Autoimmune diseases affect over 250 million people around the world and many more suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions. Given that we live in a world that puts a high demand on our bodies and not to mention our fast lifestyles, it comes as no surprise that we have become so sick.
Healing an autoimmune disease requires taking a good look at our diet and lifestyle, something Western medicine never considers. Instead, autoimmune diseases are addressed by strong immune-suppressing medications and not by directly addressing the cause of it.
Reducing inflammation and healing an autoimmune disease does take a little work; however, it is well worth for the healthy and functioning body you get at the end.
What is Autoimmune Disease
Exactly as the name suggests, an autoimmune disease is a disorder of the immune system. Normally, the body’s own immune system protects you from diseases and infections, but if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system will attack the healthy cells in your body by mistake.
Patients with an autoimmune disease frequently have unusual antibodies that circulate in their blood and target their own body tissues.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include:
– Addison’s disease
– Celiac disease
– Crohn’s disease
– Graves’ disease
– Guillain-Barre syndrome
– Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
– Interstitial cystitis
– Leaky gut syndrome
– Lyme disease chronic
– Meniere’s disease
– Multiple sclerosis
– Restless legs syndrome
– Rheumatoid arthritis
– Type 1 diabetes
– Ulcerative colitis
The list does not stop there. In fact, it includes over 100 different autoimmune diseases. For the sake of this article, we included the diseases that are more familiar and most common.
Unfortunately, many different autoimmune diseases come on slowly and it isn’t until we start to experience a number of different symptoms that we realize that we have a problem. The road to diagnosis can also be frustrating and long and it can take over 5 years to receive an official autoimmune diagnosis.
The average person shifts between six to ten doctors before autoimmunity is diagnosed, mostly because the symptoms might be vague and tell-tale signs of similar and smaller conditions. How can you tell if you’re suffering from autoimmune symptoms?
You may experience:
– Brain fog
– Attention deficit problems
– Body rashes, red bumps on facial skin and flaky red skin
– Dry mouth
– Frequent colds
– Thyroid issues that may point to Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease
– Fatigue or hyperactivity
– Weight gain or loss
– General feeling of malaise
– Muscle pain and weakness
– Stiffness and pain
– Feeling “wired and tired”
– Stomach cramping
– Digestive upset
– Bloated stomach
If you have a these symptoms over a longer period of time, please do not ignore them. You only have one body and you need to take extreme care about it.
Chronic Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease
Chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease are closely interconnected. While an autoimmune disease is often associated with high levels of inflammation in the body, one could simply have a chronic inflammation without having autoimmunity.
A chronic inflammatory condition happens when there is some kind of a trigger, such as pollen, chemicals, food particles, etc. They initiate an inflammatory response from the body and it involved a progressive change in the type of cells present at the site of the inflammation.
What happens next is simultaneous destruction and repair of the tissue, such as blood vessels, sinuses, lung, joints, gut lining, etc. This creates inflammatory conditions such as allergies, heart disease, asthma, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and many more.
When a condition is characterized by autoimmunity, the body’s white blood cells produce a specific antibody in order to target a particular tissue or enzyme within a tissue of the body. For example, Celiac disease happens when gluten in food causes your immune system to attack the lining of your small intestine.
As part of this misguided attack, your immune system creates certain types of protein called antibodies, since it views the gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley, as a threat.
So, with chronic inflammatory conditions, tissue damage is the result of an indirect effect of the inflammatory process, whereby in autoimmune conditions, tissue damage is a direct effect of the inflammatory process.
The Immune System and Autoimmune Disease
In order to reduce inflammation and autoimmunity, you have to balance your immune system to establish immune tolerance.
Immune tolerance is the “state of unresponsiveness of the immune system to substances or tissues that have the potential to induce an immune response.” This allows the body to create a more precise inflammatory process, so that there isn’t any significant tissue damage.
A healthy immune system is dependent on good communication and regulatory patterns, which is necessary in order to heal from an autoimmune disease. One category of very important immune cells, called T regulatory cells, are produced in the thymus.
This includes T helper cells, cytotoxic T cells, killer T cells and T suppressor cells. Each one of these cell types are produced so that they are in balance with one another, unless you have an autoimmune disease that is.
One test used to look at the balance of T regulatory cells, called the CD4:CD8 test. T helper cells are in the CD4 category, while the T suppressor cells are in the CD8 category. The result of this balance can tell someone how immune tolerant their body actually is.
If T helper, cytotoxic and killer T cells are increased, there is also an increased risk of developing chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmunity. If the body has increased immune suppressor cells, the immune system will subsequently be weakened, making the individual more prone to infections.
8 Steps for Healing Autoimmune Disease
Fortunately, there are a great number of things you can do to help out your immune system. Over 70 to 80 percent of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system, hence why we are starting the list from your gut.
Heal Your Gut
Studies published in journals such as Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the International Journal of Gastroenterology have suggested that autoimmune diseases stem from a leaky gut. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles and toxic waste products to ‘leak’ through the intestine and into the blood stream.
If you do not address the leaky gut syndrome fast, you will not be able to reverse your condition.
Incorporate Heavy Metal Healing Foods
Heavy metals can, over time, cause autoimmunity. Your immune system and other cells in your body can become damaged from exposure to toxic metals and chemicals, leading to a number of different disorders and symptoms, including autoimmunity.
When a heavy metal enters our body, they change the chemical structure of our DNA and RNA. This, basically, changes the structure of our body tissues, so much that our bodies view the damaged tissue as a foreign substance. What comes next is that the body will attack this ‘new and foreign’ tissue, resulting in an autoimmune attack.
If you are looking to detox your body from heavy metals, you should focus on these foods:
– Wild blueberries
– Bentonite clay
– Atlantic dulse
– Activated charcoal
– Barley grass juice powder
Eliminate Food Allergens
Eliminating food allergens is one of the most important steps in healing your gut and preventing autoimmunity. The end goal is to get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory foods, caffeine, drugs (also antibiotics), alcohol, etc.
Inflammatory foods such as GMO corn, dairy, eggs, fried foods, soy, wheat, refined sugar and carbohydrates, red meat, highly processed vegetable oils, as well as preservatives and additives should be avoided.
Foods that cause inflammation actually damage the epithelial tissue, which is your gut tissue. This damage can cause intestinal permeability, or a leaky gut, as it creates small holes in the lining of the gut.
If you want to gain immune tolerance, you will have to eliminate any food sensitivities, such as foods that cause inflammation, until your gut has been given time to heal, and this can take years.
There are a few supplements that anyone with chronic inflammation or an autoimmune disease should be taking on a daily basis. Even individuals who want to avoid these conditions should be taking them.
Vitamin D is the first vitamin everyone should be taking, in the form of vitamin D3, or even better, direct exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is a hormone that has the ability to activate over a 1000 genes in the body.
All of the major immune cells have vitamin D receptors and they are capable of synthesizing the active vitamin D metabolite. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficient individuals are more susceptible to autoimmune development and have increased susceptibility to infections.
Glutathione, known as the master antioxidant, is another essential element required for a healthy immune function. Its main function is to protect our DNA and it also plays an extremely important role in establishing immune tolerance.
Glutathione has actually been shown to enhance the function of the T cells, and modulates immune activity, making it essential in reducing the tissue damage associated with inflammation and immune reactions. Probiotics are another important supplement everyone should be taking in order to boost the levels of healthy bacteria in their gut.
Probiotics help to replenish the good bacteria in the gut, so if you ever took some antibiotics, you will need some probiotics to replenish your gut bacteria. Good bacteria will reduce the harmful bacteria, inhibit yeast overgrowth, improve the symptoms of a leaky gut and reduce inflammation.
Zinc, while found in small amounts from the food we eat, simply is not enough when trying to heal from a disorder of the immune system. Zinc is a critical nutrient for healthy immune system function.
It helps support the thymus gland, and the formation of T helper cells, which are vital for a strong, healthy immune system. When zinc levels are low, the thymus gland can atrophy, which leads to poor T helper cell maturation and an imbalance in the Th1 and Th2 branches of the immune system.
This imbalance contributes to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Learn to De-Stress
Stress worsens the immune response, so the last thing you need when trying to heal from an autoimmune condition is constant stress. The onset of at least 50 percent of autoimmune disorders has been linked to unknown trigger factors, which are physical and psychological stress.
Many studies have also found that a high proportion, over 80 percent, of the patients have reported having uncommon emotional stress before the onset of the disease. Try to take up some relaxing de-stressing techniques and exercises, such as practicing yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback or a massage.
Exercising, which we will cover that below, is another great stress relieving activity you can do. Get out of your house, go into the woods and connect with nature. Being in nature is a known stress-reliever, as it helps you to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.
As mentioned above, exercise is a great stress-relieving activity, which therefore takes stress off the immune system. If done properly, exercise can help reduce inflammation and pain caused by inflammation.
Exercise has been documented by numerous medical studies to have a major positive impact on reducing the symptoms of autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia and Lyme disease.
It doesn’t matter what exercise you perform. If you prefer walking, go on walks. If you like to lift weights, lift weights. Whatever you can do, do it!
Incorporate Body-Healing Foods
While you eliminate inflammatory foods, be sure to replace them with body-healing foods. Bring back the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption. This includes things such as dark leafy greens, omega-3 rich chia seeds, ripe fruits, such as carrots, beets and sweet potatoes, healing herbs such as cilantro, basil and dill, and vegetables like celery and cucumber.
All of these foods support a healthy and properly functioning body and when they are consumed raw, they are rich in enzymes. Whole plant-based foods are also anti-inflammatory by defaults, so if they take a great part in your diet, your body will heal from the inside out.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
While eating whole foods, plant-based diet will naturally relieve any blood sugar problems you might have. Increased blood sugar reduces the strength and tone of the immune system.
When this happens, it favors chronic inflammation as a way of prioritizing survival. Keep your blood sugar balanced if you want to keep your inflammation levels low.
If you are going to consume fruit, make sure you have some kind of greens to slow down the sugar metabolization. Keep fat in your diet to a minimum and stay away from animal fats in order to ensure that the insulin can effectively reach and power the cells in your body.
You can also add spices such as cinnamon to improve the sensitivity of the insulin receptors. Also, eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
There you have it. Remember to always consult your doctor before stopping or changing medications or taking on new strategies.