9 Lifestyle Changes I Always Recommend To Patients With Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases have become a huge health burden. They're now estimated to impact over 24 million Americans, or between five to eight percent of the population. In fact, more than 80 diseases have been classified as autoimmune, and the list continues to grow. That includes conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Celiac disease, and thyroid disease. They often involve hard-to-classify syndromes like inflammation, pain, swelling, and misery.
Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system—your body's defense against invaders—becomes confused. In other words, your body is fighting something, whether that's infections, toxins, allergens, or a stress response. But somehow, that immune army can't distinguish friend from foe. Your own tissue gets caught in friendly crossfire, and your joints, brain, skin, and sometimes your whole body become casualties.
Typically, drugs are used to address autoimmune diseases. In many cases, they are lifesaving and help people get their lives back. Still, they can also come with adverse effects.
I believe in some cases, there can be alternative ways to deal with autoimmune conditions. The problem with conventional medicine is we don't ask one simple questions: Why is the body out of balance and how do we help it regain balance?
Conventional medicine often addresses autoimmune disease with powerful immune-suppressing medication rather than searching for the cause. That’s like taking a lot of aspirin while we stand on a tack. The treatment is not more aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack.
Instead, I look for underlying causes. This approach, called functional medicine, is a fundamentally different way of solving medical problems, one that allows us to decipher the origins of illness and identify the disturbances in biology that lead to symptoms.
I believe that when you identify the underlying sources of inflammation, you can start to heal the body. These might include things like stress, hidden infections, food allergies or sensitivities, genetic predisposition, and nutrient deficiencies.
Finding and eliminating the root cause of autoimmune diseases requires detective work, trial and error, and patience—but the results are worth it.
Here are nine strategies I typically implement with my patients looking to find the root of their problem:
1. Eat a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet.
Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 wild fish, leafy greens and turmeric, and avoid inflammatory foods, such as sugar and corn oils.
2. Look for hidden infections.
These include yeast, viruses, bacteria, and Lyme. A functional-medicine practitioner can help you identify and eliminate these infections.
3. Get tested for celiac disease and hidden food allergies.
Your doctor can use a blood test to help diagnose celiac disease, which occurs when your body has an immune reaction to eating gluten.
A functional-medicine practitioner can also look for hidden food allergies, like soy or dairy, with IgG food testing. Alternatively, you might consider my book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, which is designed to help you eliminate most food allergens.
4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity.
Mercury and other metals can be a risk factor for autoimmunity.
5. Fix the gut.
About 60 to 70 percent of your immune system lies right under the one-cell-layer-thick lining of our gut. If this surface breaks down, your immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins, and bugs in your gut.
The easiest way to begin healing your gut involves eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet and removing gluten and other food sensitivities.
6. Implement supplements.
Nutrients like fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics can help calm your immune response naturally. Also consider anti-inflammatory nutrients like quercetin, grapeseed extract, and rutin.
7. Exercise regularly.
Consistent exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don't necessarily need to go to the gym, run on a treadmill, or pump iron to stay in shape. Just start moving around more, use your body more, and have fun.
8. Practice deep relaxation.
Stress worsens your immune response. Calming techniques including yoga, deep breathing, and massage can reduce stress and anxiety to promote relaxation.
9. Sleep eight hours every night.
Lack of sleep, or poor sleep, can damage your metabolism, cause cravings for sugar and carbs, make us eat more, and drive up our risk of numerous conditions from diabesity to autoimmune disease. Sleeping well is essential for vibrant health and reversing inflammation.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.