When the Body Attacks Itself: 12 Ways to Help Treat an Autoimmune Disease
Chances are you know someone suffering from an autoimmune disorder, or you have one yourself. Approximately, 23.5 million Americans, and 2 million Canadians, have this type of condition, and the numbers are climbing.
Since, autoimmune disorders are one of the top 10 causes of death in the female population, I thought it would be important to discuss them, and to let you know that there are ways to support your body during medical treatment, to reduce the level of damage inflicted by the condition.
I know from experience that receiving a diagnosis for a chronic illness is frightening, and most of us can easily become paralyzed and forget, or even not realize, that we can help ourselves by providing our bodies with the support that it needs during treatment. Help doesn’t need to only come from a medical doctor or naturopathic physician. We, as patients, have a big responsibility to take ownership of our own health, since we are the only ones that have to take action to comply with treatment; we also have to research strategies to help ourselves to get busy healing.
Here, at alisonsmith.com, I want to empower you with the knowledge that YOU play a huge role in the management of your own health and recovery.
During the month of October, we’re going to focus in on a few autoimmune conditions, and how to positively support the body toward management, remission, or even possible recovery. Watch out for some great interviews with fellow health and wellness bloggers that are experiencing an autoimmune condition themselves, and what they are doing to help heal their own bodies.
Knowledge is power, but action will give you results.
What causes autoimmune disease?
We ultimately need a healthy immune system; without it, we wouldn’t survive. The immune system is hella-smart; it can sniff out and attack foreign pathogens, like bacteria, viruses, or toxins, just like a bloodhound on the scent of an escaped convict. The immune system is the musclebound bodyguard for our healthy cells. But, for some unknown reason, the immune system can become dysfunctional, and it can start to attack healthy tissues within the body instead of protecting them — this is referred to as an autoimmune response or autoimmunity.
As an autoimmune response continues over time, healthy tissues within the body become damaged, and if the damage is severe enough, an autoimmune disease can develop that either targets one specific organ or the body as a whole. So, there is a difference between an autoimmune response and an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease can develop as a result of autoimmunity, itself.
Heads-up peeps! You can have autoimmunity within the body without having an autoimmune disease. In fact, almost all of us carry some level of autoimmunity, yet remain healthy. But, some people go on to develop a diseased state; researchers don’t know why, but genetics and environment play a key role.
There are about 80 different autoimmune diseases, but here are some common ones that you might recognize:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Graves’ Disease (hyperthyroidism)
- Hashimoto’s Disease (hypothyroidism)
- Type I Diabetes
Why is autoimmunity so damaging to the body?
When the immune system becomes dysfunctional, and autoimmune responses start to occur, the immune system itself begins to attack tissues within the body. The attack can be targeted to one specific organ or the body as a whole.
As the tissues are attacked, inflammation sets in. Now…we’re used to seeing inflammation with our own eyes. When we accidentally cut the skin, or suffer a sprain or break, inflammation will swell the damaged area to help stop any bleeding, to protect the area from further movement, and to attract immune system cells to the area to help clean-up the wound. But, when it comes to autoimmunity, the tissues within the body become inflamed, and it’s the type of inflammation that we cannot see.
We may not be able to see internal inflammation, but we can certainly feel it. Inflammation may cause gut pain and bloating, fatigue, muscle aching, joint stiffness, or a feeling of being unwell. It can also exacerbate the signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease because according to Dr. Mercola and Dr. Hyman, it’s the inflammation that is causing the development of autoimmune disease. And, if you control the internal inflammation, you can help to manage the autoimmune condition so much better.
12 Ways to Help Treat an Autoimmune Disease
Address food allergies
An allergic response to food is an inflammatory reaction that will damage the tissues within the gut. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system mistakenly recognizes certain food proteins as dangerous, and it starts to attack that protein and healthy tissues in the area. To reduce the amount of inflammation in the gut, and body as a whole, it’s important to address food allergies by either getting tested for food sensitivities with a naturopathic physician or by seeing an allergist.
Clean up your diet
In conjunction with addressing food allergies, cleaning up your diet by eliminating processed food is important as well. Processed foods contain added chemicals, preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, transfats, and added sugar, which all cause internal inflammation. Go back to the basics, and eat a diet rich in wholefoods, instead. There are anti-inflammatory diets, like the Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP), that help to reduce internal inflammation.
Revamp your gut
The gut is your first line of defense against foreign pathogens. It plays a key role in a healthy immune system. Addressing inflammation within the gut can go a long way to reducing inflammation in the body. Healing your gut could include eliminating foods that you’re allergic to, taking probiotics, eliminating processed foods, reducing sugar consumption, and using supplements to help heal the gut tissue.
Slash your sugar consumption
When I talk about sugar, I’m not just talking about white, refined, table sugar. I’m talking about all added sugar because…sugar is sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter what source it’s coming from, all added sugar like white sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, honey, etc., have to be processed by the liver to be used an energy or stored as fat. Sugar is an inflammatory food, and according to the World Health Organization, we should restrict our daily added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons. Keep in mind, however, that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day! (Children on average consume 32 teaspoons of sugar each day. Crazy!)
Use supplements strategically
Consult with a naturopathic physician to see which supplements would be best for you. Some common supplements include: probiotics, prebiotics, L-glutamine, aloe vera, and vitamin D.
Making fresh juice is a wonderful way to saturate the body with nutrients. Add things like fresh turmeric to your juice to help reduce internal inflammation.
Physical activity reduces inflammation. You don’t have to go to a gym to lift heavy weights. You don’t even need to spend money on classes either. You can get your sweat on for free at home.
Decreasing the level of cortisol circulating in your body, will naturally reduce internal inflammation. Learn how to meditate; take that Tai Chi class; get enough sleep; find a way to have some down time, every day, so that your body can relax and heal.
Test your heavy metal levels
It isn’t easy to eliminate heavy metals from the body, so they can start to accumulate over time. We’re talking about heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, or chromium. This type of testing and treatment would be through a naturopathic physician.
Sleep, sleep, sleep
Most of us do not sleep enough. Right now, the average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep per night. The recommended amount is 8-9. Your body needs sleep because it is only during sleep hours that the body can restore and repair. Healing requires sleep.
Hydrate your heart out
There is a reason why we urinate. We need to eliminate waste products from the body; waste products are produced not just from the foods we consume, but through natural bodily functions as well, like replacing old cells with healthy cells produces toxic material that we need to excrete through the urine and feces. Hate drinking water? Here are some tips that I use, myself. I’m not such a fan of drinking water; I really have to work at it.
I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to elaborate on this one. Smoke is filled with chemicals, and the smoke itself is carcinogenic. Do you know why it causes cancer? Smoke and chemicals cause inflammation within the body, which can ultimately create a diseased state. Inflammation is very damaging to healthy cells.