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Acupuncture for Autoimmune Diseases

In today’s world, chances are high that you know of someone living with an autoimmune (AI) disease, or you may have an AI condition yourself! Autoimmune disease refers to an illness where the body tissues can’t “recognize friend from foe” and they begin to attack the body’s own immune system. Common symptoms include general malaise (or feeling “icky”), fatigue, joint pain or swelling, skin problems, abdominal or digestive problems, recurring fever, and swollen glands (Orbai, n.d.).

The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) estimates 50 million people in the United States are currently living with an AI disease (AARDA, 2018). There have been 80-100 different AI diseases identified and another 40 additional diseases are suspected of having an AI basis. The number of people suffering from a diagnosed AI disease is rising by 4 to 7% per year with the greatest increase seen in celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and myasthenia gravis. “Of the 50 million Americans coping with some form of AI, more than 75% of them are women,” (AARDA, 2018).

Part of this rise in diagnosis rate is due to increased public awareness and the availability of more sensitive lab tests to be able to detect autoimmune deficiency. However, changing lifestyles and environmental factors also play a role in the growing number of AI patients in the nation. Doctors and scientists hypothesize that factors such as smoking or taking pharmaceutical drugs used to treat other conditions like high blood pressure could contribute to developing an AI disease. Many doctors believe vitamin D deficiency may contribute to AI conditions such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. Dietary triggers that generally cause inflammation in the body such as gluten, sugar, and dairy can also trigger an AI flair up. Another common trigger is periods of high stress (Travers, 2016). Some researchers believe that other lifestyle habits could help prevent AI diseases, but further research is still being conducted to test these theories.

Most AI diseases are treated with immunosuppressant drugs, which can lead to severe long-term side effects such as frequent infections that are harder to treat due to a weakened immune system (Giorgi, 2016). Some immunosuppressants can also inhibit bone marrow function and damage the liver and kidneys (California Pacific Medical Center, 2014).

This is where regular acupuncture can help! For many patients suffering with AI, Chinese medicine can help stabilize the body. Along with lifestyle changes, acupuncture can work well with biomedical drugs to improve AI symptoms. In certain cases, improvements are so good with regular acupuncture treatments that the dosage of corticosteroids can be gradually reduced under the care of the patient’s doctor.

Chinese medicine is different than western medicine in that it uses the diagnostic tool of identifying a person’s “pattern.” This pattern describes the person’s general state of health and not just the disease state. Some common patterns seen with patients with AI conditions include heat toxin, phlegm, and blood stagnation. The unique and patient-specific acupuncture protocol developed enables the patient’s body to adjust to each pattern. Different points are used for each pattern: in the pattern of phlegm, for example, certain points are identified that enable the body to transform the phlegm.

The benefits of acupuncture for AI disease sufferers have been clinically demonstrated! The combination of four points has been shown to alter nervous system receptors in muscles on patients suffering with myasthenia gravis (Huang, Pan, & HF, 2016). Moxibustion has been studied to help with swelling and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (Wang, Ye, Guan, Liu, & Ren, 2017). Many studies have been done examining the positive effects of acupuncture to reduce inflammation, and electro-acupuncture has been found to inhibit the release of mast cells that trigger an inflammatory response in the body (Wang, et al., 2018). Finally, anyone suffering with the additional stress and burden of dealing with an AI disease can benefit from the relaxing and calming effects of an acupuncture treatment. Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation!


Works Cited

AARDA. (2018, February). Autoimmune Disease Statistics. Retrieved from AARDA: https://www.aarda.org/news-information/statistics/#1488234345468-3bf2d325-1052

California Pacific Medical Center. (2014). Sutter Health CPMC. Retrieved from Side Effects of Anti-Rejection Medications for Kidney Transplant: http://www.cpmc.org/advanced/kidney/news/newsletter/kidneytransplant_medication_sideeffects.html

Giorgi, A. (2016, December 7). About Immunosuppressant Drugs. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/immunosuppressant-drugs

Huang, H., Pan, H., & HF, W. (2016). “Warming yang and invigorating qi” acupuncture alters acetylcholine receptor expression in the neuromuscular junction of rats with experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis. Neural Regeneration Research, 4.

Orbai, A.-M. M. (n.d.). What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease. Retrieved from Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-woman/conditions/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease

Travers, C. (2016, December 13). Why Autoimmune Diseases Are On the Rise. Retrieved from Shape: https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/why-autoimmune-diseases-are-rise

Wang, S., Ye, G., Guan, S., Liu, X., & Ren, W. (2017). Flipping moxibustion of Hui medicine combined with western medication for rheumatoid arthritis with cold dampness bi syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu.

Wang, Z., Yi, T., Long, M., Ding, F., L, O., & Chen, Z. (2018). Involvement of the Negative Feedback of IL-33 Signaling in the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Electro-acupuncture on Allergic Contact Dermatitis via Targeting MicroRNA-155 in Mast Cells. Inflammation, 10.


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