Autoimmune Diagnosis & Body Wisdom
So, you just got the diagnosis from your doctor – you have an autoimmune condition. Besides dealing with the horrible symptoms, emotional strain, stress, and relapse worries – what do you do? What are autoimmune conditions anyway?
Continue reading as I seek to provide some insight to these questions, and to help you, the reader, work towards developing a good foundation for understanding what an autoimmune condition is and how it is possible to move towards health, happiness, and abundant life!
Autoimmune conditions or disorders are a group of widely varying conditions in which symptoms, many times debilitating, are caused by an immune system that is out of balance and is actually attacking its own cells. The immune system normally functions to keep invasive microorganisms in balance in the body. Think about when you get a cold and the symptoms you suffer from. That fever and mucous and cough are actually the effects of your immune system getting things under control in your body.
However, in those with autoimmune conditions, the immune system mounts an offensive against the cells of its own body, causing inflammation, disease states, and suffering. Some common autoimmune conditions are multiple sclerosis, lupus, type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and psoriasis. Bear in mind that there are many, many more autoimmune conditions that affect people today. In fact, there are more than one hundred autoimmune conditions and diseases that are recognized by medicine and science today (1).
It’s still not clear, even to those who are experts in the field, what causes autoimmune conditions to appear. There are many theories and ideas about what triggers autoimmune conditions, many of which are highlighted in an article written by Drs. Piligan and Lee of The Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Piligan lists several possibilities for the triggers of autoimmune disease including systemic inflammation, infections, epigenetic changes in genes controlling how traits are expressed, and toxins from occupational or environmental sources. It’s a short read with excellent information, and you can find the link in the Sources section at this end of this paper (2).
Modern medicine says that in most cases, autoimmune conditions are said to have no cure, which seems really scary, but there is silver lining around this dark cloud. Symptoms can be successfully managed with lifestyle changes, proper nutrition, medical care, and sometimes, pharmaceuticals. In some cases, people have even been able to get an autoimmune condition completely into remission, which means they aren’t exhibiting any symptoms and their blood markers are within normal range. While getting an autoimmune diagnosis can be downright terrifying, and possibly the cause of serious emotional distress, there is hope. Believe me. I’ve been there. I live it every single day.
The first thing to recognize and understand is that you are not defined by a medical condition, disease, or diagnosis - no matter what any family member, friend, or medical professional tells you. You are a miraculous and beautiful creation with a special purpose for the journey of your life. A diagnosis doesn’t tell you who you are, where your life journey will lead you, or what you can and can’t do. You are so much more than a condition!
One thing that’s been incredibly helpful for me to remember, as I walk my own journey with celiac disease and rosacea, is that my immune system running “hot” (as I like to call it), is actually my body talking to me and showing its innate wisdom. How can two autoimmune conditions be body wisdom, you ask? Think of it like this – when your body gets out of balance, it is always striving to get back into balance, in order to maintain homeostasis, which supports optimal health and life. Okay, so what’s homeostasis? Homeostasis can be defined as an organism’s process of maintaining a stable, balanced internal environment suitable for sustaining life, both in the whole organism (human) and in individual body systems (digestive system, urinary/kidney system, cardiorespiratory system, etc.) (3).
Sometimes, when your body gets too far out of balance, it has a hard time fixing the situation while maintaining homeostasis, and voila, you get a big dose of autoimmune response. Yes, having autoimmune conditions is difficult, and frustrating, but it can teach you what your body needs. And that is how your body is talking to you and sharing wisdom – if you pay close attention to your symptoms and what triggered them, you can hear, so to speak, what is needed to start moving back towards balance. More balance means less symptoms, better health, less stress, and abundant life! Who doesn’t want abundant health?
A really good place to start learning about how to move back into balance and health is around the topic of healing the gut. Our gut, or digestive system, contains a huge and important part of our immune systems, as well as being the place where nutrients are broken down and absorbed. If there is inflammation or dysbiosis (imbalance of natural fauna living there) going on in your gut, it may be part of the trigger for the autoimmune condition and the nasty symptoms that come with it (4). Getting the gut back into balance through nutrition, supplements, and probiotics (if appropriate) can be a big first step in restoring that coveted body balance. When the inflammation in your gut cools down, you start absorbing nutrients more efficiently from the food you eat. Nutrients fuel your cells and every process going on in your body, so getting adequate amounts absorbed by the gut is crucial to healing and health.
So, what are the takeaways today? First, I recommend getting a notebook or free tracking app and start keeping a daily food/stress level/symptom journal, which is extremely helpful in mapping what foods and daily life events trigger symptoms or make them worse. This is a really simple, and inexpensive, first step in starting to figure out what your body is telling you and how you can learn from it and move back towards balance. Consistently doing this one thing can help you paint a detailed picture of the things that make your symptoms worse and affect your quality of life. When you know what your triggers are, whether they be food, chemicals, heat, stress, or other things, you can reduce or eliminate them and start feeling better.
Next, if your physician or specialist isn’t interested in talking about healing the gut and working on nutrition, it may be of incredible benefit for you to find a functional medicine specialist, naturopath, and/or nutritionist who specializes in gut health and autoimmune for an appointment or consultation. Working with a medical professional, or team of professionals, who really understand autoimmune and the relation to gut health, nutrition, and body balance can be a powerful tool in the toolkit you are building on your road to health.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll talk about specific food strategies for autoimmune conditions and some quick and easy tips for shopping, cooking, and restocking your pantry. Part 2 will also go over some strategies for dealing with your primary care doctor and specialist, tests to consider, and supplement discussions to have with your doctor.