars and fats as they’re linked with a higher risk of chronic diseases that can shorten your lifespan.
Some of these chronic diseases include:
Other Issues that can be caused by poor gut health include:
Making a positive change in your diet not only benefits your gut health, it can also help lower your chances of getting any of the chronic diseases mentioned above.
On top of that, eating with your gut in mind will also help lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Now that we went over the “why” we should change our eating habits, let’s dig in and go over which foods will help you achieve a much happier and healthier gut!
A food often associated with sausage and hearty meals, sauerkraut is actually healthier than one may think.
Due to the fermentation process and the nutritionally dense values of cabbage, sauerkraut is an awesome food for a healthy gut!
In fact, regular consumption of fermented sauerkraut helps to balance good gut bacteria and is also a beneficial treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases and other conditions.
But be careful– not all sauerkraut is the same. Some sauerkraut found in traditional supermarkets can be loaded with sodium. So make sure to check the label when purchasing.
Spinach, kale, arugula, and chard are a few examples of leafy greens that are great to achieve a healthy gut lifestyle. The variety of their use is endless, too!
Leafy greens can be added to smoothies, soups, salads, and side dishes to satisfy cravings and appetite.
They’re low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals – it’s no wonder leafy greens are the superstars of all healthy food!
The benefits of adding leafy greens to your diet are endless too!
Here are 6 reasons why they are amazing for gut health-
- Loaded with fiber for a healthy microbiota
- Maintains healthy blood sugar
- Promotes a healthy immune system
- Encourages healthy digestive enzymes
- Eliminates bloating
Dairy Free Yogurt
Yogurt is great for gut health, but not just any ol’ yogurt! For optimal health benefits, plant-based, dairy-free yogurt is best.
There are many tasty dairy-free yogurt options available that provide a ton of probiotic gut health benefits – without the lactose issues of dairy.
When choosing a dairy-free yogurt, make sure the label contains at least one of these options:
- almond milk
- cashew milk
- soy milk
- coconut milk
Plant-based yogurt provides delicious and nutritional options for a healthy gut. Be sure the yogurt you choose isn’t loaded with sugar.
Don’t worry, you can always sweeten it up with some fruit!
How is Yogurt a Probiotic?
Yogurt is a fermented food that increases lactobacilli (good probiotic) and decreases Enterobacteriaceae (inflammation-causing bacteria).
In fact, studies show those who consume yogurt regularly have a healthier gut microbiota (gut habitat) than those who do not eat yogurt.
Further studies also suggest that regular consumption of yogurt is beneficial to those with IBS and other digestive disorders.
It’s easy to see how dairy-free yogurt promotes the gut-healthy lifestyle! So make sure to add some to your next grocery list.
A healthier gut isn’t only about probiotics – a healthy gut microbiome requires prebiotics, too.
While there are many prebiotic foods, the health benefits of garlic make it a star performer due to its high inulin (a type of dietary fiber) and non-digestive carbohydrate properties.
These prebiotic properties promote the growth of good bacteria which helps to prevent intestinal diseases.
Garlic is also beneficial for a healthy gut microbiota (gut habitat) due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and cancer prevention properties.
Prebiotic foods, like garlic, also contain short-chain fatty acids, which promote gut-health and decrease inflammation in the colon.
You may now wonder, do I need to eat a bowl full of garlic? No, please don’t! All you need to do is add 1 – 2 cloves of raw garlic into a meal per day. In fact, many healthy recipes include garlic cloves already.
It’s a matter of mindfulness.
Packed with protein, fiber, and polyphenols, moderate consumption of nuts is fantastic for a healthy-gut life.
Fiber is a key player here, and adding a quarter cup of nuts per day is all that’s needed.
This goes to show a gut-healthy diet includes tasty foods, even ones you’ll go “nuts” over!
This is another one that you’ll go “bananas” for! And we mean literally, because bananas are very gut-healthy!
The health benefits of eating bananas really stack up because they provide everything from fiber, to prebiotics, to pectin, to resistant starch- all of which promote a healthy gut!
Not to mention there’s so many different ways to enjoy eating them! They can be used in smoothie recipes, desserts, salads and bread! Or just peel and eat it straight up!
Bonus Tip: Add a banana to your dairy free yogurt for an extra dose of gut-healthiness!
Lentils are a plant-based source of protein and fiber, and are an easy way to add prebiotics and antioxidants to your daily nutrition.
Lentils also have resistant starch which slows the digestion of carbohydrates and reduces the risk for gastrointestinal disorders.
Meals that contain lentils are also filling which helps to reduce overeating and indigestion.
Gut Health is Important!
Roughly three million Americans today have been diagnosed with intestinal disorders, including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
While factors like family history and environment can play a part in health issues, one’s lifestyle and diet play a big role too!
The key takeaway is to eat healthy fermented foods, as well as foods containing fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Remember, healthy eating doesn’t have to be confusing, complicated, or disgusting. All it takes is some education and mindful planning.
Could your gut be affecting your current health problems?
If after reading this you feel like your gut may be playing a role in your current health problems, then it’s time to make an appointment with Dr. Ian Hollaman, aka Dr. Autoimmune!
Dr. Hollaman treats a plethora of conditions including many that we mentioned above. He addresses the root causes of your autoimmune conditions using the most modern forms of healthcare including Functional Medicine, Clinical Nutrition, and Neurofeedback.
After working with Dr. Autoimmune and our team, you will walk away with the knowledge and tips to keep your health on track for years to come.
It’s time to start your journey to better health with the right tools, therapies, and diet changes.
Contact us today to get started! We’re happy to set up a complimentary 15-minute introductory consultation with Dr. Ian Hollaman himself.
With autoimmune diseases on the rise in the past few decades, we’ve learned to detect early signs of an autoimmune disease to help fill in the gap about what causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues and organs.
With many variables and unknowns, there are a few things we do know about autoimmune diseases. For starters, autoimmune conditions can be managed, and some of the damage can even be reversed if diagnosed early enough.
The trouble is, most people get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when significant damage has been done to major organs and so the symptoms are clear and prominent enough to make the diagnosis relatively easy to arrive at.
In fact, research shows that signs of autoimmunity can show up on tests months and even years before the patient has symptoms of a fully developed autoimmune disease. So, why is it so hard for an autoimmunity to be diagnosed early on before the damage is irreparable?
There are as many as about 80 different autoimmune diseases. The earliest symptoms of autoimmunity, however, are very, very similar. So this was the good news. The bad news is, they’re also vague, non-specific and sometimes, hard to identify as a reason for concern until the disease becomes acute which is why going to an autoimmune specialist like Dr. Autoimmune is so important.
Dr. Autoimmune and his team are dedicated to the fight against autoimmune diseases, and want to equip you with the knowledge you need to seek a medical opinion and receive an early diagnosis. So, here are some early signs to look for and some suggestions for how to track and address them with your doctor.
Your skin is a telltale sign
The skin is often the first indicator of inflammation. Any unusual rashes, redness, itchiness, blotchy and sensitive areas that show up without an obvious reason can point to an underlying inflammation going on in your body. Even acne can be a sign that something is not quite right internally.
While none of the symptoms we mentioned above can be directly linked to an autoimmune disease, noticing more than two of these symptoms should be reason enough to track anything unusual or suspicious; especially if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases.
So, if the condition of your skin inexplicably changes, be aware that among the many possible causes, there is a chance that it can be due to an overactive immune system.
Some autoimmune diseases especially, like lupus, are directly linked to changes in the texture and the color of the skin, so also be mindful of any swollen, scaly areas.
Sun sensitivity can be another thing to look out for and keep in mind when assessing any changes in how your skin ‘behaves’. While we all need to be aware of burning in the sun, for some people with autoimmune diseases, the sun can trigger flares and make symptoms worse.
“I’ve had patients come back from vacations in Hawaii and all of a sudden they have lupus,” says Dr. Autoimmune. “And others where it’s taken months to get their disease back in check after a severe sunburn.”
Researchers know that the sun can trigger lupus in some people who were already on track to get the disease. Sun can also cause lupus flare-ups in people who already have the disease.
There is also some evidence of a connection between sunlight and flares of a disease called dermatomyositis. Research suggests that severe sunburn might also trigger flares of psoriasis and scleroderma. Scientists are still working to learn more about this.
Extreme exhaustion, fatigue and ‘brain fog’
If you’ve worked a long 8 hour day and you feel mentally and physically exhausted, this isn’t a reason to get checked for an autoimmune disease. But, feeling mentally and physically exhausted even after some solid 8 or even 9 hours of sleep everyday should not go unexamined.
For many people with an autoimmune disease, fatigue is the most debilitating symptom. The fatigue from an autoimmune disease differs from the tiredness most people feel after long periods of work or exercise, or when they haven’t slept well. It’s a feeling of exhaustion all the time that interferes with the ability to function.
These common symptoms of fatigue and ‘brain fog’ can be among the earliest signs of autoimmunity and inflammation may be the reason for some of it, and should be taken very seriously!
Fatigue is sometimes the physical manifestation of anemia of chronic inflammation – a type of anemia that can be present in cases of underlying inflammatory disease.
Again, losing or gaining a couple pounds isn’t something to be alarmed about. But, weight fluctuation without any specific reason for it, especially if other symptoms are present, can also point to issues with the immune system. While some autoimmune diseases are associated with weight loss, others, on the contrary, can cause weight gain.
If your diet and physical activity haven’t changed but your weight has and it can’t be attributed to changes in metabolism that happen gradually with age. It’s also possible that it’s your immune system that needs medical attention.
Hypothyroidism, for example, is linked to slower metabolism which can translate into rapidly gaining weight even if your diet has stayed the same. And while it’s a myth that you can’t maintain a healthy weight with hypothyroidism (especially when you’re on the right treatment), you should be suspicious of changes in your body’s response to food.
Muscle or Joint Pain
Muscle or joint pain can be an unsurprising indication that something’s going on with your immune system. If you’re not an athlete or an avid gym enthusiast that recently overdid their work-out, your muscles and joints shouldn’t just randomly hurt.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not the only autoimmune disease linked to this type of pain. Aches all over your body can also be an early sign of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition of hypofunction of the thyroid, the result of the immune system attacking the gland.
A lot of autoimmune conditions have very similar early symptoms, so don’t jump to conclusions. Muscle and joint pain can also be a symptom of lupus but if it’s really early on, general autoimmunity is what you should look out for and then if confirmed, look into specific conditions.
Any discomfort of the digestive tract should be examined if other symptoms are also present. A lot of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) cause mild symptoms at first that come and go and can easily be attributed to ‘bad eating’ or stress. But you shouldn’t wait for blood in your stool to take diarrhea seriously.
Abdominal pain, cramps, bloating can all be caused by different things that have nothing to do with your immune system. However, if such symptoms appear ‘out of nowhere’ and you notice other signs of inflammation too, seek a medical opinion.
The lining of your digestive tract shouldn’t be severely compromised before you’re eligible to fight the inflammation. In fact, the sooner you do, the more of your beneficial microflora can be preserved.
Autoimmune diseases are not easy to diagnose unless specific prominent symptoms are present. Autoimmunity, however, can be diagnosed with a blood test that looks for auto-antibodies or tests looking for inflammation and dysfunction of certain organs most likely to be damaged by an immune system gone rogue.
When in doubt, always get checked out!
When in doubt, always get checked out! If you have noticed some of these early signs of autoimmunity, schedule an appointment as soon as possible and ask for a blood test.
If you’ve already been seen by an autoimmune doctor, always seek a second opinion if your doctor refuses to take your concerns seriously. The earlier an autoimmune disease is detected, the easier it is to manage it and limit the damage done to the organs.
If you’re experiencing unusual symptoms, keep track of them and team up with medical professionals like Dr. Autoimmune and his team that focus on screening, treatment and prevention.
Dr. Ian Hollaman, aka Dr. Autoimmune, is a IFM certified practitioner located in Boulder, Colorado. He and his team focus on functional medicine that addresses what is above and below the surface.
Their mission is to empower patients with chronic and complex autoimmune conditions by identifying the root cause of autoimmune disease and by providing natural, customized care that offers solutions that promote optimal health.
Let Dr. Ian Hollaman, and the Dr. Autoimmune care team do what they do best! Click Here to schedule your appointment today or call us directly at (303)882-8447.