Given the rise of autoimmunity, it’s very likely that you have a friend or family member suffering from one or more autoimmune diseases. Only 10 years ago it was a term that we rarely heard, and today it’s estimated that over 50 million Americans are dealing with it. So we must ask, why?
Well, first off, let’s talk about what I call the 5 Pillars of Autoimmune Disease. These are the 5 things that seem to be the most common factors, and the 5 things that need to be ‘cleaned up’ in order to put the disease into remission or even just start feeling better. These are also the 5 things that make a big impact on your genes, so of course it makes sense that improving those areas is going to improve your lifestyle.
You know I can’t start with anything other than diet. 😉 That’s because the American diet is loaded with inflammatory foods. Diet soda’s, candy, fast food, and boxes and boxes of factory food. While I realize that no one can be perfect with their diet, nor would they want to be (hey I love a good dessert), there is a balance. When the body is continuously flooded with inflammatory items, it is set up for nothing other than failure.
One of my professors once told me that “it’s not a matter of IF disease will happen, it’s WHEN.” Ponder that for a moment, because it’s powerful. Your body is the #1 thing you should be caring for in this world, because without it, you can’t do anything else. Start making healthy food a priority, and limiting those inflammatory items. If you don’t know where to start, go basic: if you can hunt it, forage it, fish it, or grow it, then that should be the majority of your diet. If it’s made in a factory, contains ingredients you’ve never heard of, or is being pumped with antibiotics or hormones, then keep those items to a minimum.
Leaving the most important until last- gluten. I know, I know. But, if you’re someone who’s dealing with any type of autoimmune activation, gluten has to go. Gluten itself alters the gut flora, increases intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut), and activates inflammatory pathways. In a nutshell, it’s an inflammatory food of its own.
The second pillar is stress. Sustained stress disrupts immune function and wreaks havoc on the gut, both of which can trigger autoimmune disease. While we all undergo stress on a daily basis, it’s how we handle it and what we do to calm the body that really matters. If you are constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode and don’t take a minute for yourself, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’ve got to learn to slowwwww down.
I highly encourage my clients to spend at least 10 minutes a day doing something that relaxes them (I’ve got a blog right here with some tips). That could be meditation, deep breathing, sitting in nature, or anything else that calms you down. If you can’t find 10 minutes a day for this, then you’ve got a bigger problem in which case you need 20 minutes daily!
This one I find to be the most challenging of the pillars, because there is only so much we can control. Imagine your day with me for a second… you wake up in a mattress that’s been treated with chemicals. You wash your face and body with soap that contains fragrance and parabens. You drive to work, inhaling exhaust fumes, and then sit in an office for 8 hours breathing in the same air and possible mold spores. Once you’re home, you go outside where your neighbor is spraying weed killer everywhere. Then you cook dinner in your Teflon pans using what you can only hope is a high quality cooking oil, and then wrap your leftovers in tinfoil. Catch my drift?
You certainly can’t avoid all of those things, but you can absolutely arm yourself with knowledge and find ‘better’ substitutes for things in your home. It won’t happen overnight, but spend some time evaluating each room in your home. What can you swap out? What would be a healthier alternative for your body? And then go from there.
I realize this one actually ties into the above two, but I’m giving it a pillar of its own since gut health is so important. So while your diet and environment may be on point, you can still be struggling with gut issues due to stress, infections, and random exposures to things. If someone is dealing with autoimmunity, I always encourage a comprehensive stool test to see what’s happening “under the hood” since pathogens are a very common trigger for autoimmune disease. Clearing up infections can go a long way in putting your disease in remission.
Yup, sleep is on its own as well. Why? Because so many Americans are sleep deprived, or don’t keep good ‘sleep hygiene’ habits and their good, deep sleep is hindered. First, if you’re getting less than 7 hours a sleep of night, fix that. That may mean going to bed earlier. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, look at your environment. Make sure the room is dark, a comfortable temperature, and you’re not on technology for at least 30 minutes before getting in bed. Another one that’s often ignored is WiFi. Plenty of research coming out about this now and how it can impact sleep, so unplug that baby each night.
If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, it’s very likely that one or more of the above pillars was a trigger for you. And for those diagnosed with one autoimmune disease, you’re more likely to get a second, so then it becomes a matter of preventing that. When my husband was diagnosed with his first autoimmune disease, we nailed the diet, but the stress, sleep and environment were likely all factors. Shortly after he was diagnosed with his second (within a matter of months), and that’s when we really dove into cleaning up the others. I’m happy to say that he’s been in remission for 3 years now! But, that’s by no chance- it takes hard work.