Being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition changes you.
Before you were diagnosed you had dreams, goals and ideas about what you were going to do with your life….but then you got sick.
And now, your #1 goal and dream is to feel good and be healthy again so you can get back to more fully living your life.
But, if you’re like most, you’re struggling to get back on track. And it feels like your diagnosis is getting the better of you.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Your autoimmune condition no longer has to be the reason you’re sitting on the sidelines of life.
With functional medicine, you can heal your body (and spirit) and slow down or even reverse the autoimmune process in your body.
To do this you need a strategy, a plan and a process that works.
People frequently ask, “what exactly do I need to do to get better?” They’re highly motivated and willing to do just about anything if it means they’ll get their life back.
My answer is two-fold.
One, do what you can to build a strong foundation of health. And, two, work with a functional medicine healthcare provider to discover and treat your root cause triggers.
If you want to set yourself up for success you must do both — you have to build your body up while you’re treating your root causes.
Focusing on the 7 Foundational Pillars of Health will help you optimize your body so you’re primed and ready to address the deeper (and often more challenging to treat) root causes.
If you’re new to functional medicine (or have been dabbling in it for some time but aren’t seeing the results you’re hoping for) start here.
Do what you can to improve your health in each of these 7 areas and you’ll fast track your road to healing. And, when you deep dive to discover your root causes you’ll find that treating them becomes easier (and faster) and you’ll feel better in the process.
Usually, people can identify their “top 3” pillars that need the most attention. Start with those.
If you need support (or you’re not seeing the results you were hoping for) work a functional medicine healthcare provider that can guide you. There may be obstacles or deeper issues that need to be addressed.
Here are my 7 Foundational Pillars of Health:
Pillar #1: Healing Foods
Food is your best medicine. Nothing has the power to change your health quickly more than food. Every bite has the potential to trigger powerful healing and anti-inflammatory mechanisms in your body.
The cells in your body require optimal nutrition to run at their best. If you’re deficient in key nutrients your body won’t be able to detox, make energy, or rebuild as efficiently.
Implementing dietary changes is often one of the hardest thing you’ll do on your path to health. It’s not easy to change your diet or give up foods you love.
But here’s the good news. Strict diets, calorie counting, deprivation, and starvation are not the answer (and may actually cause harm!).
There’s not one way to do things or only one diet plan you have to follow. What works for a friend or family member with a similar autoimmune condition may or may not work well for you.
The key is finding out what foods your body needs to work its best (and which ones may be hurting your ability to heal). You need a sustainable plan that works well with your lifestyle, budget, and goals.
It may be necessary to implement an elimination diet or do food sensitivity blood testing to further help you learn what your body needs to work at it’s best.
Pillar #2: Gut Health
In his landmark 2009 study, Alessio Fasano, MD, suggested that three things must be present for an autoimmune condition to develop: a genetic predisposition (or a family history of autoimmune disorders), a trigger (like stress, an infection or a toxin), and a leaky gut. (1)
Therefore, you must have a leaky gut (and digestive imbalances) for an autoimmune condition to develop in the first place. If you want to heal your body (and reverse the autoimmune process) you must heal your gut.
When your gut heals you’ll feel better. You’ll heal your leaky gut and you’ll also greatly improve your digestion. It’s not enough to eat a healthy-for-you diet. If you’re not digesting well and absorbing the foods you are eating you’ll also be fighting an uphill battle.
With every new patient I start with food, digestion and gut health (unless I have a very good reason not to — which is rare!). More often than not I order stool testing to look for parasites, infections, and dysbiosis (an imbalance of bad bacteria) as well as screen for nutritional deficiencies and digestive markers.
More often than not, in my patients with autoimmune conditions, there are almost always gut issues — including a leaky gut. Often, these must be treated before you move on to some of the deeper root cause imbalances in your body. Here’s more on how to heal your leaky gut.
Pillar #3: Sleep
Most people with autoimmune disorders struggle with sleep (and low energy). And that’s a problem because if you’re not sleeping well you’re not healing well.
Your body’s healing mechanisms are most active at night so that’s when you do your best detoxification and repair. (2)
In addition, if you’re not sleeping well you’re immune system isn’t working optimally which makes if harder for your body to fight infections (a common root cause of autoimmune conditions). And, poor sleep negatively influences your hormones and metabolism. (3)
If you’re not sleeping your best you likely have low energy. Functioning well throughout your day becomes difficult and that makes it really hard to implement a healthy lifestyle. It’s really hard to go to the store, cook healthy food, or go on a walk if you can barely get off the couch.
If you find yourself struggling with sleep (and these recommendations don’t help) find a healthcare provider that can help you address the root causes.
It’s just not worth it (for your health, immune system, hormones, energy and sanity) to struggle with poor sleep.
Pillar #4: Stress
Lets be honest…there’s nothing sexy about “stress management”. But, regardless, stress is a part of your life and you have to deal with it. Part of being a human is experiencing things that bring us joy and things that bring us pain.
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when it becomes chronic and it’s preventing you from living your best life you must do something about it. Obviously, you can’t necessarily make the stressors in your life go away but you can choose how you respond to stress.
Chronic stress not only brings you emotional and spiritual turmoil but it prevents your body from healing. (4)
When your body experiences ongoing stress it doesn’t work optimally. You won’t be able to sleep or detox as well and your immune system will only work sub-par. It’ll also cause major disruptions to your hormones.
There are literally thousands of things you can do to help your body and mind feel better around the stressors of life. This is where it can get fun! You get to include things in your life that bring you joy and help your body relax. It means laughing and playing more.
Some of my favorite ways to tackle stress are practicing gratitude, walking with friends, breathing deeply, journalling, laughing, having a pet, traveling, massage, getting outside in nature or gardening. Every single day make it a priority to take care of yourself and your mental health.
If you need help find help. You may need to work with a healthcare provider, a therapist, or even a trauma expert. That’s okay. Make a commitment to do whatever it takes to create a life where stress no longer dictates how you feel.
Pillar #5: Movement
Moving your body is an essential part of feeling your best. Notice I didn’t say “exercise”?
Many of my patients with autoimmune disease find exercise exhausting and often painful. There’s nothing beneficial about pushing your body beyond what feels good and needing “recovery days”.
Movement is different. It’s listening to your body and choosing activities that nourish you (rather than deplete you). You may feel tired (or a little sore) after you engage in a new activity but you shouldn’t feel exhausted.
Moving your body comes with a long list of benefits — better moods, less fatigue, better brain functioning, lower inflammation, and more balanced hormones. (5)
And, if you move your body to the point of sweating, you’ll get the added benefit of increased detoxification as you sweat out some toxins.
If you’re just starting out you may need to start slow and build up. You can push your body a little but not so much that you have to take the next day to recover.
A good way to insure success is to create accountability and make movement a social event. Meet friends for a walk, join a yoga class or do stretching with your family before bed. Make it fun and you’ll more likely stick with it.
Pillar #6: Clean Living
Clean living means adopting a lifestyle that does two things — it minimize your exposure to toxins and increases your body’s ability to detoxify.
This is important because toxins and autoimmune disease are intimately connected. Not only can toxins directly trigger autoimmune conditions to develop but they can also worsen your symptoms.
That’s why toxins and detoxification are important topics when it comes to autoimmune disease…they’re directly influencing how you feel.
Toxins are ubiquitous…they’re everywhere. They include the chemicals you’re exposed to in the environment, the foods you eat, the water you drink, and the personal care products you use. Here are some ways to help you reduce your exposure.
Next, it’s important to do what you can to help your body remove the toxins that you’ve been exposed to by optimizing your detoxification pathways.
You’ll probably need to elicit the help of a functional medicine healthcare provider that is trained to help you detoxify safely. Doing a harsh, intense “detox” doesn’t work for most with autoimmune disease as it can flare things up.
But, here are some simple things to help your body start this process.
Pillar #7: Connection (to Yourself and Your Community)
One of the gifts of being human is you’re wired for connection…you thrive when you’re connected to your tribe. But, ironically, as society becomes more and more connected through technology and social media you may actually feel more disconnected and lonely.
Loneliness has a profound impact on our immune system. Research suggests that loneliness is associated with decreased immunity, higher antibody titers, and impaired natural killer cells (a part of your immune system that influences autoimmune disease). Loneliness has also been associated with sleep disturbance and mood disorders. (6)
If you’re feeling disconnected you’re not alone! Many of my patients feel a loss of connection in two areas of their life.
Not only do they crave connection in their community but they also crave a deeper connection to themselves. How would you describe the relationship you have with yourself?
Are you kind, loving, and forgiving toward yourself? Are you happy with the person you are and the contributions you’re making to the world? Do you know what you need to nourish yourself — body and soul?
Increasing deep meaningful connection (to yourself and others) improves your health. But of all the things I ask my patients to do (including making major dietary changes) this tends to be the hardest. Unlike anything else deepening connection to yourself and your community requires you to be brave and courageous and do things that are out of your comfort zone (especially if you’re introverted).
Do whatever it takes to find meaningful relationships with those who can encourage, support, and walk alongside you in your quest for better health. And, be willing to explore and improve the relationship you have with yourself. It’ll have a profound impact on your health.
Here’s a quick win…if you haven’t done so already, you’re invited to join my facebook group, Autoimmune Disease and Functional Medicine. It’s a great place to connect with others who may be experiencing similar challenges (& successes) in their health.
Rebuilding your health requires two things — building a strong foundation of optimal health and treating the root cause triggers of your autoimmune disease.
And this matters to me deeply. Here’s why.
I believe the world needs you to be your best so you can share yourself and your gifts with the world. And you need to feel good so you can rekindle the fire and passion you once had for life.
You need to heal and you can. It’s time.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your “top 3” pillars that need addressing? Please share in the comments below. I read and respond to every comment.
Would you like to learn more about how functional medicine can help you feel better? Check out my FREE Email Series, 7 Keys to Reversing Autoimmune Conditions, you’ll learn:
- why reversal and remission are possible for you,
- what simple things you can do to feel better soon,
- how to create a lifetime of wellness
- and, so much more.