Five years ago, a rheumatologist diagnosed me with not one but two autoimmune conditions: lupus and fibromyalgia. She told me my body was attacking itself and that there was no cure. I was horrified. How could I turn on myself in this way? If I could not trust my own body, who could I trust?
As a consolation, she offered me a choice of steroids, immunosuppressants and/orantidepressants. My entire body, especially my neck and torso, raged with connective tissue pain, but I refused.
I knew there was a more holistic way to go, and although it’s taken me years to figure things out, the most important thing I’ve learned – contrary to what most conventional doctors say – is that if you are one of the 53 million Americans with an autoimmune disease, you can reverse your condition. You don’t have to resign yourself to debilitating symptoms or a lifetime of popping pharmaceuticals. There is hope.
Here are 5 ways to kick off your healing journey.
1. Connect The Dots
When it comes to autoimmune sufferers, figuring out why your body is revolting is like trying to solve an Agatha Christie mystery. It’s important to do a mental intake as you look for traumatic events, chemical exposures, environmental and lifestyle factors, and other conditions or circumstances that may have compromised your immune system. Your condition did not develop overnight. In my case, a Ford Explorer traveling at 30 miles per hour smashed into me as I walked across a street. Antibiotics, virus and chemical exposures compounded the initial trauma.
Working with a health coach, functional medical practitioner or naturopath can help draw a clear picture.
There are common findings among autoimmune sufferers: mitochondrial dysfunction, microbiome alteration, omega-6 to omega-3 ratio imbalance, metabolic stress, lack ofvitamin D and serious deficiencies of nutrients such as magnesium, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamin K and vitamin C, explains Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, MD, a leading expert in the application of Metabolomics and Nutritional Medicine in chronic and autoimmune diseases, as well as the author of How To Live 150 Years In Health.
With that said, a one-shoe-fits-all remedy does not exist. Each autoimmune disease has a different set of markers which can be used to determine how and why your body is malfunctioning. A “metabolomics panel” can also reveal a lot about one’s overall health. According to Harvard Medical School, metabolomics is the simplest and most accurate way to evaluate the health condition of an individual.
“Traditional analysis diagnose the disease without giving clues on the cause. Metabolomics analysis locates the biochemical cause of the disease permitting a personalized and causative approach,” adds Tsoukalas. “In addition to any treatment that attempts to control intense symptoms of a disease, we have to restore the physiological (normal) condition at a cellular level for the entire organism.”
2. Address Infections
Infections – both viral and bacterial – are another key factor in autoimmune conditions. According to Anthony Williams, author of the book Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal, conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are all just names of symptoms that can be traced back to various stages of Epstein-Barr, a member of the herpesvirus family.
When it comes to autoimmune disorders, the body is not attacking itself, insists Williams. “Your body is doing exactly what it’s designed to do – attacking a virus that has burrowed itself deep inside your organs.”
A blood test can determine if you have any latent infections that might be contributing to your autoimmune disease. Sure enough, when I checked my blood, high antibodies of EBV were present.
It turns out that Epstein-Barr is one of the most common human viruses; more than 225 million Americans have some form of it. Luckily Epstein-Barr doesn’t wreak havoc on all. This genius virus seems to spring into action when a person’s immune system is compromised, says Williams. For instance you experience a trauma, undergo a major hormonal change (i.e. puberty, pregnancy or menopause), get exposed to mold or poisons, get a tick bite or undergo several rounds of antibiotics. If you’ve experienced several of these conditions, well say hello to a perfect storm.
3. Food As Thy Medicine
“When it comes to managing and reversing your autoimmune condition, diet is probably the first and most critical step,” says Westin Childs MD, functional medicine practitioner who has helped reverse autoimmune conditions. “Food is information to your body and has a direct influence on genetic expression. That means certain foods can turn oninflammation and predispose your body to autoimmunity.”
Most health practitioners agree inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods have no place on your plate.
Depending on the severity of your condition, consider an elimination diet or conducting a food sensitivity test.
“Most autoimmune diseases involve some sort of food allergy or intolerance,” says Dr. Mary Wingo, Ph.D., scientist and author of the book The Impact of the Human Stress Response. I cured severe familial Hashimoto’s disease completely by eliminating coffee and gluten.”
4. Heal The Gut
If you are experiencing gas, bloating, constipation, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea or some other GI issue, guess what: These are NOT normal, says Childs. “They are signs of intestinal dysbiosis or a derangement in your gut microbiome that need to be addressed to help your autoimmune disease.”
One of the common occurrences in autoimmune conditions is a leaky gut. This occurs when there’s intestinal permeability, allowing undigested food particles, toxins and bacteria to ‘leak’ and enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation, explains Dr. Alexander Rineheart, a nutrition specialist.
Supplements that help heal are digestive enzymes and high-end probiotics that actually reach your gut. L-Glutamine is also critical. “Glutamine powder is an essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining,” says Dr. Josh Axe.
5. Reduce Your Toxic Burden
Did you know that only one percent of what is sprayed actually reaches its target? The remaining 99 percent of all the billions of pounds of sprayed pesticides penetrates the soil, the water, the air and the ecosystem. And they penetrate you.
Sadly, it’s no longer enough to eat your daily dose of fruits and veggies. Today, you need to make sure they aren’t doused with pesticides that are easily absorbed by the body. Many pesticides are persistent organic pollutants (POPS) that are fat soluble, which means they take up semi-permanent residence in the fat tissue of living organisms where they bio-accumulate. More than 400 chemical contaminants have been found in human fat. This is what we call “toxic body burden.”
Ironically, after directing the film Vanishing of the Bees, I was exposed to a pesticide spray in the Dominican Republic and lost all my strength. Just like the bees, poisons whittled down my immune system.
For autoimmune sufferers, it’s not only about the amount of poisons you absorb, but your body’s ability to expel them, which is already compromised. Intravenous glutathione, for example, is clinically proven to detoxify a sluggish liver.
When it comes to reducing your toxic burden, you have two main goals: prevention and detoxification. Eat organic, minimize your use of plastic, filter your water and use toxin-free body products on your skin.