Chances are good that you know someone with an autoimmune disease. Maybe it’s you..
After all, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that currently, 50 million Americans suffer from and autoimmune disease. (1)
Here’s some perspective: 9 million are affected by cancer and 22 million are affected by heart disease. So, I’m not joking when I say you or someone you know is likely experiencing autoimmunity!
Researchers have identified 80-100 different autoimmune diseases and suspect at least 40 additional diseases of having an autoimmune basis. These diseases are chronic and can be life-threatening. The medications used to treat autoimmune conditions work by suppressing the immune system altogether, which can lead to severe and even life-threatening side effects.
Furthermore, autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in female children and women in all age groups up to 64 years of age. You see, autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop for women than men, perhaps due to hormonal and even chromosomal influences.
Autoimmune diseases are generally thought, even and especially by medical professionals, to be spontaneous; however, the initial symptoms can be intermittent and non-specific and can progress over months and even years. This, to me, means that if you know what to look for (ie., inflammatory symptoms and their frequency and severity) and you know how to bring your body and your immune system back into balance, you can not only prevent autoimmune disease expression, you can minimize and in many cases, reverse the autoimmune expression.
The 3-Legged Stool of Autoimmunity
To know how to prevent and reverse autoimmunity, we must first undersand what needs to be in place in order for it to occur. In essence, there are 3 factors that must ALL be present in order for autoimmune expression to develop:
1. Genetic propensity (most of the time there is a family history)
2. Intestinal permeability (aka: Leaky Gut, where the intestinal barrier is compromised and allows larger molecules than typically allowed, to cross over from the gut and into the blood stream, starting the process of immune activation)
3. Environmental triggers/stressors (think gluten or other food-derived antigens/triggers, chemicals/toxins, infections by bacteria, viruses and/or parasites)
Autoimmunity is a perfect storm.
You can have the genetics and family history, and you can be exposed to environmental triggers, but if your gut is not compromised, you will not develop the disease.
Research by Dr. Alessio Fasano, Italian-American researcher who has been a pioneer in uncovering the underlying causes of autoimmune disease, suggests that the autoimmune process can be arrested if the interplay between genes and environmental triggers is prevented by re-establishing intestinal barrier function (ie., healing a leaky gut). (2)
In my autoimmune-focused virtual Functional Nutrition practice, Enlightened Wellness, that’s exactly what we do. First and foremost, we focus on healing the gut; however, the reasons that one’s gut has become compromised in the first place, will be similar yet highly individual. It takes a lot of detective work and collaboration, to get to each person’s root causes and effectively treat them. It also takes time and consistent follow-up. And, of course, it must all be done within the context of each person’s background, current lifestyle and capabilities.
This is why you often hear me talking about being ready to do the work of healing.
A part of that work is about being willing to engage in a therapeutic partnership, in order to work out the individual details of your daily self-care.
Why? Because it’s the day to day stuff like eating, drinking, digesting, physical activity, sleeping, relaxing, stress response, interpersonal realtions, spirtual enrichment and so on, that holds the magic of healing. In our “sick-care” society, we are taught that these things are not so important. We are taught that we are not in the driver’s seat of our health.
We are not taught to investigate the reasons WHY our bodies become imbalanced, but rather, to force our bodies into submission and to live with the rest.
And so, I often find myself having to educate clients and potential clients who come to me, about a new way of healing, and about a new way to perceive one’s practitioner–as a partner and co-collaborator, rather than the old (yet still practiced) all-knowing paternalistic relationship of provider-patient. This kind of relationship requires more time, energy and presence from BOTH practitioner and patient/client. It may seem like a lot, but remember–where attention goes, energy flows!
Bottom line: Autoimmunity can be prevented, and it can also be minimized and even completely reversed.
You’re not hearing this out there, but it’s true, and it is supported by the latest research.
Autoimmunity is not a death sentence, and it’s not a lifelone sentence of taking medications that suppress your immune system and increase your risk of life-threatening infections and cancers.
If you have an autoimmune disease, you can work to reverse it, IF you’re willing to do the work of healing and to collaborate with someone like me, or another Functional practitioner.
I hope this serves you well and enlightens you to the options that you have. When I was struggling with my own autoimmune experience a few years back, I did not know what my options were. It was a struggle. I do the work that I do now to prevent and alleviate that struggle for others.