Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease? If so, you are not alone. In the United States, approximately 50 million other people have at least one autoimmune disease. This is 1/6 of the population. And once you have one, your chances of getting more are higher, unless you put out the fires caused by this self-attacking immune response.
The conventional medical approach is to view autoimmune diseases as incurable, and all you can do is manage symptoms. In functional medicine, we have a different outlook. We now know that once the genetic switch for any type of autoimmunity has been flipped on, that you can use the power of your environment and lifestyle (epigenetics) to dim that switch and get in remission.
In functional and integrative medicine, when a patient has an active autoimmune disease, our primary goal is to quell that hyper-vigilant immune reaction and its accompanying inflammatory fires.
5 steps to put out your autoimmune fire and go into remission
While each type of autoimmunity affects a different organ or tissue, the approach to remission is exactly the same, and includes these five steps . .
Step 1: Deal with stress
This isn’t just meaningless talk. We all know that stress causes and exacerbates illness, but when it comes to autoimmunity, there are precise physiological mechanisms in which this actually happens. To simplify just two ways this happens:
- Stress ramps up specific immune cells called Th17 which trigger autoimmune tissue destruction.
- Stress turns on your sympathetic fight or flight nervous system, and the resulting chemistry increases inflammation – never a good thing with autoimmunity.
Moving out of stress by activating your parasympathetic rest and digest nervous system reverses both of these processes. So just think that getting parasympathetic on a regular basis actually puts out the fire over time. Check out this series on how to move out of stress. Consider a biofeedback device like Heartmath or Muse.
Step 2: Identify triggers that come in through your mouth
This means foods that irritate your immune system and cause it to mount an inflammatory attack. When your immune system tags a food protein as an invader, it makes antibodies against that food protein. In this process, you can begin to make antibodies against self-tissue, through a process called molecular mimicry.
This tends to happen more with IgG antibodies that cause delayed reactions such as eczema, muscle or joint pain, congestion, mucus, diarrhea, or headaches – things you may not realize are triggered by foods. So figure out what you are intolerant of, either through a test, elimination diet, or both. Check out my e-book called The Original Elimination Diet. Order the Food Inflammation Test.
Step 3: Deal with microbial triggers
There are countless studies associating microbial overgrowth in your gut (viruses, bacteria, yeast, and even parasites) with autoimmune reactions. Everyone with an autoimmune disease should check in with their gastrointestinal microbiome on an annual basis, and see what needs to be optimized. Learn more in this post. The best test to do on an annual basis is the GI Map.
Step 4: Do things to increase Treg cells
Treg cells downregulate the tissue-damaging Th17 cells. We talked about getting parasympathetic, which directly increases Treg cells. Other key ways to increase Treg cells include:
- Love, good sex, and affection (all rev up your natural oxytocin). This includes petting your fur baby!
- Exercise and Low-Dose Naltroxone, aka LDN. These raise natural endorphins.
- The Fasting Mimicking Diet, once per month until in remission. Here’s a homemade approach.
- Meditation or biofeedback like Heartmath or Muse.
- Moving meditation like restorative yoga, tai chi, or Feldenkrais.
- Regulate your circadian rhythms, sleep and stress hormones. Read more in this series.
Step 5: Take or eat anti-inflammatory nutrients
Some of these work on the prostaglandin system – which is how over-the-counter anti-inflammatories work. Others increase Treg cells. Some interrupt a common inflammatory pathway called NFKb. And some do all three. This list is not exhaustive, but it includes key players:
- Omega-3 fats from fish (flax doesn’t cut it in research studies).
- An anti-inflammatory fatty acid called GLA which is from evening primrose or borage oil.
- Fatty vitamins E, A, and D.
- Well-absorbed turmeric.
- Butyrate (what good bacteria make).
- The probiotics Lactobacilli reuteri, casei and plantarum.
- Well-absorbed glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.
- Most fruits and non-starchy vegetables, especially the cruciferous family, and blueberries.
When you apply these five steps, you will get results. Try it and see! Want some help? Please reach out, this is my specialty and I’d love to help you get in remission!
I welcome your input below in the comments.