Are you suffering from an autoimmune disease?
Do you know someone with an autoimmune disease?
Are you wondering what in the world is an autoimmune disease?
Well the term autoimmune disease is a broad term that encompasses several different disease states. Autoimmune disease in simple terms means your body is attacking healthy cells or tissue. The disease is classified differently depending on what part of your body is affected. It is estimated that in 2012 more than 32 million Americans have “autoantibodies”; making it one of the leading causes of disease. Here is a list of some of the common autoimmune diseases managed in the US.
Different Autoimmune Diseases
- Hashimoto’s Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Mixed Connective Tissue Disease
- Sjogren’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Type 1 Diabetes
Potential Causes for Autoimmune Diseases
The exact cause of autoimmune disease is unknown; however there are several potential causes including the following:
- Food Intolerances/Leaky Gut
What we do know is when there is an autoimmune disease, there is both inflammation + immune dysfunction.
From the lens of someone with autoimmune
Although I have treated several people with autoimmune disease, I do not have autoimmune disease myself. I thought it would be more powerful to hear it from the perspective of somebody diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Lets see what they have to say.
1) What have been some of the hardest aspects of living with an autoimmune disease?
Unpredictability. Since my particular condition has pretty distinct ups and downs, I never feel certain that I’m going to feel just as good tomorrow as I do today. There’s a lack of certainty that is very crisp in my life because of it…this reminds me more than I’d like at times– that we never truly have 100 percent certainty, that our lives and circumstances can change at any moment. In fact, this has strengthened my faith and trust in my creator, which is the most certain thing that I can lean into during life’s up and downs. Getting a grasp on taking one day at a time has not been easy, but it is a practice that has helped me become stronger and less anxious. On that same note, there’s the possibility that I could feel just as great the next day, and even better a few months ahead. The sense of possibility can be very strong and a great motivator in areas other than my health.
The social aspects can be challenging, such as being too tired and needing more rest than your average Joe or Jane. Setting boundaries that I initially do not want to set can be frustrating, but it is usually needed. I’ve learned to say NO and not to overbook or over complicate things… does this happen at times, yes, but I’m getting better at it!
Another thing is being the person who “can’t eat that”… typically when on an autoimmune healing journey, you find yourself trying new ways of eating that may be against the social norms in an effort to heal. I’ve been fortunate to find many amazing people (my peeps!!) who understand this for various reasons, whether it’s allergies, working on weight loss, general health, trying to heal a condition, valuing home grown organic foods, etc. It was emotionally taxing initially, but the experience has granted me a great deal of confidence and encouraged me to say no when I need to say N.O. and to just be me, doing life as it needs to be done!
2) How do you feel like mainstream medicine has been able to help you manage your autoimmune disease?
Mainstream medicine never taught me about diet or self care. It never taught me about how my emotions and past experience impact my mind, and that my mind and emotional health are woven into every fiber of my body. When it came to my own health condition, mainstream medicine did not teach me to pray, or to reach out for support. There may be exceptions to this rule, but these things are not my vivid memories of mainstream medicine. Perhaps I would never have looked as closely if mainstream medicine had not neglected these things.
Mainstream medicine has helped me immensely with things like pain relief or infection related to my autoimmune journey. Thank goodness for these options!! Sometimes the options are just bandaids, but there are times in life where you need bandaids! We cannot walk around exposing all of our wounds in the elements (physical or emotional)- think about it!
Also, while some of the mainstream medications available have terrible side effects, it is good to know that people are trying to find solutions, and one can hope that more medications with less side effects become available for people when they need “crisis care”.
3) What are some of the most important things you have learned about your health through your journey with autoimmune disease?
Sometimes the most difficult things to change, are the things that need the most change.
I’ve learned it’s takes constant practice to let go of the things that are outside of my control. Like exercise, some days it’s easy and you can lift a lot more weight, other days the same weight feels more heavy. Saying yes to lightening my load when possible has made me stronger on the days when there is more to be done. As far as my health goes, it truly is a marathon and not an easy sprint to the finish line!
Acceptance of life’s challenges sometimes involves tears, anger, and a range of emotion, feeling them is ok and can be oh so beneficial in the healing process. When it comes to processing emotions, living as creatively as possible, avoiding comparison, and always trying to think outside of the box is helpful.
4) As previously discussed autoimmune disease can be caused by a number of factors, what lifestyle changes have you made since receiving your diagnosis that has made the biggest impact?
I would have to say that the lifestyle changes that have made the most impact are ones involving slowing down and individualized measures to reduce stress– routinely surveying what stresses me, and making changes in those areas.
Healthy food choices, exercise, sleep, and time outdoors all have a role in keeping me feeling well, but without dialing down stress these measures do not have as big of an impact as they can…managing the stress helps me both directly and indirectly. Stress is inflammatory, and reducing it has a direct positive impact, and reducing stress helps indirectly because I make better choices (not as easy to make healthy choices when stressed out!)
5) What would you say to a friend that was just diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?
Every challenge serves a higher purpose. You have more control than you think, and the things outside of your control are there to teach us and help others in ways that you may not always understand. God has a bigger plan and purpose and you can overcome the challenges of this journey with grace. You never know what tomorrow hold, as easily as it could be pain, it could be healing, and you are equipped to handle both!
Natural Ways to Help Manage Autoimmune Disease
Know the foods that trigger inflammation for you. Common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs. Try doing an elimination diet to see if you feel any better. A great resource to help you navigate the role diet plays in the autoimmune process is Autoimmune Wellness. Try cooking with natural anti-inflammatories including turmeric, ginger, and garlic. Better yet sip on some golden milk tea at night.
Reduce stress. Stress increases cortisol (the stress hormone) and decreases DHEA. Overtime, low DHEA can cause immune dysfunction.
Be aware of your environment. I have talked about this on several different blogs, but its so important. Most of us have no idea how many toxins we put in and on our body every single day. Consider looking at Enviromental Working Group or Fooducate.
Natural Immune Support
I’d love to hear your story!
In good health,