An autoimmune disease is caused by the immune system accidentally attacking your body instead of protecting it. Conventional medicine doesn't know why the immune system does this. We know more than 100 autoimmune diseases. The most common include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The treatment available to people with these conditions is not as abundant in conventional medicine. It usually involves the use of pharmaceutical products, which can have side effects that are as severe, if not worse, than the symptoms of the disease itself. Even worse, many people are told they have no chance. This is where traditional Chinese medicine can be helpful.
Traditional Chinese medicine treats the body as a whole, allowing the patient to receive a more comprehensive treatment that is usually more successful. Since autoimmune diseases are believed to be the result of a defective response of the immune system, TCM practitioners strive to restore and rejuvenate the factors that are key to good immunity.
What are autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases are chronic diseases that are difficult - sometimes even impossible - to cure with conventional medicine. Symptoms can be alleviated – spontaneously or as a result of therapies – but the possibility of recurrence remains in almost all cases. The characteristic of these diseases is that the immune system attacks parts of the body, temporarily or permanently damaging them or changing their activities.
There are a large number of diseases that are classified as having an autoimmune response or that are thought to have an autoimmune basis. In many diseases, there is a significant difference between their occurrence in men and women; generally speaking, women are three times more likely to develop autoimmune diseases (but in some diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, the disease pattern is more severe in men). If the initial symptoms are mild or if the disease progresses slowly and develops symptoms in an unusual way, it is difficult to make a diagnosis. Some patients spend a decade seeking a medical diagnosis and treatment before finally finding out what the disease is. Today, more tests are available that can indicate or confirm the presence of an autoimmune disease, so diagnosis is now easier than ever. Nevertheless, for some diseases that are assumed to be autoimmune, there are still not enough reliable tests, especially to detect them at an early stage.
Common autoimmune diseases
Connective tissue diseases
The most widespread autoimmune diseases are connective tissue diseases, which account for almost half of all cases. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most prevalent. The main connective tissue diseases are:
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
Neuromuscular diseases are primarily those that involve an immune attack that affects the nerves, which in turn weakens muscle responses. The primary response is usually muscle paralysis, but tremors and/or convulsions may also occur, with neurotransmission partially blocked.
Endocrine diseases involve the immune system attacking the glands, which sometimes means extremely rapid destruction (as in diabetes or Addison's disease). However, in Basedow's disease, antibodies attach to receptors on thyroid hormone-stimulating cells, and instead of destroying the cells, they stimulate the production of thyroid hormones.
Chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis
Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent)
Other autoimmune diseases
I mention some common diseases that do not fall into the above categories here. They occur in equal proportions in men and women.
Chronic intestinal disease
Hematological autoimmune diseases
How TKM understands
Autoimmune diseases vary and are usually viewed as a 'deep imbalance' involving multiple systems. All of them have an overactive liver system in common, which in TCM theory is considered the main active defense system. It controls soldier cells that kill invaders or useless cells in the body. But when the army is too active or the controlling commander is too weak, the army goes rogue and starts attacking normal cells. The same is true of cancer cells, but they are more resourceful in building their own foundation, which is easier to see on imaging tests.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can greatly help patients suffering from autoimmune diseases, but this remains unknown to many patients and their doctors.
The effectiveness of TCM ranges from significant improvement in symptoms to long-term relief that could even be called a cure.
TCM treatment usually takes place in two stages: the acute stage, in which powerful anti-inflammatory herbs are used to manage pain, discomfort and severe symptoms, and the palliative stage, where symptoms gradually ease and we get a huge opportunity to use herbal tonics and adaptogens to adjust the immune system, strengthen the functions of the organs and strengthen the blood.
My personal experience
As a TCM practitioner who has successfully treated many cases in the field of autoimmune diseases, it really annoys me how difficult it is to pass this knowledge on to those who need it. When patients try to mention TCM to their doctors, the response is usually that the alternative treatment is "unproven" and therefore will not be discussed. Patients who are concerned about serious symptoms and have been told by world-renowned specialists that there is no other option are understandably suspicious of other therapies. There are posts on online forums from those who have benefited greatly from TCM treatment, but are met with skepticism and disinterest from other readers.
Autoimmune diseases that I have faced and successfully limited are rheumatoid arthritis, early stage multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Of course, not all cases can be successfully cured, but these are usually in the late stages. TCM is a hands-on approach that offers an overlooked perspective on protecting and improving health, yet TCM practitioners are not miracle workers turning water into wine. With a more accurate and realistic understanding of TCM, we can very well slow down, control or even reverse autoimmune diseases.
You can have your own
Do I replace medicines with TCM?
It depends. If the patient is in an acute stage, immunosuppressants and other chemical drugs can save his life. Additionally, at the initial stage of TCM treatment, patients are advised to continue taking their prescribed medications, as TCM cannot repair severely damaged systems overnight.
Herbal remedies, when regulated and properly prescribed by a qualified herbalist, can often lead to great improvement in symptoms and long-term correction of the imbalances that caused the autoimmune dysfunction. Only when the symptoms are under control and both TCM diagnostics and biochemical examination show improvement, can the medication be adjusted slowly and under strict supervision.
A holistic approach to powerful detoxification
and long-term health
Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection, injury or imbalance that prompts the body's immune system to begin the healing process. Usually the latter leads to homeostasis, which represents a return to a normal body state, but sometimes our immune system does not calm down afterwards; this leads to an overreaction of the immune system, such as allergies or asthma attacks.
Accumulating epidemiological and clinical evidence suggests that inflammation is an important critical factor in many human diseases. Thus, inhibiting chronic inflammation can help delay, prevent, and control many chronic diseases, including cerebrovascular, cardiovascular, joint, skin, lung, blood, lymphatic, liver, pancreatic, and intestinal diseases. A number of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) natural products have been shown to safely inhibit pathways leading to inflammation and control inflammation-related diseases.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis can become a complex and chronic lifelong autoimmune disease, also seen as one of the commonly seen forms of hypothyroidism. This is a typical example of how burnout can harm our body in the long term. Too much stress and too much work really drains the energy to maintain such a busy lifestyle. It's kind of like burning a candle at both ends. From a TCM perspective, Hashimoto's patients also have an autoimmune condition where there is too much fiery energy in the body.