FOX 4’s Shannon O’Brien starts new journey to fight back against autoimmune disease

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 50 million people in the United States suffer from autoimmune diseases, conditions where the immune system attacks healthy calls and the effects can be debilitating.

I am one of those 50 million people. I have an autoimmune disease, and sometimes it gets so bad that it's difficult to function.

I suffer from Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. My immune system thinks my thyroid is a foreign invader and doesn't belong in my body, so I make antibodies that attack one of my most important glands.

In a healthy person, the immune system recognizes infectious organisms like bacteria, viruses and other dangerous invaders and attacks them.

For people like me with an autoimmune disease, the immune system does not function properly and mistakenly misidentifies healthy tissue as foreign and attacks it, too.

There are more than 100 kinds of autoimmune diseases, including Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease, just to name a few. Each one attacks different parts of the body.

There are a variety of triggers, food being a big one.

The main culprits are processed food, sugar, gluten and dairy -- foreign invaders that our bodies have a hard time dealing with. Every time you eat something like that, the immune system is triggered, and over time it taxes the body so much that the immune system short circuits, setting the stage for disease.

"The intestinal tract is very much a pillar of health in every other part of the body," Dr. Jane Murray said. "It is the entryway for all kinds of things that can get in that we don’t want necessarily get into our system.”

Murray is co-founder of the Sastun Center, an integrative health care center that. along with traditional medicine, takes a holistic approach to healing. She is my doctor.

"Functional medicine is looking at the fundamental reasons how come a person comes up with what we start labeling with names such as Arthritis, Hashimoto's, M.S.," Murray said. “In Western conventional medicine, our goal is to find the diagnosis, get the right name based on laboratory work and the physical exam and history and then when you know the name of the disease, you have a box of drugs that you can use.”

I take a thyroid hormone replacement drug every day to help with the symptoms of my disease, including fatigue, joint pain and hair loss, among others.

When I went on medication, the symptoms improved, but I don't want to be dependent on drugs my whole life. I want to find out why my body is attacking my thyroid and fix it.

If I keep going on this way, simply masking the symptoms with drugs, eventually my thyroid will not work at all. Before that happens, I want to figure out why my body isn't working properly.

​“I like the image of a tree with a trunk and a branch and leaves. Your leaves are brown in these areas, and your doctor has things that they do to paint your leaves green," Murray said, describing the conventional medicine approach. "Well, why are all these leaves not green? What is going on on the branches and the trunk and the roots? And what is happening in the earth this tree is growing in and the air that it is exposed to? And is it getting enough water for its nutrients? What kind of stress level does this tree have that is then creating brown leaves in all of these areas?”

Besides food, family history, stress and taking lots of medications, particularly antibiotics, are just a few of the reasons people develop autoimmune diseases. Although I can't pinpoint my root cause yet, we are working on it.

I have a team of some of the top experts on the front lines of the autoimmune epidemic to help me in this journey. I'll be doing stories about the medical treatment for autoimmune diseases, how food can be used as medicine, exercise and meditation techniques as well as recipes and lifestyle changes that are the newest ammunition in the battle against autoimmune disorders.

Please join me in this journey. I will be doing stories on air as well as online, blogging, sharing my successes and failures -- but it's not just about me.

I have started a Facebook group called Fighting Autoimmune Disease with FOX4. I hope this will build into a community of people sharing stories, looking for answers, committed to fighting their autoimmune disease like I am. Join in and let's tackle this thing together.

As with any lifestyle change, consult your doctor.