Autoimmunity is a condition where your immune cells cease to recognise your own cells as your own, and treat them as if they were foreign, “invading” cells. There are a wide range of diagnosable conditions associated with autoimmunity, each with their own and unique set of symptoms.
Conventional medical treatments in each of these cases are often designed to weaken the body’s immune response in order that symptoms are lessened. Holistic treatment however, centres around removing potential allergens and toxins that may aggravate the immune system further; and strengthening the body as a whole, so that it can more easily heal.
The most vital piece of advice I can give any client with an autoimmune condition is to be patient. Autoimmunity is not triggered overnight and it cannot be turned off overnight either. As the body adjusts to treatment it may often feel like a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process but my role is to help those two steps forward gather pace in order that you gain the emotional and physical strength and resilience to continue supporting yourself with my recommendations and so gain an increase in health and vitality.
As I treat each and every client individually I cannot provide a definitive or exhaustive list of considerations here. But, for those who would like to have a general idea of what to expect over the coming months, this is an overview of the types of recommendations I will give, together with some of the reasons why I will make these suggestions.
Please don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of information provided here; you do not need to learn, or even read it! As your health and nutrition coach I will be monitoring your progress and pinpointing what changes you need to be making at any one time. We will only progress at the speed that you and your body are comfortable with.
A great deal of early treatment will centre around healing the gut. Leaky gut syndrome is exceedingly common and allows for partially undigested food molecules to pass through the gut lining. Once those particles are absorbed into the blood stream they will be targeted by your immune system seeking to neutralise all potential threats. This process can cause autoimmune flare-ups.
In order to start healing the gut we will be looking at decreasing foods that harm the gut, increasing the foods (and supplements) that heal it, and considering various lifestyle factors that will speed the healing process up and help you to establish a healthy, functioning gut microbiome.
Sugar, gluten, dairy, lectins, histamines, phytates and oxylates
All the above can cause allergic-type immune responses such as brain fog, sore joints, skin flares, painful gut irritation, fatigue, migraines and strong emotional responses. While I may not ask you to remove each category immediately from your diet, I will be looking at all of them as potential aggressors to your immune system. But don’t worry, I will also be helping you to replace them with delicious and nourishing alternatives!
An excess of sugar (including fruit sugar) causes an inflammatory response and can lead to the development of autoimmune disease itself. It is usual for some degree of insulin resistance to be present when a client presents with autoimmune conditions. We will be looking at ways to gradually reduce the sugar in your diet.
Both gluten and dairy can cause a host of problems for some individuals, particularly if they have a compromised digestive system. It is likely that we will need to remove gluten completely. Whether we remove dairy will be dependant on the client.
Lectins are types of plant-based proteins that can irritate the gut. Food-based sources of histamine arise when these proteins ferment, either before intake (such as with fermented products like soy sauce) or during digestion itself. Phytates are part of a plant’s defence system that, when consumed, bind to essential dietary minerals so that we are not able to absorb and utilise them. Oxcylates are plant based anti-nutrients that can cause sharp crystals to form in the blood, which are then “dumped” in various sites in the body. This does mean that many “healthy” foods such as certain vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds may need to be restricted in early stages of treatment.
Any toxic substances that we breathe in, apply to our skin or use in our mouth will add extra pressure to the immune system. This is because the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system will then have to break these substances down and find a way to excrete them. For this reason it is a good idea to reduce these as soon as possible.
I will be making suggestions as to how you can reduce the toxic load of environmental toxins such as:
- Replacing household cleaning agents with bicarbonate of soda and/or white vinegar
- Using pure salts and oils to cleanse and moisturise your skin and hair
- Cleaning your teeth with natural products such as bicarbonate of soda or activated charcoal
We may also need to look at the possibility of mould sensitivity.
While levels of the hormone cortisol should be high first thing in the morning in order to help us wake up and get going for the day; permanently raised levels will lower our natural immunity, wound healing and muscle and bone maintenance. As many people with autoimmune conditions require support with cortisol regulation we will be looking at this as part of your treatment.
The Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are essential to the nervous system and to hormonal production. We need to have the correct ratio of omega 3 to 6 in order to counteract inflammation and we need an adequate intake of saturated fats and cholesterol in order to utilise these fatty acids and to synthesize all hormones. Many clients are surprised at how much dietary and supplemental fat I recommend but soon notice how much their health and wellbeing improves as a result, alongside a reduction in carbohydrate cravings.
The supplements that I recommend to clients are always individualised but will support energy levels, help heal the gut, support the endocrine (hormonal) system and the nervous system and provide nutrients required for optimal cellular health while reducing stress, inflammation and toxic load.
While high intensity exercise can cause fatigue, inflammation and slow healing in someone with an autoimmune condition; some movement is essential to release certain nervous-system specific growth hormones, to stimulate lymph, and to support detoxification at a cellular level. We will cover appropriate movement plans in your appointments.
Regular sunlight exposure, particularly early on in the day will help to reset your cortisol levels. It will also increase your natural production of vitamin D, a hormone like substance that supports natural immunity.
Note that many people with autoimmune conditions cannot tolerate much direct sunlight to begin with which is why I will give very specific guidelines for building up exposure.
During these times I recommend that you do not use eye or skin protection in order that you are able to take in a natural ratio of UVA and UVB light spectrum; and also that you expose as much of your skin as comfort and the law allows! However, while very slight skin reddening is acceptable, burning is not. At the point before you burn you will need to cover up completely and not rely on sun cream.
Sleep is when much of our cellular repair takes place. Many people with autoimmune conditions have interrupted sleep patterns which will hinder recovery. Start to incorporate as many of these sleep tips as you are able, as soon as possible.