In Functional Medicine, Natural Health & Lifestyle

Chances are that you or someone you know is part of the estimated 50 million people in America (or 20 percent of the population) with an autoimmune disease.

And, if you’re like many of them, your symptoms are unrelenting and negatively impacting your life.You’re tired, frustrated, and seeking answers.

Life feels incomplete and unsatisfying at times because there’s a life inside of you that’s begging to be experienced. And, you know that better health is what’ll get you there.

Intuitively, you know more can be done but your health-care providers only offer medications.

Medications can be a valuable and essential part of a treatment protocol. But there are many unconventional (and often overlooked) treatment options that make a powerful impact on your overall health and the progression of your autoimmune disease.

These options are highly individualized and focused on finding answers specific to you and your body.

Your autoimmune disease doesn’t have to be the barrier standing in your way on your path to a better life.

This is a general approach of how I help patients find answers and finally feel renewed:

  • Get an accurate and complete diagnosis

This can’t be overstated. I’m amazed at how many people show up in my office with only part of the puzzle put together. The majority of them have incomplete (or even inaccurate) diagnoses.

Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment can be a crap shoot. (As one of my patients said, “I felt like a science experiment.”)

Find a licensed healthcare practitioner who specializes in functional medicine and autoimmune disease who is willing to give you the time and attention you deserve as well as a thorough workup (including a complete set of blood work) and complete diagnosis.

It’s important to take a holistic and comprehensive approach in order to find the best treatment and lifestyle options. This includes finding a practitioner who will address the mental, emotional, and spiritual components of your health.

Often, there may be more than one autoimmune disease occurring at the same time each of which must be addressed.

  • Learn what is best for your body

Not all treatment approaches or lifestyle choices are good for all people.

You’re a unique individual with a unique situation.There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to health or autoimmune disease.

Unfortunately, what works for your best girlfriend may not necessarily work for you.

The people in your life have the best intentions when offering advice but until you thoroughly understand how YOUR body works it’ll be difficult to find the ideal treatment approach that could change YOUR life.

The types of food, exercise, supplements and lifestyle choices you need are unique. Part of this discovery will be on a trial-and-error basis. But your needs will become clear as you work closely with your healthcare provider over time.

Find a health-care provider who is willing to dig deep into the root of your issues and encourages you to be a proactive contributor to the conversation about how to approach treatment.

  • Remove things that are harmful to you

It’s believed that autoimmune disease is triggered or made worse by toxicity in the body, undiagnosed chronic infections, and immune reactions (to allergens, foods, and the environment).

Reducing your exposure to toxic environmental chemicals (things like toxic cleaning agents, healthcare products and pesticides) and encouraging your body’s mechanism to detoxify will, over time, help tremendously.

In most cases of autoimmune disease, gentle and slow detoxification is preferred as quick, intense detoxifications can exacerbates symptoms.

It’s important to look for and eliminate foods that are “toxic for you” (these can be discovered through a blood food sensitivity test or an elimination diet). Common foods people are sensitive to are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and nuts.

A healthcare provider should be able to order blood work and investigate if chronic infections are contributing to your symptoms.

Additionally it’s important to look at other unconventional “toxic things” that may be harming your health — such as toxic relationships and unresolved toxic emotional issues like grief or anger.

  •  Add in things that are beneficial

The key ingredients to add to a healthy treatment plan are water, good food, supplementation, and lifestyle support.

Drinking lots of clean water and eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet are a good place to start. Choose organic when possible. Include lean proteins (from happy animals) and plentiful amounts of vegetables.

Generally, some supplementation is beneficial and I usually start with a few basics for people including: fish oil, probiotics, and vitamin D. Additional supplements are usually helpful but are very specific to your situation.

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about what is best for you. Not all supplements are good for all people.

Also include other beneficial things such as: meditation, practicing gratitude, exceptional self-care, and support from your community.

  • Move your body

Moving your body is an essential component of treating any chronic health issue.

It increases blood flow to the tissues allowing for more toxins to be released and brings essential nutrients to the organs that need it most. It increases energy, helps balance hormones and your mood, and it helps people sleep better. And it’s a great stress reliever.

It’s important to keep in mind that intense cardiovascular exercise may worsen the symptoms in some people with autoimmune disease.

Your healthcare provider should be able to discuss the best ways to move your body keeping in mind the state of your health (and your adrenal glands).

Some of the best forms of exercise are nourishing and gentle such as: walking, yoga, stretching, swimming or even pulling weeds.

  • Strive to reduce stress

Life-long, chronic stress has a profoundly negative impact on autoimmune disease because it significantly reduces your body’s ability to heal itself.

When you’re in a constant state of “fight or flight” you literally cannot detoxify, heal, metabolize properly, or utilize your immune systems to full capacity.

Many of us are under so much constant daily stress that we hardly recognize it anymore. And, sometimes, the chronic stress is unrecognizable and may be subconscious (such as negative thoughts, unresolved emotional traumas or toxicity found in our workplaces, community, and relationships).

Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, journaling, prayer, practicing gratitude, playing outside and sharing good conversation with friends are all great ways to reduce stress in your life.

It may be beneficial to dig a little deeper with the help of a healthcare provider or therapist.

  • Learn to love yourself more everyday

This is the most essential, and most often overlooked, component of treating any chronic health issue, including autoimmune disease.

Loving yourself means making a deep commitment to heal any part of you that is wounded, broken, or unloving towards yourself. This includes toxic emotions (like anger, grief, and shame), unforgiveness toward yourself and others, and negative, self-destructive thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

Our thoughts alone have the power to exacerbate or alleviate symptoms.

Learning to love ourselves can be one of the most challenging components of health. But working to create emotional peace, and practicing self-compassion and self-love is powerful.

According to Louise Hay, the go-to guru for the connection between illness and emotion, many people with autoimmune diseases have, deep within their bodies, some kind of destructive message that needs to be revealed and transformed.

In my eyes, this destructive message correlates very deeply to your disease. Autoimmune disease is essentially your physical body betraying you (by attacking you). Part of the underlying emotional healing that needs to take place is releasing your own self-betrayal.

Read More Here: 4 Unhealthy Ways We Betray Ourselves

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Many people with autoimmune disease are relieved to know that they have a tremendous amount of power when it comes to their health.

There are many options, in addition to or instead of, a prescription medication regimen.

It’s often the overlooked, unconventional things that can turn the tides toward healing in your life.

Every woman deserves to feel fully alive and at peace in her body.

Your physical challenges are often great gifts which, when opened, provide the opportunity for tremendous personal and spiritual growth.

Do you or someone you know have an autoimmune disease? What has benefited you the most?

Please leave a comment below.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Stacey

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. Pharmaceuticals have been a necessary part of my treatment but I did not achieve full remission until I incorporated many of the other factors you have mentioned. This is a great article filled with useful information for a patient population who really needs it.

    • Dr. Deborah

      Stacey,
      Thanks for your comment! I’m so pleased that you have found a combination that works well for you and that you are in remission. That’s just awesome! It is my hope that others will see that they can be proactive and seek after the health they so desire. You are a great example. :)

      Warmly,
      Dr. Deborah

  • Shannon Stark

    Very thorough article! Things I have learned in baby steps. 4 years into my healing journey and everyday I find something new to incorporate. I totally agree that number one is finding a holistic doctor. I was fortunate to find someone who guides me to look at all faucets of my life. Diet is foundation and we have eventually developed the Shannon Stark Diet…it only works for me ;) Then he has me looking at other areas of my life…Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Financial, Social, Environmental, Occupational and Intellectual. It all seems overwhelming but again baby steps. Thank you for your words!

    • Dr. Deborah Anderson

      Hi Shannon,
      Thanks for your comment. I laughed when I read you’re on the “Shannon Stark Diet”! :) It definitely speaks to the importance of finding what works for YOU. Baby steps, while seemingly slow at times, are key to making changes that are sustainable long term. All the best to you as you continue on your journey.

  • Judy

    I think a big part of healing is not continuously stating or dwelling on the fact that you have a condition. Do your research and find what works for you. Bless it and release it and focus on the positive and what good your body can do and is doing.
    Pay attention but don’t obsess. Live your life and work around it as best you can. This, in itself, will be healing

    • Dr. Deborah Anderson

      Judy,
      Beautifully said. I couldn’t agree more with you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so others may benefit from your insights. :)