When autoimmune disease turns the body against itself, build up your resistance
March is National Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, and according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. Our bodies are designed to fight infection and protect us from harmful invaders such as bacteria and toxins; however, in the case of autoimmune disease, the body becomes confused and begins attacking itself. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports autoimmune disease has been found in every organ system of the body and includes Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and Crohn’s disease.
While the National Institutes of Health estimates at least 80 diseases are caused by an autoimmune response, identifying individual treatment needs can be overwhelming. Complex symptoms occur as the body fights against itself.
According to University of Virginia rheumatologist Dr. Angela Crowley, autoimmunity can mimic many other diseases and common symptoms, such as joint pain and inflammation, that are shared among autoimmune conditions. This makes diagnosis difficult. Crowley emphasizes that, when treating autoimmune disease, "everyone is different."
Studies confirm that inflammation is a common denominator among autoimmune diseases and that stress increases inflammation. Negative stressors include work overload, relationship conflicts, no peer support, illness and poverty. Trauma heightens the body’s stress response. Dr. Vincent Felitti, a trauma expert, confirms that traumatic childhood experiences can contribute to illness. A whole-body approach includes acknowledging how lifestyle, history and emotions affect the immune system and therefore the disease process.
For many, acknowledging the uniqueness of the whole body helps the healing process to begin. Rather than approaching physical symptoms as separate from lifestyle and emotions, shifting focus toward addressing both physical and emotional aspects can create a balance between traditional medicine and holistic and alternative medicine.
Tips for getting an accurate diagnosis:
- Be your own advocate
- Keep a journal of symptoms
- Know your history
- Seek referrals and second or third or fourth opinions
Talk to your health care team to create a personalized plan. Dr. Sina McCullough suggests the four R’s:
- Remove triggers and toxins
- Replenish nutrients and energy
- Repair gut and tissues
- Reconnect yourself to food, family and community —CH