Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle

The human body is pretty resilient and has an amazing capacity to heal itself when given the proper nutrition, rest and movement it needs to maintain physiological and psychological balance.

Lately when speaking to audiences about health, wellness and hormones, I’ve seen a rise in interest in autoimmune diseases in particular.

This is most likely due to the fact that I’ve also seen an increase in patients diagnosed with autoimmune diseases in my clinical practice.

If “autoimmune” doesn’t sound familiar, maybe some of these terms will: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Psoriasis and Celiac Disease are common autoimmune diseases that are on the rise in North America.

When you suffer from one of these conditions, your immune system begins mistaking healthy cells and tissues within your body for antigens (i.e. bacteria, viruses), resulting in a chronic inflammatory attack on your tissues as if they were infected by something foreign. Your immune system is in full attack mode – only the body doesn’t realize it’s attacking itself.

The largest implication of this self-attack? Fatigue.

While each autoimmune disease has its own list of unique symptoms, you can imagine that the energy your body uses to fight itself would be significant, regardless of what part of the body is under attack. There are a few other common symptoms that tend to arise with autoimmune diseases, such as joint pain and swelling, skin problems, abdominal pain or digestive issues, recurring fever and swollen glands.

Treating an Autoimmune Disease

Both the cause of and treatment for autoimmune diseases are still hotly contested.

Traditional Western medicine tends to lean towards more heavy-handed therapies such as immunosuppressive medications or steroidal anti-inflammatories. These therapies are often quite effective in the treatment of pain and other symptoms. However, they do not treat the underlying causes of the disorder, and often have some pretty negative side effects.

More holistic healing practices like Naturopathic medicine tend to see an autoimmune disease as a whole system in peril, rather than a localized problem. It’s often very challenging to diagnose these disorders because the symptoms can be so varied, and multiple kinds of testing are required. Diagnosis and treatment are not so different in the naturopathic tradition - both examine the whole human who is suffering, and approach the disorder as a lifestyle and health problem.

Factors to Consider if You Have an Autoimmune Disease

Because autoimmune diseases are so wide reaching, it’s important to examine multiple parts of your life and lifestyle if you have one (or think you might). The following four factors can shed a lot of light on your condition - both its cause, and some potential treatment strategies.

What you eat

An autoimmune disease will trigger your body’s inflammatory response around the clock, and one of the best ways to combat and reduce inflammation is to take stock of what you’re eating. If you have a diet high in the foods that definitely cause inflammation (sugar, rancid oils, highly processed carbs), or if you regularly consume some of the most common allergens (gluten, eggs, soy, dairy and corn), you might want to review your diet with your healthcare practitioner - you could be putting heavy and unnecessary pressure on your body.

What you’re exposing yourself to

Another common source of inflammation, as well as hormone disregulationare environmental toxins - chemicals found in our air, water, consumer goods and even food that mimic our hormones and wreak havoc on our system. Removing some more common environmental toxins (like BPAs in plastics) is a great place to start reducing the toxicity you’re exposed to.

What your gut is up to

There’s now so much research indicating the importance of the gut microbiome, and linking gut health to overall health. How you digest your food is almost as important as the food you eat - and most of us are a little lacking in the digestive department. You could be lacking some nutrients your body desperately needs to help combat your condition, without even knowing it.

What’s up with those stress levels

While everything I’ve discussed up until now is a form of stress on the body, there’s something to be said for a lifestyle full of external stress, as well. Regular low-grade stress is hugely taxing to the immune system, as it wears down the adrenal glands and keeps the body in fight-or-flight mode. Taking stock of the stress you’re experiencing in day-to-day life is a great place to start when tackling something serious like an autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases have serious repercussions because they are holistic issues - they come from many sources, have many symptoms, and take a holistic form of treatment to manage. Starting with the four broad areas above with your healthcare practitioner is a great place to start looking at your system as a whole - and treating it with the care it needs to stay healthy.

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