Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. It is estimated that four million people in the UK live with an autoimmune condition, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis, and these numbers are escalating.
Autoimmune disease is when your immune system starts to attack and damage your own tissue and organs. For example, in MS, the myelin sheath, which insulates nerves, are targeted and cause the nerve signals to be impaired, leading to the neurological symptoms of MS.
A better understanding of the conditions, and a quicker diagnosis, might be one of the reasons for the rise in cases. However, diet, lifestyle and environmental exposures are also likely to blame.
So how do we fix these conditions or at least prevent these conditions from reaching epidemic levels?
This article will explore how a functional medicine approach can help you tackle symptoms of autoimmune disease and take preventative measures to ensure you stay healthy and prevent inflammatory flares.
What to do when there is no cure.
One of the frustrations people often run into when they have a diagnosed autoimmune disease is that conventional medicine cannot provide a cure for these conditions. Luckily, many medications can help manage symptoms of these disorders, but often, they don’t offer long term solutions.
However, in functional medicine, uncovering the underlying root causes of a disease is a foundational principle in this approach. And why does that matter? If you address the issue upstream in the body, all the presenting symptoms downstream should resolve.
There are many causes of autoimmune disease, including genetics, nutrient deficiencies, toxicity, hormone imbalances, food sensitivities and viruses, to name a few, and likely the cause is multifactorial.
Imagine each contributing factor is like filling up a glass of water, and as the water begins to reach the top of the glass, autoimmune symptoms start to appear. Once the water spills over the glass edge, this is when you have a diagnosed autoimmune disease which you need to manage long-term. If you are proactive and address the root causes of your symptoms, you can avoid the glass overfilling and live a symptom-free life.
Addressing the root cause of autoimmune disease
Understanding your root causes is vital to take steps to prevent and recover from autoimmune diseases. Even though two people present with the same symptoms, it doesn’t mean that the mechanism creating the problem is similar.
For example, in MS, a vitamin B12 deficiency can present in a very similar way to MS. Both individuals may suffer from muscle weakness, cognitive dysfunction, and sensory disturbances, but the same underlying factor does not cause them. Pinpointing your cause is essential so that you can take steps forward.
Working with a health practitioner and doing some functional testing can provide great insight into your risk factors and current health status. Once you are more informed, you can then start personalising your approach to health and nutrition.
Living a symptom-free lifestyle
There is no cure for autoimmune disease, but you can live symptom-free.
Eating nutrient-dense foods and continuing to fertilise the garden of your gut microbiome with healthy prebiotic foods is a great starting place to feel at your best. Garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke and fermented foods provide those helpful bacteria in the gut with the nutrients they need to keep our immune system in check and our digestive function flowing.
As well as nutrition, other lifestyle factors such as sleep, relationships, movement, and stress impact autoimmune disease. Without solid foundations in place, nutrition can only take you so far.
Daily meditation practice and getting to know yourself internally lead to a more fulfilling life externally. It can help those who live with external pressures, people-pleasing and imposter syndrome feel more empowered about themselves.
And prioritising sleep, time with loved ones and movement throughout the day can be a remarkable contribution to the healing process, which you can thoroughly enjoy. The starting place for any recovery is to be kind to yourself and to banish any negative thoughts.
There is no magic solution to fixing autoimmune disease, but there are straightforward ways to support your health so that whatever challenge you are presented with, you have the strength to overcome it with your body and mind.
Victoria is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Immunology. She focuses on autoimmune disease including skin conditions, neurological and brain issues, chronic fatigue, and cardiovascular disorders. www.theautoimmunitynutritionist.com