Congratulations, sort of…you have likely been suffering from a wide and varied list of symptoms that, until now, did not have a name. It’s not uncommon to cycle through numerous doctors and practitioners for years before being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (“AID”). Now that you have a diagnosis, what does it mean to have an autoimmune disease?
AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE OPERATES ON A SPECTRUM
You did not wake up one morning and suddenly have a full-blown autoimmune disease. It developed over a period of time. Looking back, you may realize that you noticed symptoms years before receiving a diagnosis. Maybe it started with some unexplained weight gain and fatigue. As time passed, your collection of symptoms grew to include additional vague and taken individually, unalarming symptoms like constipation, muscle aches, stiffness, joint pain… You continue to acquire new, seemingly disconnected symptoms until one day a savvy healthcare provider finally sees the forest for the trees.
THE THREE ELEMENTS OF AN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
The current understanding is that developing an AID requires three elements: genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and a compromised gut barrier. If you take any of the three elements out of the equation, healing becomes possible. You cannot do anything about the genes you inherited however, you can reduce the likelihood of activating a predisposition or moderate symptoms stemming from an active AID. Identifying and reducing exposure to environmental triggers and healing a compromised gut barrier are within your control – it may not be easy or quick to accomplish but YOU CAN DO IT!
In order to create an opportunity for your body to heal itself, it is essential that environmental triggers are identified, and exposure is eliminated to the point that your detoxification system is able to keep pace with exposure. What’s an environmental trigger? Many triggers are easy to identify because they are commonly understood to be toxic to the human body such as car exhaust, pesticides, herbicides, volatile organic compounds (off-gassing from paint fumes, carpet, and upholstery), mold, and heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, nickel, lead, and mercury to name a few), and cigarette smoke.
You may be surprised to know that personal care products (moisturizers, shampoo, soap, perfume, makeup, nail polish, and the like), and laundry detergents are common environmental triggers as well. Think of your skin as a wide-open mouth. Anything that comes into contact with your skin gets absorbed into your body just the same as if you had eaten it.
Figuring out what your particular triggers are can be overwhelming. My advice is to start with your water quality. Do you have access to clean drinking water? If not, get yourself a water filtration system. A whole house water filtration system would be ideal but does not fit into everyone’s budget. Start with a countertop water filter for drinking and cooking. Next, look into getting a filter for your showerhead.
Once you have tackled your water quality issue, take a look at the air quality of your home. It may be worth investing in an air purifier or increasing the MERV rating of your heating and cooling system air filter.
Every step forward no matter how small it may seem is still a step forward.
Another often surprising trigger is food, specifically unknown food sensitivities. Unknown food sensitivities drive the third element for developing an AID, a compromised gut barrier.
COMPROMISED GUT BARRIER
The gut barrier becomes compromised or “leaky” when large particles of food are allowed to pass through and enter the bloodstream. Our immune system treats these large food particles as foreign invaders and goes to work to neutralize and eliminate them the same way it would attack a virus or bacteria. This process leads to the development of food sensitivities. Our gut barrier is not able to repair itself quickly enough in response to the continual assault waged by unknown food sensitivities. A course of antibiotics and a diet high in processed convenience foods will also contribute to a leaky gut. So, what can you do? Three things:
- Find out what’s going on in your gut microbiome by testing your stool via the GI Map and then following a protocol to balance your gut bacteria; and
- Use the Mediator Release Test to identify your food sensitivities and then take a break from foods you are sensitive to for a period of time to allow your gut barrier to heal; and
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet that includes a wide variety of organic colorful veggies, low sugar fruits and berries, pasture-raised meat and eggs.
Not ready for testing? Use a food journal to track what you eat and how your body reacts. Keep in mind that food sensitivities can take up to three days to develop symptoms. A food journal can be a powerful tool to help you pinpoint what foods you may be reacting to. I am happy to share the food journal template I use with my clients. Send me an email or leave a comment below if you would like a copy of the template.
ACTIVATE YOUR INNATE ABILITY TO HEAL
Your body is constantly working to maintain balance. Autoimmune disease is a sign that there is an imbalance in the body. There is much you can do to clear the path and allow your body to heal. Take one step at a time. Healing is a marathon, not a sprint. Contact me if you would like guidance and support.
Fasano A. (2020). All disease begins in the (leaky) gut: role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory diseases. F1000Research, 9, F1000 Faculty Rev-69. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.20510.1
O’Bryan, T. (2016). The Autoimmune Fix: How to stop the hidden autoimmune damage that keeps you sick, fat, and tired before it turns into disease. Rodale.
Mary is a Functional Nutrition Therapy Practitioner and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She helps women identify the missing pieces of their thyroid disease management plan. Mary believes food is medicine. She uses a food-first approach to build a foundation for health and wellness so you may live your most vibrant life. Contact Mary to discuss how nutrition therapy may propel you to a higher level of wellness.