How to treat autoimmune diseases is important, but how prevalent they are is key as well. The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease, most of them unknowingly. In fact, 80% of all individuals affected by autoimmune disorders tend to be women. For example:
- 10 females for every 1 male develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- 9 females for every 1 male develop Lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Antiphospholipid Syndrome, or Biliary Cirrhosis
- 8 females for every 1 male develop Autoimmune Hepatitis
- 7 females for every 1 male develop Graves’ Disease
And that’s only 7 of the 80-100 different conditions out there! In fact, these statistics don’t even touch some of the ones we most commonly know like, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s, Celiac, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
What causes autoimmunity?
There are 3 major pieces of the autoimmune puzzle:
- Chronic inflammation
- Environmental triggers
In 2012, Virginia Ladd, the president of AARDA, explained: “With the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases, it clearly suggests that environmental factors are at play. Genes do not change in such a short period of time.”
When you understand what causes autoimmune issues, it helps pave the path for how to treat autoimmune diseases.
How to Treat Autoimmune Diseases
Medications are often used to suppress autoimmune symptoms but they don’t actually stop the disease. You may be able to reduce your symptoms, manage them naturally, and even reach a state of remission by addressing your autoimmune triggers and improving your lifestyle.
The first thing you can do (which doesn’t cost you anything!) is ask about your family history. Even if your family members haven’t been diagnosed, a string of relatives that have had chronic health problems could be a sign.
Processed foods, toxins and gut bugs are the most common environmental triggers for autoimmunity and inflammation.
The biggest processed foods are typically gluten, dairy, soy and other grains. These foods, along with processed foods full of additives, preservatives and GMOs, also contribute to chronic inflammation. This leaves you with an overwhelmed immune system. Eating certain foods, such as gluten, can even trigger your body to attack healthy tissues.
In addition to these top inflammatory foods, spend time figuring out what foods are more inflammatory for you specifically. You can even try a food sensitivity test, such as Cyrex’s Array #10, to reduce inflammation and autoimmune triggers even more.
Addressing inflammatory foods and then removing them can help you treat your autoimmunity or manage it naturally. You can also add in specific foods to help you flourish with autoimmunity.
Toxin Exposures & The Environment
Reducing toxin exposure is another effective way to treat your autoimmune diseases naturally.
Regular exposure to toxins can overload the immune system. An overwhelmed immune system is confused between the good and ‘bad guys.’ Your system will attack healthy tissue that may resemble the bad guys, as a result.
Environmental toxins, called xenoestrogens, are very common in our environment and they mimic estrogen. Found in plastics, personal care, cleaning, and the home products that you use, these toxins can lead to hormonal changes or imbalances, an overworked liver, and increase inflammation.
Women are already more susceptible to autoimmune conditions because of our hormonal makeup, so toxins that mess with our hormones certainly aren’t helping us!
Here are some steps you can take in reduce your toxin intake:
- Eat organic foods to reduce exposure to toxic antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides
- Drink and cook with filtered water
- Use glass or stainless-steel food and beverage containers
- Install HEPA air filters at home and work to purify and improve air quality
- Swap out personal care and household cleaning supplies for non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternatives (check out the EWG.org for great alternative products and resources)
- Cook with stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick pans
There are also simple things you can do daily to help your body eliminate toxins such as:
- Incorporate naturally detoxifying foods such as lemons, beets and grapefruits
- Drink a cup of organic dandelion tea daily (hot or cold)
- Dry body brush and move your body daily to move the lymphatic system
- Sit in an infrared sauna for at least 20 minutes
- Use a castor oil pack over your liver 3-5 times per week
What’s Your Gut Feeling?
The next step is to investigate what’s going on in your gut. Approximately 70% of your immune system resides in the intestinal lining of your gut.
Gut invaders (parasites, bacteria, yeast) produce their own waste products that are toxic to us. Just like environmental toxins or processed foods, the accumulation of this waste results in more inflammation for the immune system.
Certain types of gut bugs are linked to autoimmunity. For example, Dr. Izabella Wentz talks in-depth about a bacteria, called H. Pylori, that correlates to thyroid autoimmune issues.
Doing a comprehensive stool test to investigate what’s going on in your gut and working with a health professional to eradicate gut bugs can reduce the potential triggers for your autoimmune issues.
My biggest piece of advice is to address whatever is going on in your gut with herbs and nutrients that have been shown to effectively get rid of gut bugs. You can also try therapeutic gut healing supplements and foods, such as bone broth and collagen, to restore the strength of your immune system. Medications and antibiotics can wipe out your immune system, which will leave you susceptible to those gut bugs coming back.
Everyone is different so your specific autoimmune triggers may vary. Working with a qualified health professional on the right lab tests and resources to find the piece of your health puzzle is essential to treating autoimmunity.
Controlling the triggers is your best bet for treatment and management.
You can’t control what genes are handed down to you, or the fact that you didn’t know you had leaky gut for example; but you can control most of the triggers and learn how to treat autoimmune diseases, or how to manage them better.