Autoimmune disease is recognized as a major health crisis in the United States. Today, 50 million Americans—80 percent of whom are women—suffer from one or more autoimmune condition. Thirty years ago, only one in 400 people developed an autoimmune disease. Today, one in 12 Americans—one in nine women—have an autoimmune disease. More women are diagnosed each year with an autoimmune disease than breast cancer and cardiovascular disease combined.
David J. Bilstrom, MD—the Director of the International Autoimmune Institute & Bingham Memorial Center for Functional Medicine—explores the mystery behind how people develop autoimmune disease and how their effects can be reversed.
What is an autoimmune disease?
It’s a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue. Some of the more common conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, type 1 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, but the National Institutes of Health estimates there are more than 100 types of autoimmune diseases.
How does an autoimmune disease develop?
Three things have to be disrupted in order for an autoimmune disease to develop:
- Environmental Triggers
“People are always going to have environmental triggers,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “Some examples include a car accident, the death of a loved one, ongoing stress, or the birth of a baby. There are always going to be these stressors to the system, but, ideally, they shouldn’t cause an autoimmune disease.”
What has to happen for an autoimmune disease to develop is the disruption of the genetics and then the disruption of the terrain. Examples of the terrain include: sleeping and eating habits, exercise routines, and how stress is being managed. Other examples of terrain that can be scientifically tested are: hormone balance, toxicity levels, vitamin levels, and any pre-existing chronic infections.
“By testing for these things to determine problem areas, we can then go in and fix them, which can have a profound and positive impact on the body, the immune system, and genes,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “People used to think that genes were hard-wired. Whatever you got, you got. Good, bad, or otherwise. We now know that this is not the case, and there’s an entirely new field which explores things that can significantly change gene expression—epigenetics.”
For example, someone may have a gene that is turned on, but shouldn’t be. If the terrain is fixed, then that turned on gene can be turned off. The same holds true if someone has a gene that is turned off that shouldn’t be. If the terrain is changed, then that gene can be flipped back on again.
Changing the Terrain
“I like to think of the terrain as a backyard swimming pool,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “Ideally, that backyard swimming pool should be crystal clear, the water shimmers in the sunlight, and you can see all the way to the bottom. And, when you see that pool, you think to yourself, ‘how inviting would that pool be?’”
“On the other hand, your backyard pool could have tons of algae, old beer cans, tires, and even a couple of dead raccoons floating in it,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “And, you think to yourself, ‘that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve even seen!’”
Now, the second example is still considered a backyard pool, but while it’s terrible, not all is lost. This backyard pool has the potential to be cleaned up. The same holds true with changing your genes. If they’re changed, or cleaned up, then you’ll start to feel so much better, too.
Environmental triggers that disrupt genetics and terrain
In order for environmental triggers to kick start an autoimmune disease, there has to be a disruption in genetics and the terrain.
“A lot of times people can identify what the exact environmental trigger was,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “Without an already disrupted genetics and terrain, though, this trigger wouldn’t have caused the autoimmune disease. Often times the trigger is such a small event they can’t identify what it was. It’s like the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’”
For example, many people say they have developed autoimmune disease after a third pregnancy, car accident, or a bad infection. In many cases, though, people say, they have no idea what caused these conditions to develop. They’ll say, all I know is:
- my joints started hurting and they got swollen and red and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
- my gut became terrible and I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- I started getting this bad rash and someone told me it was psoriasis.
“One of the lovely things is that we now have highly advanced testing available that will allow us to see what happened,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “And, with that information we’re then in a good position to clean up your swimming pool, clean up your genetics, and really turn around the autoimmune problem to ultimately rein in autoimmune system imbalance. We call this immunomodulation, which is far superior to immunosuppression.”
“Please remember that your body is always ready to heal,” says Dr. Bilstrom. “It just needs to be given a chance.”♦
Bingham Specialty Plaza
326 Poplar St.
T: (208) 782-2444
About David Bilstrom, MD
Dr. Bilstrom is Director of the International Autoimmune Institute & Bingham Memorial Center for Functional Medicine, which is the first medical center in the country to treat all types of autoimmune diseases. It is also the first to use nature, and its ability to improve human health and well-being, as an integral part of a wellness program.
Dr. Bilstrom works closely with experts in a number of medical specialties to evaluate, diagnose and treat chronic and autoimmune diseases. He is always welcoming new patients at his office within the Bingham Specialty Plaza in Blackfoot. Appointments can be scheduled by calling (208) 782-2444.
Taking the mind, body, and spirit into consideration, Dr. Bilstrom understands firsthand the benefits integrated medicine can provide to patients. He is triple board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Functional and Regenerative Medicine, and Medical Acupuncture. He has extensive experience in Anti-Aging & Regenerative Medicine, Acupuncture, Integrative Medicine, and Complementary and Alternative Medicines.