If I have learned anything since starting this blog it’s that many of us share very similar stories. Most of us had a series of events that led to our diagnosis, a few horrible doctors, faulty lab work, misunderstanding peers and the common idea that there is no cure for autoimmune disease. Once you are diagnosed, you are sick for life. Right?
What if I told you that this is not entirely true? While there is no medical cure for autoimmune disease (at least yet) there is healing steps we can take to put our bodies into remission. We can live effectively symptom-free lives by taking several steps in the direction of healing.
What is Autoimmunity?
Firstly, it is very important to understand what it means to have an autoimmune condition. By definition, autoimmunity is an immune response whereby our bodies create antibodies to attack healthy tissues. The tissues that are attacked vary depending on which autoimmune disease we suffer from. When you have an autoimmune condition you are more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions if you don’t address the root cause. Autoimmune disease is the eighth leading cause of death among women, affecting approximately 50 million Americans and those numbers are continuing to rise. Autoimmunity can be caused by a number of factors such as environmental toxins, chronic stress, hidden food allergies, infections, the over-use of antibiotics, gut-related disorders and the improper use of medications.
Luckily, the more we know the easier it gets for us. If several factors led to the diagnosis of autoimmunity then let’s address those causes first. The basic medical model does not look at the root cause or take preventative measures. While I believe in medication and treatment, it is up to us as patients to change our lifestyle and find our root causes.
Below are five ways we can begin to heal our symptoms of autoimmunity and get our lives back!
Addressing Our Gut Health
As Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Leaky gut tends to be a major factor in the development and progression of autoimmune disease. Leaky gut, also known as, intestinal permeability, is when the mucosal layer of our intestines becomes permeable allowing food proteins to leak into our bloodstream. Leaky gut is associated with autoimmune disorders and other debilitating conditions like Depression and even forms of Autism.
Our gut hosts more than 70% of our immune system so the correlation between gut issues and autoimmunity is extremely apparent. Think of it like this, autoimmune diseases are a result of our immune system attacking our healthy tissue. When our gut is permeable, food proteins leak into the blood stream signaling our immune system to attack. The good news is we can heal our gut and tighten the lining of our intestines.
Gut-Friendly Dietary Changes:
There are several foods that are known to be triggers for leaky gut such as inflammatory foods like simple grains, wheat, and corn as well as cow’s dairy and soy products. Some people have trouble with raw, cruciferous vegetables, night shade vegetables and eggs, as well. Eating a balanced diet of steamed veggies, grass-fed meats, fermented foods and probiotics can help aid in a stronger, tighter gut lining. Foods like bone broth, goat’s kefir, coconut oil, kimchi and kombucha are great options for probiotic food sources. This doesn’t mean eliminating everything at once. In my personal experience, grains, dairy and soy were problematic for me, but I never had an issue with nightshades, cruciferous veggies or eggs. Experimenting with an elimination diet may help you to find your food sensitivities. My suggestion is to eliminate gluten first as it tends to be the number one food source for causing leaky gut.
Reducing Our Stress Load
Chronic stress leads to chronically elevated cortisol. Elevated cortisol leads to weight gain, exhaustion and adrenal fatigue. Cortisol is our main stress hormone released by our adrenal glands, and a balanced cortisol production is extremely necessary to be healthy and to be resilient to everyday stressors.
Think of it like this, back in the day our ancestors only real source of stress was due to either wide famine, or being chased down by some kind of wild animal. Our lives have significantly changed but our bodies reaction to stress has not. Even small stressors can elevate our cortisol levels. When we are chronically stressed our cortisol often struggles to return to its original, balanced state. Stress causes inflammation, and inflammation is the root to all disease. Reducing our stress load can significantly decrease our autoimmune symptoms and even help in other areas of our lives, like sleep, energy, and general well-being.
Supplementing With What Our Bodies Are Deficient In
Whether or not you suffer from an autoimmune or chronic condition, you are probably deficient in one or more vitamins or minerals. The reality today is that we aren’t getting the nutrients and vitamins we need from our diets alone. Getting lab work is the easiest, cheapest and safest way to know what you are deficient in, but if you want to try supplementing right away here are my recommendations.
Supplements I Recommend:
Vitamin D3 is extremely necessary, especially if you live in a colder climate or work a desk job where you don’t get to spend lots of time in the sunshine. I find liquid forms to be the most potent. A B complex is also great for energy, metabolic health, gut health and the liver. An adrenal complex is helpful if you are chronically stressed or have general fatigue. Turmeric is great as a natural pain reliever, and L-glutamine is awesome for healing the gut lining. Other supplements like Selenium, Magnesium, Folate, Vitamin A and C etc. are great as well but I encourage you to have your vitamin and mineral levels checked prior to purchasing supplements. It is also important to find trustworthy brands that don’t contain chemical fillers or even gluten.
You can check my Instagram page for my favourite supplements and brands @thefedupthyroid.
Practice Autoimmune-friendly Workouts
Back in October of 2017 I started working out more than ever before. I would hit the gym a minimum of six days per week. I started to become obsessed with strength training, and building muscle. At the time I had really struggled with my weight and so this was my solution. Unfortunately, this plan had worked against me. I started to get really sick and by the middle of November I was depressed, anxious and fatigued all the time. I was bloated and gained 15 pounds in one month. What I hadn’t known at the time was that intense exercise can actually work against us when our bodies are not balanced and healthy to begin with.
As mentioned above, high stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, and cortisol encourages our body to hold on to fat. Don’t get me wrong, exercise and physical activity is extremely important, especially for autoimmune patients.
My suggestion is to try activities like yoga, walking and stretching, light weights, light cardio and breathing exercises. Take breaks in between sets, drink lots of water and focus on inhaling and exhaling. The key is to find a work-out that elevates your heart rate slightly, but also keeps you calm, focused and centered. If you are the type of person who enjoys heavy strength training, try limiting your workouts. Instead of six days, try four. Instead of 2 hours try breaking it up into 30 minutes of strength, 30 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of cooling down. Your body, and your adrenals will thank you.
Educating yourself is by far the most important step you can take in healing your symptoms of autoimmunity and stopping the attack on your healthy tissues. We suffer from an illness that is not rare anymore, but is still widely misunderstood by medical professionals and lay persons alike. Even autoimmune patients often don’t understand what is really going on in the body. Read books on your conditions, find trustworthy sources, join support groups, online or in person. Find medical professionals who listen to you, who understand you and who conduct proper lab work. Understand the ins and outs of your condition, and be sure to speak up for yourself when people ask you about it. Don’t be afraid to have knowledge, don’t be afraid to speak on behalf of how you feel. Healing means being your own health advocate, asking questions and seeking quality answers.
As a Hashimoto’s patient, I know there is no cure for autoimmunity, however, there are several steps you can take starting today that can lead you to better quality of life. If you can take one thing with you from this post today, let it be this: Our bodies require constant care and autoimmunity is your body asking for help. Take small steps every day. Try tweaking your diet, even just a little bit at a time. Learn to say no to things that cause stress. Get tested for vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Try light exercise that gets you moving each day. Finally, research everything you can about your condition because at the end of the day only you can truly make a difference in your health.
Everything that has happened in your life has led you to this moment. Thank you for reading