Auto-immune disease: When you’re just ‘not right’

Do you have a collection of niggly symptoms that don’t appear significant enough to see the doctor about?  Perhaps not sleeping well, a bit achy, a few digestive issues, reaching for the Panadol more frequently or maybe taking longer than usual to recover from an illness.  If so, you may have an undiagnosed auto-immune condition.

An autoimmune disease arises when your immune system strikes out against healthy cells, harming your tissues and causing loss of normal bodily functioning. This can happen anywhere in your body and that’s why there are so many auto-immune conditions!  They don’t always have a clear pattern of symptoms, so they can be difficult for doctors to diagnose and I know that from personal as well as clinical experience.

I am always thrilled to be able to diagnose auto-immune conditions that no-one else has picked up. It is life changing for people. Even those who have had a positive diagnosis and been told ‘there’s nothing you can do about it but take medication’ have been able to manage their symptoms sufficiently to live in complete remission.

For instance, I recently saw lovely Chris Jacobsen. He has (or rather had!) a condition called Grover’s Disease, a very painful, dry skin condition. His hands were so badly affected that he could hardly grip the steering wheel of his car. As a taxi driver, his livelihood was threatened. Ongoing rounds of pain killers and steroid creams were doing nothing to help. Thankfully, he chose to come for an appointment with me- and his hands are now as good as new: flexible, no sign of Grover’s and he is able to drive his taxi again.

Whilst Grover’s Disease is not particularly common, other auto-immune conditions include:

  •  Rheumatoid arthritis
  •  Psoriasis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus (SLE)
  • Scleroderma (thickening and hardening of the skin)
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (chronic dryness in the body)
  • Graves’ disease (overproduction of thyroid hormones)
  • Hashimoto’s disease (underproduction of thyroid hormones)
  • Guillain-Barre’ syndrome (weakness, numbness and paralysis)
  • Psoriasis

So, what can you do?

Whilst they are very diverse, one thing all auto-immune conditions have in common is chronic inflammation. Therefore, managing the inflammation is the first step to help the body heal.

Have a blood test: First of all, I’d advise that you get a blood test to rule out or confirm an auto-immune condition. It’s called anti-nuclear antibodies ANA. I can do this for you if your doctor is unwilling

Consider supplements:

  •   Omega-3 from fish oil (high in EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid) offers natural anti- inflammatory and painkilling properties. If you’re taking a fish oil to manage pain and inflammation, then the EPA value needs to be at least 1000mg, so check your label. 
  • Turmeric also offers great pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its curcumin content. You can buy curcumin as a supplement, and/or use turmeric in its natural state in your casseroles, soups, smoothies…. wherever you like! I often sprinkle it over my salad.
  • Another ally in the fight against auto-immune diseases are probiotics (healthy gut bacteria). They can help address the immune system’s mixed-up response to normal tissues and cells.

Avoid inflammatory foods: The nightshade family of foods are known to trigger inflammatory responses in systems that are vulnerable and for that reason they are best avoided if you have an auto-immune condition or are experiencing a flare-up. They include:

  • Tomatoes- regardless whether they are raw or cooked
  • Potatoes- including all potato products, including chips
  • Capsicums
  • Eggplant
  • Chillies

Other inflammatory foods include dairy, red meat, caffeine and alcohol (not great news for BBQ lovers!)

Check for food intolerances: I have never encountered anyone with an auto-immune condition, including myself, who did not have a food intolerance. I recently put a post on my Facebook page about the obscure and seemingly unrelated symptoms people experience when they have a food intolerance. Unlike allergies, intolerances don’t often give you an immediate symptom. There are quite a few reactions in the body when you have a food intolerance, but one significant reaction is the release of antibodies to fight the ‘invader’. In my opinion, it is this confusing message to the body (after all, we are supposed to be nourishing our cells when we eat, not harming them) that triggers the confusion which eventually leads to an auto-immune condition. I am writing a book on this very subject as too many people are needlessly suffering whilst there is so much that can help.

Reduce sugar: In recent years there has been a lot of research into the adverse effects of sugar in the body and most recently links are being made between sugar and auto-immune diseases. The Glycomics Centre in America have helped identify a specific carbohydrate structure that confers anti-inflammatory activity to a glycoprotein antibody that could lead to improved treatment of autoimmune diseases including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The work revolves around immunoglobulin G (IgG) – the very same antibody produced with food intolerances. So, sugar must be taken seriously in the prevention or management of auto-immune diseases. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to identifying or managing sugar in food, then check out my Handy Book of Facts on Diabetes. It was written to help the prevention as well as management of diabetes an clearly explains where and what all the sugars are.

Keep a food and symptom diary: Take a note of any ongoing symptoms, no matter how small. Tracking what you eat, and monitoring symptoms may highlight food intolerances and reveal the frequency and severity of your symptoms.

Take control now: You don’t wait for your car to break down before you take it to the garage; you act on the cracked windscreen, the flat tyre, the rattle under the bonnet before it gets worse….so don’t ignore the signs from your body. Book a health and nutrition assessment and receive a 10% discount if you mention this article 😊

More on auto-immunes on the February Health Matters show

 

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