Altogether there are about 80 recognized autoimmune diseases, including
- rheumatoid arthritis
- systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- autoimmune thyroiditis
- type 1 diabetes
- myasthenia gravis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
Some other diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis, may have autoimmune components. All of these diseases develop when the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as a threat to health and begins producing antibodies to attack them. Of the 50 million Americans who have autoimmune diseases, 75 percent are women. What distinguishes one disease from another is the target – the thyroid, in the case of Graves’ disease, the pancreas in the case of juvenile diabetes, and multiple organs in lupus. You can get information on 60 specific autoimmune diseases from the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association at (www.aarda.org).
Autoimmune diseases tend to flare up and subside in response to emotional ups and downs, so I commonly recommend experimenting with some type of mind/body treatment – hypnosis, psychotherapy and guided imagery therapy. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine are also worth exploring. The following measures are worth trying for anyone with an autoimmune disorder:
- Decrease protein intake toward 10 percent of daily calories; replace animal protein as much as possible with plant protein.
- Eliminate milk and milk products, substituting other calcium sources.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables regularly and make sure that they are organically grown.
- Eliminate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils, and all foods (such as deep-fried foods) that might contain trans-fatty acids. Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Take ginger (start with one capsule twice a day). Turmeric can also be helpful. Follow the dosage directions on the package.
Andrew Weil, M.D.