By Mary Vincent, L.Ac
Autoimmune diseases are a leading cause of chronic pain and physical disabilities. They are also one of the top 10 leading causes of death in women. Researchers have identified between 80-100 different autoimmune diseases, and currently more than 23 million people in the US alone are affected by one or more. Some of the more commonly known autoimmune diseases include:
▪ Graves’ disease
▪ Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
▪ Multiple sclerosis
▪ Pernicious anemia
▪ Reactive arthritis
▪ Rheumatoid arthritis
▪ Sjogren’s syndrome
▪ Systemic lupus erythematosus
▪ Type I diabetes
▪ Celiac Disease
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s own defense mechanism, the immune system, incorrectly identifies the body’s own cells as intruders and attempts to destroy them over and over again. These diseases can target and affect any area of the body, and can damage tissues and organs over time. There are a wide variety of signs and symptoms based on each individual disease mechanism, but in general, the classic initial signs include chronic fatigue, low-grade fevers, and muscle and/or joint aches (often accompanied by swelling). Symptoms typically come and go during periods of remission (no symptoms) and flares (sudden recurrence of symptoms after a remission). Autoimmune diseases affect people from all places, but more commonly occur in:
▪ Individuals with a family history
▪ Women of childbearing age
▪ Certain Environments—certain locations and environmental exposures have higher rates of autoimmune disease
How Can Acupuncture Help?
Pain Relief: Most autoimmune disorders cause some varying degree of muscle or joint pains. Most major acupuncture points are located in areas of the body that have major nerve innervations. These points help to calm the nervous system, decrease swelling/inflammation, increase blood flow, relax muscles, and thus relieve pain.
Improve Digestive Function: Many autoimmune diseases disrupt and/or damage the normal digestive functions. Since acupuncture helps regulate the nervous system, this directly affects and helps with peristalsis (the contractions of smooth muscle in our digestive tracts) and helps to promote healthy digestive functions.
Immune Modulation: The majority of research into how acupuncture affects the immune system has been centered on cancer patients. However, this research has shown in several human studies that acupuncture helps regulate and improve the functions of the immune system.
Side Effects of Medications: Many people who suffer from autoimmune diseases will be on a regime of immunosuppressant drugs. Acupuncture can help alleviate some of the side effects such as nausea and insomnia that are sometimes associated with these medications.
As most autoimmune diseases are lifelong conditions, those suffering could benefit from adding acupuncture into their regular therapy routine. Depending on the severity of the condition, we would recommend 1-2 times a week for those with very mild conditions, and weekly to bi-weekly or those that are in remission. For individual with moderate to severe symptoms we would recommend 2-3 times a week to start and until there is significant reduction in symptoms.