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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

How Autoimmune Disorders Wreak Havoc

Jan 31, 2024 10:00AM ● By Dr. Lina Sakr

Rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis and more than 100 other diseases affecting up to 10 percent of the U.S. population are each a type of autoimmune disorder; the product of an overactive immune system unable to distinguish between foreign invaders and the body’s own cells. Confused by perceived infections, toxins, allergens and stress responses, the malfunctioning immune system instead turns inward, redirecting its disease-battling forces against those internal systems.

Despite modern medical advances, the prevalence of autoimmune disorders has increased dramatically since 1939, according to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), raising serious questions about the role of environmental factors in this drastic increase. Treating autoimmune disorders primarily (or solely) through prescription drugs will typically only address the symptoms, not any underlying causes.

According to the National Library of Medicine, The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review, shows that women are roughly twice as likely as men to be afflicted with autoimmune disorders, with particular susceptibility during periods of significant hormonal change or extensive stress.

Genetics also play a role, as autoimmune diseases tend to run in families and may also disproportionately impact certain racial groups. Additionally, the presence of high levels of antinuclear antibodies, detected through blood tests, may indicate the presence of an autoimmunity imbalance.

Lifestyle Changes

As we explore how functional medicine can holistically treat autoimmune disorders, a closer look at one particularly insidious form, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), offers a glimpse at the benefits of this approach.

RA is marked by swelling and inflammation of the joints, a condition that prescription drugs only effectively treat at most about half the time, according to IFM. Some of those RA drugs have been shown to increase the risk of dementia in a patient population with twice the mortality rate of the general population.

Absent a miracle cure, patients can still take control of factors within their reach, in particular, lifestyle modifications that boost nutrition and promote regular exercise. A plant-based Mediterranean diet will deliver foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Staples of this diet include olives and olive oil, as well as whole grains. It also includes little to no red meat, refined or processed food, or inflammatory oils such as corn, soy and sunflower.

In lupus patients, the antioxidant influence of green tea has been shown to reduce disease activity and increase health. Exercise is also crucial: In RA, MS and Type 1 diabetes patients, studies show that physically active patients were found to have improved joint mobility and reduced risks of cardiovascular disease.

Other lifestyle choices are within reach. Get a good night’s sleep, because failing to do so damages our metabolism and weakens the immune system. Take up meditation or practice deep breathing, as both have been shown to reduce pain in autoimmune patients.

Lifestyle is the Ultimate Anti-Inflammatory

Functional medicine is not about the quick fix. Its practitioners are akin to detectives or reporters, providing each patient with a personalized assessment that includes a detailed medical history and chronological timeline of life events that could contribute to the disease process.

Functional medicine practitioners create personalized nutritional plans based on food sensitivity testing that can identify (and remove) potentially harmful substances being consumed. If needed, advanced testing can measure hormone levels and better detect underlying imbalances or triggers.

The core questions are how the body got out of balance and how it can be restored to proper balance. As always, consult with a physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes.

Dr. Lina Sakr is a board-certified internal medicine physician at Naples Center for Functional Medicine, located at 800 Goodlette Rd., in Naples. With nearly 40 years of experience, she specializes in metabolic and nutritional medicine, anti-aging medicine and women’s health. For more information, call 239-649-7400 or visit

Naples Center for Functional Medicine - 800 Goodlette Rd Ste 270 Naples FL

Naples Center for Functional Medicine - 800 Goodlette Rd Ste 270, Naples, FL

Dr. Lindsey Berkson MA, DC, CNS, DACBN, CAN is a hormone scholar and functional medicine specialist focusing on hormones, anti-aging and medical nutrition at Naples Center for Functional ... Read More »