Having an autoimmune disease really throws a wrench into the vision of life we have for ourselves. While diagnosis is a relief in the sense that what has been going on in our bodies for years isn’t all in our heads, it can be frustrating dealing with the flares. Autoimmune flares vary in length, severity, and triggers, often times seeming to happen without any apparent rhyme or reason. Despite what your MD may have told you, diet and lifestyle play a significant role in the expression of your disease. This is what we are going to dive into today.
Diet and Lifestyle Factors Impacting Autoimmune Flares
Quality of food
Consuming a diet based on highly processed, nutrient deficient foods will negatively effect all people’s health. For those with autoimmune disease, it will also negatively impact the effectiveness of your medications, increase the duration and severity of your flares as well as their frequency. No one wants that!!
The biggest favor you can do for yourself is switch your diet to an Autoimmune Diet. This diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, high quality pastured/wild meats, probiotic rich foods, and healthy fats. Healthy fats are: extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, butter from grass fed cows, lard and tallow from pastured, natural diet feed animals, and egg yolks. It does not include gluten in any form, grains, soy, beans, refined sugars, food additives like preservatives, MSG, and artificial food colorings.
With 70-80% of our immune system located in our gut, it makes sense that if our gut isn’t healthy and keeping out particles of foods, it will cause the immune system to be on high alert and on the attack. Unfortunately, on a cellular level, certain foods look exactly like parts of our body. Gluten, for example, looks like the cells in our thyroid and dairy proteins looks like the cells of our pancreas. So when our intestinal lining is permeable and food particles, instead of amino acids and nutrients, get into our blood stream, our bodies cannot tell the difference between foreign invader and self.
Implement a gut healing protocol to heal the intestinal lining and prevent food particles from entering the blood stream. Once the gut lining is healing and working properly, the immune system can then start to settle down and go back to maintenance mode. When this takes place, then our bodies can start to heal.
Learn how to implement a gut healing protocol by scheduling a free consult with me. You can contact me here.
Even if our diet is perfect, and we’ve healed our gut, high levels of stress (acute and chronic) will cause flares and keep them going once they happen. Learning healthy strategies to manage your stress is the most important thing you can do for yourself. I like to look for the silver lining in every hard situation and autoimmune disease is no exception. Having an autoimmune disease can really be in a blessing in that self care becomes one of the top priorities in life. We truly cannot serve from an empty vessel. So being forced to regularly recharge and protect ourselves from unnecessary negative energy really leads to a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
We cannot always plan for stress, we cannot always change jobs, or know when a significant loss will happen. Developing healthy strategies when life is going well will make dealing with stressful situations so much easier when they occur (and we all know they will.) A few of my favorite strategies for my clients to explore are:
- A Yoga Practice
- Moderate daily exercise
- Breathing Slowly
- Adult Coloring Books
This list is not exhaustive and there are many other strategies out there. I highly recommend exploring what works for you and helps you feel peaceful and restored daily.
I mentioned exercise above in stress management and it’s worth mentioning twice. When going through any stage of an autoimmune flare, it is important to note that strenuous exercise will actually cause a flare to become worse. Training for athletic events, intense hour-long boot camp classes, lifting heavy, and exercises more than 10 hours a week are not recommended. I know it is frustrating and concerns of weight gain, muscle loss, and reduced endurance will be on your mind, but it is important that you slow down and take care of yourself. Your body is crying out and it needs your love and attention.
A flare does not mean laying around on the couch all day though. (Even though I know you’re exhausted and want to.) Gentle exercise is restorative and beneficial to your body. Walking at a moderate speed for 30 minutes, a gentle yoga practice taking classes like Restorative, Ananda and Hatha, and light strength training for 20-30 minutes are great options until the flare is over.
The amount and quality of sleep you get is an important factor in your health. Healthy adults, not in a flare, need 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. Most adults get less than 7 and it is usually interrupted even then. We have pets, kids, partners, small bladders, and environmental factors that effect our sleep. While we can’t always control these factors, there are things we can, and should, control. These are:
- Turning off technology an hour before our decided bed time.
- Keeping the house dim an hour before as well.
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday. Trying not to go to bed or sleep in more than 30 minutes outside of those times.
- Drinking the majority of our water before noon, instead of at night. This will prevent bathroom breaks in the middle of the night.
- Do not eat less than two hours before bed.
- Keeping your house cool. We sleep best when the temperature is below 68 degrees.
I know some of these seem impossible or maybe even unreasonable, and I understand. However, science shows that these strategies work and work well. You don’t have to change things overnight but as you begin implementing these strategies, you’ll be amazed at how quickly sleep happens and how much better you feel.
What To Expect After Implementing An Autoimmune Lifestyle
Symptoms and Medication
An Autoimmune Lifestyle is not a guarantee of a life symptom free or even 100% medication free. Studies have shown that by implementing these strategies will reduce symptoms anywhere from 70-95%. For a medication to be labeled effective, it must reduce symptoms just 20%. Medications, if they even help, will eventually stop working and new medications will need to be explored. Diet and lifestyle are powerful when it comes to quality of life, and also help with the efficacy of medications when they are needed.
Length of Time to Feeling Better
The length of time it takes to calm the immune system, and start feeling better, depends on your age, how long you’ve been symptomatic, and the severity of your symptoms. Some people start to feel better within weeks of making the leap. For others it can take months or even a year. Again I want to emphasize that a diet and lifestyle change is the foundation, but not a guarantee of a life symptom free. Your flares will be further apart, less severe, and shorter by nurturing your body properly.
It is a big change and can be difficult to do 100% from day one without guidance and support. Partnering with me and a holistic practitioner such as a Functional Medicine Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor will ensure you feel better as quickly as possible, are on the right medications, and heard when you have concerns.
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