Just 20 years ago, autoimmune diseases were considered a rare medical condition. Cases are now skyrocketing, especially in the Western World, with the condition impacting people who should be enjoying the prime years of their life. Why is that, and what can we do about it? For those suffering from autoimmune disorders, I’m here to provide some hope. Once we understand how and why it manifests, we can begin to take steps to address the problem at the root case.
While I’m not a physician, I have been diagnosed with at least eight autoimmune conditions impacting several organ systems. In essence, when the immune system goes haywire, the entire body enters a state of alarm and inflammation as a protective mechanism. However, when the threat extends beyond the realm of temporary, that chronic inflammation can cause major problems.
Eight years ago, I had gone 25 years with no health issues when a nasty fungal-bacterial infection in my lungs set off a cascade of immunological dysfunction.
What is Autoimmunity?
Autoimmunity is when your body attacks its own healthy tissues and the type of autoimmune disease that manifests depends on which types of cells your body attacks. For example, if your immune system is attacking your thyroid, you have Hashimoto’s. If your immune system is attacking your joints, you have rheumatoid arthritis.
The severity of autoimmune disorders vary from person to person, often making it challenging to get a diagnosis. Symptoms may be mild to non-existent at the beginning and gradually become slightly annoying or even debilitating.
While many believe autoimmune disorders occur from an overactive immune system, it can more accurately be described as a poorly regulated immune system. There is a dysfunction within the body, causing the immune system to make a mistake in what it views as an “enemy,” signaling it to attack self-antigens instead of threats.
Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are the more common autoimmune disease symptoms. Keep in mind that symptoms will also depend on what organ your immune system is attacking.
- Achy joints and muscles
- Anxiety/ depression
- Brain fog/ difficulty thinking
- Cold hands and feet
- Digestive issues
- Low-grade fever
- Skin issues
- Swollen glands
- Weight gain/ loss
Types of Autoimmune Disease
There are dozens, if not hundreds of unique autoimmune diseases, each with a unique fingerprint. Not only that, but each affecting the suffering in different ways, making diagnosis a challenge. Below are a few of the most common and recognizable diseases.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
When researching the causes of autoimmune disease manifestation, the answer isn’t so simple. Multiple factors may contribute to the development of autoimmunity and, since symptoms are not always consistent, it makes pinning down the cause even more challenging.
While things like genetics do play a role, other factors contribute to it as well. For example, even if you are genetically predisposed to a particular disease based on family history, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it. Your environment and lifestyle can turn those specific genes “on” or “off” through a process called epigenetics.
Environmental triggers can also contribute to the manifestation of autoimmune disease. These include:
- Breast implants (and mold exposure from them)
- Certain medications
- Chemical exposure (through household products, pesticides, and beauty products)
- Glyphosate (antibiotic-laced, gut bacteria-killing persists within the flesh of feedlot cattle, thus impacting those who consume it)
- Chronic stress
- Food sensitivities
- Heavy metals
- Mold exposure
- Not getting enough quality sleep
- Poor diet choices (processed food, excessive sugar, artificial ingredients, and preservatives)
- Smoking/ drinking
- Trauma (emotional or physical, such as an infection)
- Undiagnosed infections (i.e., Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus)
Exposure to a combination of these can cause systemic inflammation and cause your immune response to switch into a permanent high-alert mode, eventually leading to immune system dysregulation.
Poor Gut Health
There is also a close connection between poor gut health and autoimmune disease. The intensities are an isolated environment from which the body pulls nutrients while leaving behind waste. Increased intestinal permeability, however, allows of microbiota to escape the intestines and enter the bloodstream. These foreign substances cycling through all areas of the body can trigger systemic inflammation and an autoimmune response.
If your body is dealing with a large toxin burden–such as mold exposure or mercury consumption–along with poor gut health, it’s an autoimmune disaster waiting to happen.
Treating Autoimmune Disease with Functional Medicine
The functional medicine approach towards autoimmune disorders consists of getting to the root cause of your condition. I saw dozens of physicians before working with someone trained in both Western and Eastern medicine. This doctor was willing to entertain any treatment objectively shown to be effective via peer reviewed and replicated studies.
Here are some of the main areas of focus for treating autoimmune disorders:
Address The Gut & Reduce Environmental Toxins
Healing the gut is one of the biggest steps we can take in managing your autoimmune condition symptoms. When you begin to heal your gut, you can also begin to reduce inflammation and calm your immune system. Healing your gut means that you are repairing the leaky gut barrier so the big unwanted molecules can’t travel from the gut into your bloodstream anymore, reducing immune system chaos.
But now you might be wondering, “how do I heal my gut exactly?” Here are some suggestions:
- Taking probiotics (after years if trial and error, I highly recommend culturing probiotics using Ortho Biotic 100 capsules)
- Eating more fermented foods
- Ditching toxic household products and swapping them with non-toxic alternatives (hand soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, air fresheners, candles)
- Avoiding processed foods, especially with extra added sugar, artificial flavoring, and preservatives
- Avoiding frequent use of antibiotics
- Taking gut-supporting supplements and herbs
- Reducing your stress by implementing stress management techniques (yoga, meditation, breathing exercises)
- Take antioxidants, such as glutithione
Address Nutrient Deficiencies
Some autoimmune diseases can manifest from not having adequate nutrients for processes to function. While your nutrient deficiencies could stem from not eating enough through your diet, more often nutrient deficiencies could result from a reduced ability to absorb the nutrients you are ingesting.
To address nutrient deficiencies, you may increase intake of nutrient-rich foods, take high-quality vitamins that are easily absorbed, and work to heal the gut to help enhance absorption.
Avoid Food Sensitivities
Many people are unaware that food sensitivities (not to be confused with food allergies) can contribute to leaky gut, inflammation, annoying symptoms, and even chronic conditions (like autoimmune conditions).
You may be unaware of food sensitivities because symptoms can appear hours or even days after you ingest a certain type of food. Plus, certain types of foods or food additives could be contributing to your underlying inflammation without you even knowing.
This heightened inflammation from food sensitivities can contribute to worsened autoimmune disorder symptoms.
There are high-quality food sensitivity tests that assess both immediate and delayed onset reactivity. Once food sensitivities are uncovered, someone may have to avoid certain foods or food groups for several months to see if the lab results improve along with symptoms. The most common food sensitivities are wheat-gluten, dairy, and eggs, but it’s not uncommon to have odd sensitivities to even “healthy” foods like kale, spinach, or apples.
Heal Autoimmunity with Anti-inflammatory Diet
Anyone with an autoimmune disease needs to focus on consuming an anti-inflammatory diet. This is because autoimmune diseases consist of underlying inflammation. The most studied anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet, however, focusing on eating organic, whole, nutrient-rich foods with an abundance of fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties is highly recommended.
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of:
- Nuts (walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds)
- Olive oil (not heated)
- Dark leafy greens
- Chia seeds/ flax seeds
- Salmon (or fatty fish)
Things to avoid include any identified food sensitivities, nightshade vegetables (eggplant, tomato, pepper), sugars, and highly processed foods.
Autoimmune diseases are on the rise, I believe, because we are consistently destroying our guts with unhealthy food and lifestyles. In the world today, we must make special efforts to avoid overburdening our immune system. There exists a delicate balance between the moderate exposure required to develop antibodies (check out the hygiene hypothesis) and toxic exposure beyond what the body is equipped to handle.
After nearly a decade of chronic autoimmune conditions, several have resolved with dietary, lifestyle, and environmental changes. I cook with organic produce from the local farmer’s market, sleep nine hours per day, and use home products without excess chemicals and scents. When we discovered mold in our home, we left the environment. To the extend possible, I limit my exposure to toxins and threats to my immune system. Along with these additions and removals, I’ve been rotating through dozens of supplements to find the right combination that gives my body the support to repair damage and restore balance.
It’s taken several years, but I’ve repaired my mitochondria with plasmalogens, d-ribose, b vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, and pyrroloquinoline quinone. I’ve improved my sleep with magnesium l-threonate, taurine, glycine, and low-dose naltrexone. I’ve supported brain repair with plasmalogens, lecithin/choline, pycnogenol, and lion’s mane mushroom (I recommend this one). I’ve resolved skin conditions with evening primrose oil and vitamin a. I repaired my gut with high-quality probiotics cultured overnight in high-sugar alt-milks (almond, oat) to increase the potency. My adrenals, thyroid, and heart are still problematic, but I feel confident I can fix them next.
In conclusion, healing is possible. As much as I am a science nerd, I do believe the body has the wisdom to heal itself, given the right tools and environment. What are those tools? A healthy diet, adequate sleep, exercise (if palatable), and regulation of stress (psychological and physiological). These small steps are within our control, not matter how fatigued we may be.
P.S. If anyone is interested in any of the functional medicine tests, tele-med practitioners (unfortunately, none of the good ones take insurance), or listed supplements, I would happy to share what I’ve learned in more detail. Just ask!!
Thank you for sharing all of this info…so much to learn! 😉
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Very interesting! I too have autoimmune issues, and have for years, but still learned things I didn’t know. Fantastic post, and I love all the tips and links!
I’m so happy to hear it was helpful! It’s a topic I’ve become knowledgeable by necessity and am happy to share, as it isn’t as readily available as one would hope.
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I’m also into biohacking, integrative medicine, and healing. The essential information you’ve given here is more than most traditional docs offer in any office visit. Have you listened to Dr. Marc Hyman’s podcast, “The Doctor’s Farmacy?” He advocates many of what you list here.
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Yes, I’ve been listening to Dr. Hyman’s podcast for years, and have learned so much!! There have been numerous times where I’ve recognized the symptoms described by his guests and taken those suggestions into my functional medicine doctor. A decade ago, I was called a hypochondriac, so I’m happy there are most resources (and research) for people nowadays.
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So nice to find a kindred spirit here. I feel like I’m getting my homeschool Ph.D in functional medicine. Wish I would have discovered it sooner but so far I’ve seen improvement in mood, sleep, skin, and energy. There are other things going on that require more monitoring but I’m happy to have such intelligent guides.
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Yes, it’s always such a pleasure to find a kindred spirit. I absolutely love “homeschool Ph.D in functional medicine,” as I feel like on the same path! I, too, am so grateful for the wonderful practitioners (and patients) sharing their stories and lessons. It really is incredible what the body is capable of (achieving and fixing) with the right tools, most of which our ancestors also would have had access to.
This is quite an extensive list of information! I too have experienced issues with my immune and digestive systems and have been using supplements to improve my health and functioning. I’m currently in love with CBD, as it seems to work well with my body. Not everyone responds well to it though. I still use fish oil capsules, vitamins c, d, zinc, b complex, magnesium, spiralina Capsules, and mushroom powders. I also use pro and pre-biotics. I find that I rarely get sick now, and that’s a testament to all I do, as my chronic issues are still there, but thankfully minimally now. I just had some surgery last week, so I’m taking it easier this weekend instead of doing everything on my list, to let my body continue to heal. Honoring our bodies and our health takes mindful hard work!!
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I’m glad to hear you’ve found tools to support your health. You’re completely right that we need to find what works well for our bodies and embrace it. Similarly, aside from some lingering (mild) chronic issues, I very rarely get sick. Thinking back to your comment about choosing our lessons for life, perhaps yours and mine involved learning to the deep self-awareness and self-care that arises in response to chronic challenges. 💗 Wishing you a full and speedy recovery, and the mindfulness to allow your body all the rest it needs.
By the way, if you still have digestive issues, I would recommend looking into the low-FODMAP diet, if you haven’t already. My partner had debilitating IBS for years and, after removing certain foods (including wheat, garlic, onion, and dairy) for about 18 months (plus pre- and pro-biotics), his digestive issues completely and permanently resolved. It’s a tough regimen, but it was life changing.
Thanks so much for these tips! I have been working on reducing my gluten intake. I was tested for a gluten allergy, and don’t have the markers, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a sensitivity. I’m actively working on improving my diet. I also take digestive enzymes with each meal as well as pre and pro-biotics. There’s been a great improvement in my digestive system.
I agree with your assessment re life lessons we have had to learn from the struggles. Those are all things I try to embrace in my writing, as I strive to share what I have learned.
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Great, Quality Content for The Ultimate Health Guide, A lot of thanks for sharing, kindly keep with continue !!
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