Autoimmune conditions affect over 50 million Americans, a large percentage of whom are women. In fact, I myself had an autoimmune diseases called Graves. Autoimmune diseases are considered a top 10 leading cause of death in women under the age of 65. They come in many different varieties, including rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and more, and can cause many different types of symptoms all over the body that range from mild to severe in nature. But what are they, what causes them, and how can they be treated?
What are autoimmune diseases?
Although there are many different types of autoimmune diseases and they can affect many different organs, at their core they are all similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself. Your immune system has a very sophisticated system for keeping you safe that leads it to identify all of the foreign substances that enter your body or that you come into contact with. If your immune system deems anything dangerous, it will produce antibodies to ward off the harmful intruders.
Autoimmune diseases are born when your body is working hard to defend itself against something potentially dangerous, such as an allergen, a toxin, an infection, or even a food, and it fails to differentiate between the intruder and parts of your own body. Mistaking certain types of tissues for harmful substances, your body turns these antibodies against itself, wreaking havoc on your organs.
What causes autoimmune diseases?
There are many underlying factors that can cause people to develop an autoimmune condition. There certainly is an underlying genetic component. However, whether these genes get expressed or turned on is actually caused by a host of other factors, such as toxins from heavy metals like mercury or mycotoxins from molds, infections like Candida, Epstein-Barr and the herpes simplex virus, and most significantly, chronic inflammation tied to food sensitivities — particularly gluten intolerance. There is a significant link between autoimmune diseases and gluten intolerance.
What should you do if you have an autoimmune disease?
1. Eat a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet.
Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 wild fish, leafy greens and turmeric, and avoid inflammatory foods, such as sugar and corn oils.
2. Look for hidden infections.
These include yeast, viruses, bacteria, and Lyme. A functional-medicine practitioner can help you identify and eliminate these infections.
3. Get tested for celiac disease and hidden food allergies.
Your doctor can use a blood test to help diagnose celiac disease, which occurs when your body has an immune reaction to eating gluten.
A functional-medicine practitioner can also look for hidden food allergies, like soy or dairy, with IgG food testing. Alternatively, you might consider my book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, which is designed to help you eliminate most food allergens.
4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity.
Mercury and other metals can be a risk factor for autoimmunity.
5. Fix the gut.
About 60 to 70 percent of your immune system lies right under the one-cell-layer-thick lining of our gut. If this surface breaks down, your immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins, and bugs in your gut.
The easiest way to begin healing your gut involves eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet and removing gluten and other food sensitivities.
6. Implement supplements.
Nutrients like fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics can help calm your immune response naturally. Also consider anti-inflammatory nutrients like quercetin, grapeseed extract, and rutin.
7. Exercise regularly.
Consistent exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don’t necessarily need to go to the gym, run on a treadmill, or pump iron to stay in shape. Just start moving around more, use your body more, and have fun.
8. Practice deep relaxation.
Stress worsens your immune response. Calming techniques including yoga, deep breathing, and massage can reduce stress and anxiety to promote relaxation.
9. Sleep eight hours every night.
Lack of sleep, or poor sleep, can damage your metabolism, cause cravings for sugar and carbs, make us eat more, and drive up our risk of numerous conditions from diabesity to autoimmune disease. Sleeping well is essential for vibrant health and reversing inflammation.