So, I am a little nervous about posting my first “health” article as I am not an expert, just someone with personal experience looking to help others.
The below is not designed to cure or heal autoimmune. Instead, it is a summary of everything I have been learning over the last few years and suggests tips on managing and preventing autoimmune.
(Also, keeping it real. Implementing lifestyle changes is not easy. The road is rocky. But a little effort every day will help you mentally and physically…the trick is to never stop trying.)
This article is not only for those who have an Autoimmune problem. This is as much about prevention as it is about managing a disorder. I know from my experience, health is taken for granted until it is lost. Which is why I am inspired to share my knowledge, so it never comes to that for you. Taking positive steps now can only benefit you mentally and physically.
In this article I break down:
- The immune system
- Tips for preventing and managing autoimmune
For actionable tips jump right to section three, but I suggest taking a couple extra minutes to read the full monty. It will equip you with enough understanding of your beautiful body and the powerful immune system.
Knowledge is power, people!!
The very first thing to managing and preventing autoimmune is understanding our bodies and the immune system.
The immune system – a non-scientific description!
Your immune system is a beautifully complex structure of mediators and cells that detect when things are out of balance in your body – like the entrance of a foreign invader (a cold virus for example) or an opening into the outside world (cuts and wounds). Without getting too scientific, you can boil it down two processes ‘attack’ and ‘patrol’.
When alerted to an abnormality, your immune system will enter attack mode, and assault the affliction in a few cool (and sophisticated – so we won’t go into it) ways.
Once the attack is complete, the immune system will cool off and begin ‘petrol-mode’. This is when it starts to rest and routinely patrol the body for the next invasion.
With Autoimmune there is an error in these processes. It accidentally produces a signal to attack one of our tissues instead of an abnormality. It is believed this can and does happen to us all, but the super smart patrol switch kicks in and shuts things down. Unfortunately, in the case of autoimmune, the system also fails to switch off the attack.
Why did it happen?
My first thought when I was diagnosed with my disorder was genetics. However, I have discovered genes is just one slice of the Autoimmune pie.
Yes, if it runs in the family, the chances of you suffering can be higher, but it is not guaranteed (all the more reason to take prevention more seriously.) Let’s not forget genes aren’t a life sentence but only a predisposition! (Check out the awesome Bruce Lipton on this subject).
The rest of the equation is equally made up of diet and lifestyle; which takes us nicely to the topic of inflammation!
Inflammation appears to be connected to almost every chronic disease – cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s, etc.
Inflammation is a natural and vital part of the bodies defence mechanism that helps protect and heal your body against attack. However, if you have consistent inflammation in your body, it leads to disease (including autoimmune). It is like hot coals continuously simmering. Stoking those coals are triggers found in your daily life like excess sugar, hidden food allergens, chronic stress, inactive lifestyle and lack of sleep.
Knowing this, it is no surprise that in western societies, where they consume the most fast food and work high-stress jobs sitting at a desk all day, they suffer the most with autoimmune diseases.
By focusing on diet and lifestyle, you can start to cool off the coals and tip the scale back in your favour.
Now let’s talk about the good stuff. How to take control.
Tips for preventing and managing autoimmune
If you are suffering
Getting a diagnosis can be the first incredibly frustrating hurdle to pass because there isn’t one clear-cut test to determine if you have an autoimmune disease.
It’s not uncommon to read accounts of medical practitioners lacking the in-depth knowledge of the immune system to treat the cause. Therefore they tend to address the inflammation with suppressants. While the quick and easy comfort and relief is beneficial, the dilemma with this ‘treatment’ approach is you are not dealing with the reason why this happened.
Let’s imagine you are arranging a bouquet of roses and suddenly a thorn from the stem breaks off in your thumb. Instead of removing the thorn, you leave it in and place a plaster/band-aid over it and take a painkiller. Yes, it stops the bleeding and pain, but the problem, a.k.a the thorn, is still there.
Experts have found a lifestyle overhaul that treats the inflammation is the best long term solution.
While it is not the easy path and will take time and a life-long dedication, the payout to your over health should be significant in many ways.
Preventing & managing
Here are four areas of diet and lifestyle you can begin to address today.
- Nutrients: Your immune system takes the lions-share of all nutrients you eat; therefore you require a nutrient focused diet. If there is zero-nutrition, do not eat or drink it! You have heard it a million times and for a good reason. Avoid foods that are known to be inflammatory (e.g. sugar). Instead go for the less seductive, but more beneficial, vegetable fibres and omega-3 fats. When I first started suffering, I completed a 6-month Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, which helped me to really understand the power of food. After doing AIP, I found I wanted to maintain a healthy diet and had zero cravings for the junk. I know it’s not an easy diet to switch to, but it has helped thousands of autoimmune suffers. Check out these ladies, they are the experts on AIP and have some awesome recipes.
- Sleep: Sleep is hugely underrated in modern society. One study found that people who have problems with sleep are 50% more likely to develop an autoimmune disease. This is because while sleeping the part of the immune system that ‘turns things off’ works the hardest! Of course, life doesn’t always allow but aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. If you’re not sure how to improve your sleep quality, check out the guru of sleep Shawn Stevenson.
- Stress: Stress is unavoidable, so instead focus on increasing your resilience by incorporating meditative processes and activities into your daily life. I suggest exercise and getting enough sleep, establishing a positive network of friends and family around you, spending time in nature, meditation, having fun, and spending time on hobbies that slow the mind (reading, painting, sewing, puzzles). Basically, I am suggesting you fun and chill out. AWESOME!
- Exercise: Again, it’s been said a million times. Move your body! A sedentary life is conducive to inflammation in the body, so you have to make an effort to move your body every single day. I don’t mean pounding the treadmill for an hour at 8 pm, this sort of exercise will actually increase your body’s stress level – thereby doing your sensitive immune system damage. Preferably, you should incorporate movement throughout the day by walking and stretching often. Building muscle is also beneficial for the immune system, so consider focusing on weight training instead of strenuous high-intensity cardio. I love the Nike Training Club app for free and fun plans.
What works for some doesn’t for others. We are all unique creatures with our own micro-systems. Do not give up if it doesn’t work – just switch it up! I found keeping detailed journals about each thing I tried, and the outcome helped me to slowly develop new habits that not only worked but also fit into my life. Managing your health is not a quick fix, it is a lifelong journey that needs to be as pleasurable as it is beneficial.