The Tie That Binds All Autoimmune Diseases Together
As a pharmacist, I don’t have many patients who aren’t suffering from some form of an autoimmune disease. Statistically, autoimmune diseases are on the rise in the United States, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the stress of recent years hasn’t increased this statistic. By definition, autoimmune means the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells, resulting in an autoimmune disease. Some commonly known autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
While every autoimmune disease is different by name, autoimmune diseases affect every system of the body: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, integumentary (hair, skin and nails), immune, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory, and skeletal. Symptoms of autoimmune disease can vary widely, but they do have many similarities, and one common similarity is inflammation.
Figuring Out the Why and How
It’s no secret among the medical community and autoimmune patients that autoimmune disease is a mysterious and mischievous house guest. If you fall down and the result is a broken arm, you know exactly how and why the event happened. You would also race to get your arm treated. Autoimmune disease is not so simple. It’s slow moving, slow to show symptoms, and in most cases, it’s rarely known exactly why your autoimmune disease presented itself. Could a diagnosis also be pointed to an underlying trauma? Sure. Family genetics? Yes. Environmental toxin exposure? Again, yes. Stress? Absolutely. But autoimmune disease can also appear out of nowhere, leaving you bewildered as to how or why it’s happening.
What’s more, having a predisposition to autoimmune disease could be caused by your age, gender, and ethnicity. For example, Graves’ disease is more common among women than men. However, African-American and Asian/Pacific Islander women are at higher risk for multiple sclerosis. While it can appear at any age, it is far more likely to strike adults between twenty and forty years of age and is more common in women than men.
With so many anomalies, figuring out the why and how are almost impossible. If you are someone who is dealing with an autoimmune disease, chances are that by the time you figure out your illness, you’ve left the how and why behind and are running toward “What do I do now?”
Treating One Common Symptom May Help Treat Them All
To describe symptoms for each and every autoimmune disease would require volumes of medical notes and research. But there is one symptom that stands out above them all—one symptom that is the common thread tying all autoimmune diseases together— and that is inflammation. For those of you who aren’t suffering from autoimmune disease, inflammation might mean something different to you. The common headache is an inflammation symptom, easily treated. Whereas, for those of you who have autoimmune disease, that headache might be chronic, may turn into a migraine, and may even then turn into a full body pain attack complete with nausea and light and sound sensitivity. For autoimmune patients, inflammation begets further inflammation.
Where Whole Health Starts: In the Gut
As I have been working closely with patients with many autoimmune diseases, the first thing we always tackle is the gut. Autoimmune disease affects the gut and its normal function. If you’re on medication for your illness, the best path to keeping symptoms of inflammation at bay is through your gut. We first start with some housekeeping of the diet. By including more fiber, more greens and vegetables, and more water, your gut will have the right cleaners to naturally sweep itself of toxins and food waste. By eliminating carbohydrates, gluten, sugar, and processed foods, we take away the very things that collect in the gut and cause inflammation.
Adding digestive enzymes assists the body in processing food and allowing it to absorb vital nutrients. I also like to recommend apple cider vinegar to promote healthy stomach acid. Many autoimmune patients experience frequent heartburn and indigestion, and while it may seem counterintuitive, more often than not, heartburn is a result of not enough stomach acid instead of too much acid.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
Antioxidants are your tireless weapons against inflammation. Taking a daily protocol of antioxidants not only aids in decreasing inflammation (because they help to eliminate free radicals) but also aids in increasing circulation throughout the whole body. Better blood flow means more oxygen saturation to your cells, which helps fight inflammation.
Here are a few examples of my favorite antioxidant powerhouses: glutathione (made from amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamate), vitamins A, C, D, and E, fish oil and/or Omega 3 fatty acids (also found in plant sources), and tumeric. CBD, while technically classified as anti-inflammatory, does have tremendous antioxidant properties and is as potent as vitamins C and E.
Look to food sources rich in antioxidants. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, prunes, artichokes, and walnuts are just a few on the list of good sources. These also illustrate that consuming whole food is not only easy but is also delicious.
All autoimmune patients suffer varying degrees of brain fog. A recent case I’ve been working on is with an elderly gentleman with multiple sclerosis. Many of the things I described above are part of his daily protocol, and he is able to more easily manage his condition. He is careful of his diet and has felt the amazing effects of his antioxidant intake. To help him combat his pain and essentially reboot the pain receptors in his body, he is on a prescription of low-dose naltrexone (LDN). Studies surrounding LDN are finding breakthroughs for patients with autoimmune diseases. Synapsin nasal spray (ginsenoside and nicotinamide) is another compounded medication that not only has been shown to help brain fog but may also help with mental acuity and memory functions. For more information on gut health, LDN, or Synapsin, contact us here.