We are all prone to making mistakes, many of which are by pure accident. It’s a part of the human condition that helps us learn and grow. But what many people don’t realize is that our bodies can make a lot of mistakes, too.
One common bodily “mistake” that impacts millions of Americans is autoimmune disease, which is when the immune system – our body’s defenses against invaders like viruses and bacteria – attacks the body itself. The full understanding of autoimmune disease is still developing, but clinicians and researchers have identified many kinds. And while there’s no singular cure, people with these conditions have access to medications that restrict immune response to alleviate symptoms. Below are some of the most common autoimmune disorders.
Rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome and Polymyalgia rheumatic (PMR) are treated by a rheumatologist. A common trait is a painful inflammation, which often occurs in joints and other parts of the body, like some organs. In the case of Sjögren’s syndrome, moisture production in our mouths and tear ducts is restricted.
Celiac disease is a gluten intolerance and is managed by a gastroenterologist. When someone with this disease consumes the protein gluten, found in wheat and other grains, their body has an immune reaction leading to impaired digestion and damage in the small intestine, among other symptoms.
Alopecia areata is a skin disease treated by a dermatologist. It occurs when the body doesn’t recognize its own hair follicles and attacks them, resulting in bald spots, most common on the scalp.
Much like many chronic health issues, lifestyle can have a significant impact on your chances of developing severe symptoms of autoimmune disease. We need maintain a healthy body through diet and exercise to support its natural detoxification process and control free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage your body.
By eating foods that are organic and not processed or loaded with chemicals, we can reduce the toxins our body must process. Eliminating or reducing intake of inflammatory ingredients like white flour and added sugars can help minimize painful flare-ups if you’ve developed certain autoimmune diseases like Celiac disease. These dietary changes will also help control excess fat cells, a major contributor of toxins.
It is important to note that for many autoimmune diseases, there are gut and digestive issues that need to be addressed. The health care team – physicians, specialists, pharmacists and nutritionists – can help identify problems and build protocols individualized to your own needs. Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, everyone can benefit from good digestion and elimination.
Stress plays a role as well. Continual stress generates a lot of free radicals which cause damage and systemic inflammation. Left unchecked and continuous, they cause tissue damage and can even lead to DNA damage.
When stressed, sleep quality is negatively impacted and the body cannot detoxify, recharge and repair damage efficiently. We also want to keep stress in check so that our body can properly use nutrients to power our vital metabolic pathways, which helps convert food into energy and support all facets of our body.
There are products that can help in these processes too. To further reduce free radicals, consider hydrogen-infused water and antioxidant supplements. Other products, filled with blends of herbs, can help support the liver and aid in detoxification.
And of course, physical exercise is important. While it can help burn toxic excess fat calls, and support our metabolism, it also provides significant relief if you’re experiencing joint pain because of rheumatic diseases. Try gentle activity every day that moves your body – opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a midday walk, swim a few laps or jump on a bike to keep your joints moving without causing undue burdens.
These positive lifestyle changes, together with a treatment plan crafted by your health care provider, will help control the impact that autoimmune disease can have on your life.
Gary Kracoff has a degree in naturopathic medicine and is a registered pharmacist and John Walczyk is a compounding pharmacist at Johnson Compounding & Wellness in Waltham, Mass. For more information, visit www.naturalcompounder.com. Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can e-mail [email protected] or call 781-893-3870.