Did you know that over 50 million Americans suffer from a form on autoimmune disease? Autoimmune disease is one of the most significant health-care issues facing the world today, with over $100 billion spent every year on conventional treatments. There are over 100 different types of autoimmune diseases, and another 40 diseases suspected to have an autoimmune component. That is a big deal. Diseases like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Grave’s Disease, and Psoriasis are all examples of autoimmune diseases and chances are you know someone who has one, or have one yourself.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
In short, autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system, which is designed to protect you from foreign invaders, starts attacking your own tissue. This is done by the creation of antibodies, which usually identify and destroy pathogens and help you recover from illness. With autoimmune disease, the antibodies target your own healthy issue, which leads to inflammation and destruction of your own cells. There are two types, organ specific (like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Type 1 Diabetes) and non-organ specific (like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus). The most commonly impacted organs are in the endocrine system, think the thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal glands. And the most commonly impacted non-organ tissues are the blood and connective tissues like muscles and joints.
How do you get Autoimmune Disease?
• Genetics play a part for predisposition, so it’s common to see autoimmune disease run in families. For example, my dad, twin sister and I all have psoriasis.
• Environmental Triggers account for 1/3 of your risk in developing an autoimmune disease. Pathogens, chemicals and substances that your immune system is exposed to can greatly impact your risk. (This is why you see me talking a lot about the importance of safer personal care products!)
• Diet and Lifestyle play a huge role in your risk. Poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of movement, drug exposure, and stress levels play an important role in our lives. Those who experience acute and chronic stress have a significantly higher risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
How do you know if you have Autoimmune Disease?
Well, unfortunately, most autoimmune diseases go undiagnosed for years. Most autoimmune sufferers have general symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, migraines, weight gain/loss, and pain. And because of that, a lot of autoimmunesufferers aren’t taken seriously when they’re trying to find answers for their illness because they don’t ‘look’ sick. If you think you might have an autoimmune disease, do your homework and be your own advocate. Only you can tell how your body is feeling, and you know when something is ‘off’. Don’t ever let someone tell you that what you’re feeling is wrong.
How I manage my autoimmune disease
This will come as no surprise, but my nutrition is the top way that I manage my autoimmune disease. Because I have psoriasis (which a lot of people just think of as getting weird little rashes on your skin), that means I’m that much more at risk to develop another autoimmune disease. But what I’ve found is that certain foods directly contribute to my psoriasis flares, which can be very painful and humiliating depending on where the flare occurs. (I once cut bangs because I had a patch appear on my forehead… as someone with a widows peak, the bangs were almost more torturous than the flare itself). For me, gluten is the top irritant for my psoriasis. And I get that it’s a ‘fad’ to be gluten free and I certainly get my fair share of people thinking I jumped on a bandwagon or, my favorite, they think I avoid gluten for ‘attention’… (why YES, I really would love to go out to a pizza restaurant so that I can simply sit there and smell the pizza and not enjoy any of it.) Sugar is another trigger, I avoid refined sugar and when I bake I go for lower glycemic sugars to use, like coconut sugar. How do I know these are triggers? Well, beyond developing more psoriasis patches, the triggers literally make my joints and skin hurt, almost as though my whole body is bruised… that’s the best way for me to describe it. But if I avoid gluten and sugar and eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, I’m in good shape!
Beyond that, I try very hard to manage stress as it can make my entire body feel as though it’s on fire from the inside out. I take long, hot Epsom salt baths probably at least 3 times a week, I meditate, I pray, I write in my gratitude journal, I spend time outside in the sun. The mental battle to fight stress takes a lot of work, but when my ‘practice’ is in a good place, then my sleep is better and my stress levels are lower and overall, I feel good.
Lastly, I exercise at least 6 days a week. That may sound like a lot, but it’s never for more than 30-45 minutes. We all know that exercise is good for us, but it’s really tricky for someone to navigate with autoimmune disease because most times we’re so tired or in so much pain that it makes exercise seem impossible. Super high impact workouts actually work against us, as do long workouts, because they actually cause our bodies to go into ultra-stressed out modes that can put us in to a flare. Personally, I’ve found that shorter workouts that incorporate heavy weights and bursts of HIIT (high intensity interval training) work for me and actually leave me feeling energized instead of completely drained.
If you have autoimmune disease, do know that you have the right to take control of the situation and it does not in any way define you. I challenge you to take charge of your health. Most autoimmune medications only treat the symptom and not the root cause of the issue, and furthermore cause more damage to other areas of bodies and/or leave us feeling like zombies. I’m proud to say I’m 100% drug-free for over 12 years now. It’s not easy, but it’s totally worth it.
This blog is just the tip of the iceberg, but if you have any questions about autoimmune disease I’d love to chat with you about resources available at your fingertips to get you on the road to improved health. We all deserve to feel good, and you absolutely have the power to take control of your health and I’m happy to help you do just that.