Treating Autoimmune Disease with Acupuncture
Over 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease – you may know a friend or loved one who is impacted by this, or perhaps you are affected yourself. An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue. Autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disease, Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes mellitus, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis and Guillain–Barré syndrome. Unfortunately, oftentimes people suffering from an autoimmune disorder are told they have no options, or are prescribed pharmaceuticals that may wind up having side effects that are as bad as the disease itself.
Due to the complexity of treating autoimmune disorders, integrative medicine solutions including acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have received much attention as successful therapies in their treatment. Acupuncture is specifically noted for its use in pain relief, regulating the immune system, managing symptoms and improving quality of life.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
Under normal conditions, an immune response cannot be triggered against the cells of one’s own body. In certain cases, however, immune cells make a mistake and attack the very cells that they are meant to protect. This can lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases. They encompass a broad category of over 100 diseases in which the person’s immune system attacks his or her own tissue.
The exact mechanisms causing these changes are not completely understood, but bacteria, viruses, toxins, and some drugs may play a role in triggering an autoimmune process in someone who already has a genetic (inherited) predisposition to develop such a disorder. It is theorized that the inflammation initiated by these agents, toxic or infectious, somehow provokes in the body a “sensitization” (autoimmune reaction) in the involved tissues.
As the disease develops, vague symptoms may start to appear, such as joint and muscle pain, general muscle weakness, possible rashes or low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, or weight loss. The following symptoms may point toward something being wrong: numbness and tingling in hands and feet, dry eyes, hair loss, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or repeated miscarriages can also be caused by an autoimmune response. Of course, this is not meant to diagnose; consult with your medical doctor if you believe you may be suffering from an undiagnosed autoimmune disease.
How Acupuncture Treats Autoimmune Disorders
TCM approaches to the treatment of autoimmune disorders can be greatly beneficial and act in a different way than conventional Western medicine does. TCM practitioners don’t necessarily treat based on the Western diagnosis, but rather, address the disease based on the individual’s unique pattern of symptoms that help paint a full picture of the root imbalance.
This means that they are not simply slapping a band-aid on the issue, but are looking at the whole person, and addressing the root cause of why this disorder is occurring in the first place. TCM is not a one-size-fits all medicine; all acupuncture treatments, herbal prescriptions, and lifestyle recommendations are completely tailored to each individual. This is what makes TCM so effective in the treatment of autoimmune disease.
According to TCM, autoimmune disorders occur when there is an imbalance within the body. Imbalance can come from an excess or deficiency of yin and yang that disrupts the flow of Qi, or vital energy, through the body. Acupuncture is used to help the body restore balance, treating the root of the disorder, while specifically addressing the symptoms that are unique to each individual. In addition, living with an autoimmune disorder can be incredibly stressful and disheartening, affecting not only physical health but mental health as well. Acupuncture is known to be calming, relaxing, and stress-relieving, and can help to reduce cortisol levels in the brain, which are directly connected to chronic stress.
Clinical research has shown that acupuncture causes physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that, by these actions, acupuncture affects blood pressure, body temperature and the immune system. Acupuncture ultimately works to affect change in the case of autoimmune disorders by calming the immune system and relaxing or even reversing the body’s sensitivity to the trigger.
In addition to acupuncture, your treatment program to manage your autoimmune disorder may involve a combination of therapies including stress reducing exercises, moderate physical activity, herbal medicine, nutritional support and bodywork. Our clinicians take a holistic approach not just in how we diagnose and treat with the tools of acupuncture, diet, and herbs, but we also feel it is critical to help the patient manage the mental and emotional rollercoaster of chronic illness so that they can learn to trust their body and it’s healing potential.
To learn more about how acupuncture can safely and effectively be incorporated into care for people with an autoimmune disorder, please contact us for a consultation today, or click here to book your appointment.