If you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease, you’re not the only one, but fortunately, there is hope! Over the last 50 years, autoimmunity has increase threefold, with around 50 million Americans current affected (more than cancer or heart disease), 78% of whom are women. In autoimmune diseases, the body produces antibodies that attack its own cells, tissues and organs. The most common autoimmune diseases are Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, Graves’ disease and Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, but there are more than 100 autoimmune diseases that are either systemic or attack individual organs.
This affected me personally when I was diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases around 2014 – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, ITP (an autoimmune platelet disorder) and B12 anemia. Traditional doctors had nothing to recommend other than monitoring the progression of my conditions and waiting until treatment was necessary (except for the B12 anemia which shots and sublingual supplementation helped). I soon realized that there was a lot more I could do, and thanks to the methods I outline below, I have been able to reverse my autoimmune diseases almost completely. And last week was a special celebration when my lab tests showed my platelet count solidly in the normal range for the first time since 2013! And I have yet to have to go on replacement thyroid hormone for my Hashimoto’s and my antibodies were almost down to normal at my blood tests last year.
So what causes autoimmune disease? While twin studies show that about 25% of the cause may be genetic, the other 75% is environmental, which means that changing those environmental factors can help reverse your autoimmune disease and its symptoms. The main environmental contributing factors are diet, intestinal permeability (aka, leaky gut), environmental and dietary toxins, infections and stress. In fact, many autoimmune sufferers can point to a period of high stress when their condition started.
Pharmacological treatments for autoimmunity include immunosuppressive drugs, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs), and biologics. Immunosuppressive drugs suppress the immune system, creating vulnerabilities to bacteria, viruses and toxins that your immune system normally can handle, and cause a host of other dangerous side effects. NSAIDs, when used long-term, can cause stomach pain, heartburn, ulcers, headaches, dizziness, liver or kidney problems, high blood pressure, and increased risk of worsening heart failure. Side effects from DMARDs include abdominal pain, anemia, anxiety or depression, easy bruising or bleeding, fatigue, infection, lymphoma, night sweats, skin cancer and tuberculosis. Finally, biologics, which are quite expensive, also have side effects that include cancer, headaches, heart failure, hepatitis B, joint pain, nausea, upper respiratory infections and vision problems.
Given the track record of pharmacological treatments, natural treatments to reverse or improve autoimmune conditions hold great promise for relieving suffering without causing additional problems. Protocols to reverse autoimmunity aim to address the underlying triggers of autoimmunity and heal the root causes. These protocols typically involve 5 steps. They are:
a. Detoxification – A congested liver may be making it hard for your body to remove current toxins, leading to an overload. Gentle supplements that support your body’s own detoxification systems can help clear the backlog of toxins and give your body the chance to reset. Eliminating environmental and food toxins by choosing natural cleaning and personal care products, filtering your water, and eating whole, organic foods will help eliminate a large percentage of toxins entering your system.
b. Identifying food sensitivities – Gluten and other common food sensitivities are often co-factors in autoimmune disease, that when eliminated allow your body to heal. An elimination diet done under the care of a professional will help you identify and replace foods to which your body may be sensitive.
c. Suppressing and/or healing infections – Different infections including small intestine bacterial overgrowth, candida overgrowth in the gut, Epstein-Barre virus (which causes mononucleosis), HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus), and bacteria such as Yersinia and Klebsiella have been implicated in different autoimmune conditions. Testing for and treating underlying bacterial or fungal infections or overgrowths and suppressing viral infections will help heal your autoimmunity.
d. Healing the gut lining – Stress, antibiotics that alter the balance of your gut microbiome, emulsifiers used in foods, environmental toxins, food sensitivities, a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates and low of fiber and heavy alcohol use can lead to an unhealthy gut lining with large cracks or holes that allow partially digested food, toxins and bacteria, to enter your body, triggering inflammation and autoimmune reactions. Eliminating those foods and toxins, and identifying and removing triggers, as well as including healthy sources of fiber in your diet and using appropriate probiotics and other supplements will help heal your gut lining. Finding effective ways to remove stressors and manage stress is also essential.
e. Fixing nutrient deficiencies – Deficiencies in key nutrients like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium, zinc and magnesium can also be a factor in autoimmunity. Testing for nutrient deficiencies and supplementing where necessary will give your body the tools it needs to modulate your immune response, fight bacteria and viruses and support an appropriate inflammatory response.
If you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease or know someone who is, the good news is that many people have reversed autoimmune conditions even as serious as Multiple Sclerosis and gone on to lead long, healthy lives. Please share this information with people who need it! I coach clients on reversing autoimmune disease using these natural methods. It just takes an open mind and willing spirit! If you’re struggling with an autoimmune disease, you can also join a new local Meetup called “Tucson Reversing Autoimmune Disease Together” that I’ve recently started.
Lindsey Parsons, EdD
Certified Health Coach
High Desert Health