Coping with Autoimmune Disease

Good Health Lifestyles Features

Did you know that autoimmune conditions are now among the most common diseases? More than 24 million Americans are afflicted by some type of autoimmune disease, with women being diagnosed at twice the rate of men. And while autoimmune ailments may go by different names—for example, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), celiac disease, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—they all have one thing in common: an overactive immune response that can’t tell the difference between a harmful pathogen and the body’s own tissues.

There’s good reason for the sharp rise in autoimmune diseases. Our twenty-first century environment creates a perfect storm for overwhelming our immune response. Toxins and heavy metals are everywhere, from cleaners to cookware to carpets. They are even found in the air and water we encounter every day. Then there are the ultra-processed diets that lead to nutritional deficiencies. On top of that, stress is at an all-time high, keeping our immune system in a constant state of agitation.

Under normal circumstances, the immune system is activated only when faced with a threat to our well-being. Inflammation and antibodies deal with the unwelcome guest and then quickly subside once the danger has passed. However, for people with autoimmune disorders, this reaction doesn’t wane. Instead, like a light switch that’s always turned on, the immune system produces a steady stream of inflammation that assaults healthy cells, tissues, and organs. These attacks can affect any part of the body without warning. They can even be life-threatening.

While there’s no cure for autoimmune diseases, making changes to your lifestyle, combined with some targeted immune-calming nutrients, can help even out your immune response and minimize flare-ups.

Fine-Tune Your Diet

Immune support starts in the kitchen. If your cabinets are full of foods containing chemical additives, sugar, white flour, inflammatory fats, and engineered ingredients, your autoimmune symptoms will go into overdrive. That’s why it’s important to opt for anti-inflammatory foods that support a proper immune response instead of ultra-processed packaged goods loaded with a laundry list of unhealthy ingredients. Food like berries, citrus fruits, almonds, and shellfish can quell inflammation and help keep your immune system under control. Also try an elimination diet such as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), which removes pro-inflammatory foods and then gradually reintroduces them. This can help identify any foods in your diet that trigger your autoimmune symptoms so you can avoid them in the future.

Take Steps to De-Stress

The world is a hectic place. With the urgent demands of everyday life and the steady stream of negative news, it’s easier than ever to constantly feel stressed out. But constant stress and anxiety will overwork your immune system. Try to keep stress at a minimum by practicing mindfulness techniques designed to help calm your mind so you can better deal with life’s stressors. Meditation, deep breathing, or journaling can allow your psyche to work through the events and emotions that have you on edge.

Rest and Recover

Fatigue can be the most debilitating part of an autoimmune disease. Feeling exhausted all the time can interfere with your ability to function and drastically diminish your quality of life. Strive to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night and, if needed, set aside time to rest throughout the day. Taking a short nap, relaxing with a book, or unwinding with some soothing music can help reduce autoimmune symptoms. If you have a lot on your plate, try to prioritize the important things so you don’t overdo it.

Stay Active

Although you should stay within your limits, it’s important to be as active as possible. Exercise stimulates immune function while also benefiting your cardiovascular system and mobility. This was shown in a study in which rheumatoid arthritis patients who exercised regularly had milder symptoms, improved heart health, and better joint mobility. But the key to getting the most benefit from exercise is consistency. So choose low-impact movements like swimming or yoga on days that your symptoms act up.

Take Targeted Supplements

Addressing your lifestyle habits is critical for coping with autoimmunity. But it’s also important to support your immune system with fortifying nutrients.

Curcumin. Inflammation is at the root of many autoimmune conditions. Fortunately, curcumin has significant anti-inflammatory effects on autoimmune diseases, including IBD, arthritis, and psoriasis. A 2021 study linked curcumin supplementation to significant reductions in specific inflammatory markers in people with either rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis. Other research has shown that curcumin can work just as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen and diclofenac, without the adverse effects that come with them. But, because the body has trouble absorbing ordinary curcumin supplements, look on Supplement Facts labels for BCM-95, a proprietary and bioavailable type of curcumin that’s been combined with turmeric essential oil containing ar-turmerone.

Glutathione. Known as the “master antioxidant,” glutathione plays a key role in keeping oxidative stress that contributes to autoimmune diseases under wraps. Although the body makes its own stores of glutathione, it’s easy to be in short supply. A poor diet, stress, exposure to environmental toxins, and simply growing older can drain this vital nutrient. Luckily, supplements can help to restore your blood levels—but only if you take reduced glutathione, which is the stable, active form that provides the antioxidant protection you need.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D boasts a wealth of health benefits, yet about 40 percent of Americans don’t get enough of it. That’s bad news since a deficiency is associated with a number of autoimmune disorders, including RA, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis. Fortunately, boosting levels through supplementation can be effective at warding off autoimmune conditions. That’s especially true when pairing it with supporting nutrients like glutathione. One recent study found that glutathione improves vitamin D absorption by upregulating its bioavailability. Another trial found that a combination of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce autoimmune disease risk by more than 20 percent compared to a placebo.

Probiotics. Home to more than 70 percent of your immune system, your gut has a big impact on immunity. Studies show that an unbalanced gut microbiome—known as dysbiosis—can lead to leaky gut. And this, in turn, can trigger the onset of an autoimmune disease. But supplementing with probiotics can help reverse leaky gut by repairing and strengthening the intestinal barrier. In fact, a 2020 study found that a probiotic combo containing Bifidobacterium bifidum significantly reduced gut permeability while increasing regulatory T cells. Other studies show that two probiotic strains—Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus—may also help improve gastrointestinal symptoms and multi-organ inflammation in people with autoimmune conditions by supporting systemic immunity. To get these anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as immune and intestinal support, look for a probiotic that contains all three probiotic strains.

Maximize the Mind-Body Connection

The mind is a powerful thing, and managing your psyche can go a long way toward controlling your autoimmune disease. Feeling chronically stressed tricks your body into thinking it’s constantly under attack. This kicks your immune system into high gear—often with devastating effects on your symptoms. But quieting an overactive brain with relaxing activities like meditation, breathwork, or yoga can calm inflammation and help keep symptoms under control.

Download this article as a PDF