I’ve been in practice for many years. Long enough to notice trends, and one of the things that I have noticed is a rise in autoimmune problems (allergies, lupus, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and some kinds of thyroid disorders). What concerns me about this rise in immune system dysfunction is the effect it has on fertility. Endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage and failed IVF are common problems for women who have autoimmune issues and in our book Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility Dr. David and I talked about how we thought immunity issues were the third most commonly overlooked cause of infertility, after endometriosis and infections.
If you are suffering from repeated miscarriages, your immune system may be to blame. Experts estimate that up to 20% of miscarriages are related to autoimmune reactions. It’s as if the woman’s body has an allergic reaction to the embryo. In addition “unexplained infertility” is often not infertility at all, but rather recurrent miscarriages due to inappropriate immune reactions.
There are four main markers of immune problems in women with recurrent pregnancy loss: Antithyroid antibodies, antiphospholipid antibodies, natural killer cells and antinuclear antibodies. You can read more about each of these in Making Babies. There’s very specific western medical protocols that can help in each of these cases and you should consult a high risk OB (preferably with an immunology specialty) to discuss a conventional medical approach.
As for Chinese medicine, when applied correctly it can be very helpful in treating a misbehaving immune system. Treatment should focus on your specific Chinese medical diagnosis. You may think that the best way to handle an immune issue is to boost the immune system. That’s what a practitioner would do if you caught colds all the time or had some other sign of immune deficiency. But simply making the immune system stronger when it’s already hyperactive, is a mistake. What we really aim to do is to bring your immune system back into balance, not turbocharge it. This is a job for an experienced herbalist, who has the skills to adapt a herbal formula as your internal landscape shifts.
Here are some of the ways you can help yourself:-
- See a practitioner of Chinese medicine for herbs and acupuncture tailored to suit your specific diagnosis
- Find a method to reduce stress, such as yoga or meditation. Stress increases the production of cortisol which suppresses your immune system.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking altogether and limit refined sugar and caffeine as they all put stress on your immune system.
- Avoid gluten altogether. For more information on how gluten exacerbates an autoimmune condition read this article by our YinOva nutritionist Carla Kreft.
- Load up on antioxidants such as vitamin C (in reasonable amounts), vitamin E and beta-carotene which are beneficial for your immune system. It’s best to get them from food but supplementing is OK.
- Consider taking a zinc supplement, as zinc is helpful to the immune system.
- Ask your doctor about taking a para-aminobenzoic acid supplement (PABA) which can improve some autoimmune conditions.
- Eat more alkaline producing foods such as whole grains (no gluten though) and vegetables and less acid producing ones such as meat alcohol and coffee.
- Make sure you’re getting enough folic acid – 2 -3mg a day.