Autoimmunity is one of those intimidating words in the medical world. Am I right? The tricky thing about autoimmunity is how stealthily the symptoms sneak up and seem to “suddenly” attack. At first blush this may feel very discouraging. I’m here to tell you [from personal experience-mind you] that autoimmunity can be spotted far before it becomes debilitating. But first let’s take a look at what Autoimmunity is.
In a nutshell autoimmunity is birthed from an overactive immune system losing it’s ability to differentiate proteins belonging to your own body and protein belonging to a foreign invader [such as bacteria, virus or parasite].
Subsequently the damage to cells, tissues or organs in the body manifests itself in various negative symptoms [all of which link back to an immune system in overdrive]. The tissues being attacked are what differentiate one form of autoimmunity from another. For instance in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the thyroid gland is attacked, while in Rheumatoid Arthritis, the tissues of your joints are attacked and in psoriasis, proteins within the layers of cells that make up your skin are attacked. However, the root cause is the same. Since 80% of the immune system is found within the gut, we need to turn our attention to the triggers that create information in the gut first.
While it may be tempting to blame autoimmunity on genetics, familial predisposition to an autoimmune condition makes up only one third of your risk . That’s fabulous news!
The other two thirds of your risk come from factors that have salient control mechanisms such as diet, lifestyle,exposure to toxins, and underlying infections [both prior and persistent].
In order to wield this control wisely- the first place to start is to look at suspect symptoms of autoimmunity. Ready?
Possible symptoms of autoimmunity:
- chronic headaches
- brain fog
- attention deficit problems
SINUS MOUTH AND LUNGS: [symptoms iconic of Sjogrens]
- dry mouth
- frequent colds
THYROID: [symptoms iconic of Hashiomotos Thyroditis]
- chronic fatigue
- inexplicable weight gain
- general feeling of malaise
JOINTS + MUSCLES: [symptoms iconic of Rheumatoid Arthritis or Fibromyalgia]
- muscle pain and weakness
- stiffness and pain
- feeling wired and tired
- utter exhaustion
GI TRACT: [symptoms iconic of Irritable Bowel Disease and Celiac]
- stomach cramping
Now that you know how autoimmunity gently [or not so gently] asserts it’s presence…
Here’s what to do:
While it’s tempting to treat the specifics symptoms of autoimmunity [not all of which seem directly connected to digestion] it’s actually critical to start by nourishing and healing the GI tract. Why? Because 80% of the immune system resides there. And literature is suggesting that leaky gut is the pre-cursor to most autoimmune diseases .
But what is leaky gut? Essentially leaky gut is a condition spurred by chronic inflammation in the gut leading to the separation of cells that line the digestive tract. Chronic inflammation could stem from overexposure to aggravating foods, environmental toxins, prolonged medication usage, bacterial imbalance or even chronic stress. As the cells separate, there is malabsorption and permeability prompting the body to violently attack all particles of food that cross the gut barrier. Which is of course why it may seem like, when left unattended the immune system loses it’s specificity and begins to attack your own tissue.
This process takes time which is why there are [on average] 10 visits to a doctor before anything is officially diagnosed. If you’re reading this wondering if your chronic headaches, persistent exhaustion, debilitating joint pain or inflammatory skin condition is connected to something bigger it’s time to take action WAY before it becomes diagnosable. Here’s how…
3 Simple step to stopping autoimmunity in it’s tracks:
1. Heal the gut
REMOVE the triggers: gluten + grains + legumes + dairy + sugar + nightshade vegetables + eggs + seeds + additives + preservatives + alcohol + caffeine [upon omission, if symptoms don’t subside- test for SIBO + parasites + candida]
>> does this feel a bit overwhelming at first glance? YES. When I first looked at this list of foods I wondered if it would be easier just to eat dirt and call it a day. Each category of food on this list is there for a specific reason [either because it is difficult to digest or has inflammatory qualities when the gut is in disrepair]. However, if you are under the guidance of a practitioner well versed in autoimmunity, you’ll come to find there are more foods you CAN eat to heal from autoimmunity than those on the restricted list. In other words- don’t try to do this alone. Seek knowledgeable support on the meal planning front!
So what does a day look like following this plan
- a simple breakfast skillet comprised of shredded brussels + pastured bacon + garlic + a cup of homemade bone broth and a few bites ofsauerkraut
- huge salad with leftover protein from dinner and a small piece of fruit, a cup of bone broth, fermented water kefir or kombucha and olives.
- stir fry with some type of protein [meat poultry or seafood] with a lot of vegetables and spices, and at least 1 cup of starch like cooked winter squash or root vegetable.
RESTORE digestive function: start each meal off with a sip ofbittersor add a splash of lemon to water to prompt your body to secrete digestive enzymes
REINOCULATE with good bacteria:consume cultured food daily [such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha – unless you have SIBO] + consider taking soil based probiotics
REPAIR the gut lining:dine on omega 3 fish and/or take fish oil +bone broth + collagen daily
2. Tame the toxins:
CLEAN YOUR AIR: get HEPA filters to purify your air at home
CLEAN YOUR WATER: install a whole house filter or put one on every tap + avoid plastic bottles
BUY CLEAN FOOD: when possible- buy grass fed + pasture raised + organic food. Prep food in teflon-free pans. Avoid the microwave. Store food in glass- always.
BUY CLEAN BODY PRODUCTS: use www.ewg.org/skindeep to check your products and choose products with ingredients you recognize
LOVE YOUR LIVER: cruciferous veg + milk thistle support your most powerful detoxification organ [the liver]
SWEAT DAILY: sauna + gentle exercise allows the body to purge toxins
3. Stop the cycle of stress
Stress activates the immune system which in turn triggers an inflammatory response, stimulating non targeted damage to tissue . It’s much easier said than done to simply stop stressing. However, the benefits FAR outweigh the investment. A simple 10-15 min morning routine such as journaling, breathing or meditation is potent enough to deflate overt stress for the rest of the day. One of my favorite ways to relieve stress is to turn on soothing music as it slows me down and reminds me IN the moment to breathe. If stress seems to be one of YOUR triggers start here before you focus on food.
By removing the foods that contribute to a leaky gut, taming the toxins you know you can control within your home and intentionally indulging in self care daily it IS possible to regulate the immune system and find reprieve from inflammatory symptoms.