If you’re plagued with frustrating or debilitating autoimmune symptoms, like profound fatigue, aches and pains, numbness and tingling, or brain fog, and believe there must be some way to heal, you’ve come to the right place. Despite what you may have been told, you don’t have to live like this.
While it took me 26 years of trial and error to finally reverse my MS, and another 5 years to study how that was possible, it can be far quicker, more straightforward, and less costly to reverse or prevent any one of the known autoimmune conditions today.
You may be thinking all this sounds a little too good to be true. And who can blame you? You probably haven’t heard many people say, “I used to have MS,” and most likely, your doctor hasn’t mentioned anything beyond the use of prescription medication to “manage” your condition. Although millions of Americans suffer from at least one of 150+ autoimmune diseases, the best the current medical establishment can provide is little more than medications, which may in an ironic twist, trigger additional autoimmune conditions, and even cancer. That’s because most conventional doctors have never learned how to effectively treat chronic disease, like autoimmune disorders, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
In other words, what your doctor doesn’t know can hurt you. Thankfully, despite Western medicine’s current limitations, groundbreaking studies in the last decade have given us the science we need to prevent, and yes, even reverse autoimmune disorders.
Lifestyle Matters More Than You Think
For decades, we believed that our DNA controlled our health destiny with “bad” genes getting blamed for just about every malady possible. But recent research turns that thinking entirely on its head. Let’s look at how the latest scientific developments have transformed our understanding of autoimmune conditions:
The Good F.I.G.H.T.S.™
At the root of all autoimmune conditions, these six F.I.G.H.T.S.™ categories are the environmental factors you can control. And, when you address them, they are also the solution. No matter what lifestyle factors may have contributed to your condition, you must address all F.I.G.H.T.S.™ categories to return to health. To truly get what that means, we need to consider each category on its own. Once you see how each factor contributes to the onset and progression of autoimmune, you’ll understand why each category needs to be addressed in order to heal and reach full vitality.
Start with Food
We know we need it to survive, and yet, most of us take for granted food’s effects on our bodies. Depending on what we choose to eat, food can be poison, burdening our body with harmful inflammation and toxins, or food can be medicine, nourishing us from the inside out. Sound dramatic? It’s not. In fact, food is the number one root cause category of autoimmune conditions. On the flip side, people with autoimmune issues often heal 60% to 100% just by changing what they eat!
I know this firsthand: When I gave up gluten back in 2010, my MS symptoms vanished for good. That’s not to say gluten was my only root cause culprit (I had spent years whittling down a load of chronic stress and emotional pain), but it may have been my lynchpin trigger.
A Standard American Diet (SAD) of man-made oils, high sugar, and chemical additives, inflames the lining of your intestines, harms the balance of bacteria, and eventually, leads to intestinal hyper-permeability — aka, a leaky gut. Once your lining has been breached by food particles and bad bacteria, your immune system, doing what it’s meant to do, steps into action and attacks the invaders. But when these foreign particles resemble cells in your body, your immune system can’t always tell the difference and may mistakenly turn on your own tissues. That is the autoimmune cascade.
All of this takes time, sometimes more than a decade, which means you can go years without realizing that what you’re consuming is actually the trigger for your autoimmune condition. After my MS diagnosis at 19, I continued to eat gluten for decades without knowing how much harm it was causing. It wasn’t until I gave up gluten as part of a 30-day elimination diet that I finally realized just how devastating its effects had been. After just weeks of removing gluten from my diet and healing my gut, my MS symptoms were gone for good.
What Can You Do?
The number one thing you can do to determine any possible food triggers is an elimination diet, or as I prefer to think of it, a 30-Day Food Vacation. During a 30-day period, you’ll ditch all toxic SAD foods, like gluten, grains, dairy, and sugar, and common suspect foods, like eggs, soy and nightshade vegetables for nourishing alternatives, like leafy greens, healthful fats, and 100% grass-fed meats.
After 30 days, you’ll start to reintroduce each food one by one over two-day periods, monitoring how you feel as you go. If a new addition brings on a concerning symptom, you’ve just discovered one of your triggers. Plan to avoid it for at least three months before trying again.
To learn more about which top autoimmune trigger foods you’ll need to remove and which particularly nourishing food options and supplements to add, read Top Autoimmune Triggers: Start with Food. For more assistance and longer lists of foods to avoid, minimize, and enjoy, download our Free Optimal Food Guide.
Heal Your Gut
If a leaky gut is a central component of the autoimmune equation, it stands to reason that healing your gut must be a mandatory part of the solution. But how? Let’s start with the basics.
When people refer to the “gut” in terms of health and disease, they typically mean the intestines, both small (20 feet long, but only 1 inch in diameter) and large (5 feet long, but 4 inches in diameter). The lining of the small intestines — just one cell thick! — absorbs the nutrients from your food and houses the vast majority of your immune system. The large intestine, meanwhile, hosts the microbiome, an ecosystem that includes beneficial bacteria, fungi, and parasites, which actually help to aid digestion, eliminate toxins, regulate gene expression, and most significantly for our purposes, maintain the gut lining.
The lining of the gut can be both the first line of defense against unwanted invaders, and also, the gateway to disease if the microbiome becomes imbalanced, which is influenced not just by what you eat but also other environmental elements included in F.I.G.H.T.S.™, such as the overuse of antibiotics, toxicants, and even toxic stress. Repeated irritation leads to inflammation; inflammation leads to a leaky gut; and a leaky gut is the pathway to autoimmune issues. And by the way, you don’t need to have gastrointestinal issues to have an inflamed gut. If you have any symptoms at all, chances are high you also need to heal your gut.
What Can You Do?
Even the leakiest guts have a great capacity for healing with a little TLC. If you’ve guessed that requires removing and replacing your trigger foods, you’re correct. But there are other steps to help improve your gut health, including the “5R” restoration program to replenish your healthy gut bacteria. Click here for a “5R” overview as well as a more in-depth look at how harmful bacteria contributes to a leaky gut.
In recent years, many autoimmune experts, immunologists, and holistic practitioners have noted a strong connection between infections and autoimmune conditions. Any number of infections can trigger autoimmune conditions; and having an autoimmune condition makes you more susceptible to further infections, especially if you’re taking immunosuppressive medications.
We come into contact with infectious microbes every day. When our immune system functions correctly, we’re able to avoid catching most of these. If we do end up with a common cold or other acute virus, our bodies typically fight it off with minor discomfort and a little time.
But what happens when our immune system malfunctions? Excess inflammation — caused by F.I.G.H.T.S.™ factors or an existing autoimmune condition — puts your immune system in overdrive, which actually weakens immunity. If you already have an autoimmune condition, you probably have a sluggish metabolism, which also makes you more vulnerable to infection. And just because you don’t have any symptoms of infections doesn’t mean you don’t have one: Dormant or stealthy infections (like herpesvirus or Epstein-barr virus [EBV]) can hide in your body only to reemerge when your defenses are down.
What Can You Do?
You can’t avoid all microbes, so instead, you’ll want to work on making yourself less hospitable to them. Start by learning more about the autoimmune-infection connection here. You’ll ideally want to suss out any stealth infections with a comprehensive viral panel. Work with an experienced practitioner for the best way to treat infections naturally, and in the meantime, get your immune system in fighting shape with simple lifestyle strategies.
Have you heard of the term “total body burden”? It’s the total amount of toxins a body can accumulate before health takes a hit. Here’s one way to visualize it: Each of us carries a “toxin bucket” into which go all the potential inflammatory factors (think F.I.G.H.T.S.™) that enter or are created as byproducts within our bodies. The bucket fills with each new addition. A constant stream of toxins leads to a rapidly filling bucket, which can overwhelm the body’s innate detoxification system. (For those with genetic glitches, like MTHFR or GSTM1, which make detoxification more challenging, the process happens even faster.) When the bucket overflows, our bodies buckle under the burden. In other words, symptoms emerge and the path to autoimmunity has grown much shorter.
What’s worse, toxins in our modern-day environment are causing our buckets to spill over at a rate we’ve never seen before. Less than a hundred years ago, before mass-scale manufacturing, there were almost no man-made chemicals in the environment. Today, there are estimated to be over 84,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce in the U.S.6 GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office) Toxic Substances: EPA has increased efforts to assess and control chemicals but could strengthen its approach. Washington D.C., GAO 2013 — and a tiny fraction (as in only 0.6%) — have been tested for safety before being released on the market.7 The Great Chemical Unknown: A Graphical View of Limited Lab Testing, Scientific American, November 1, 2010, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-great-chemical-unknown/ It’s no wonder autoimmune issues have become epidemic!
What Can You Do?
The best thing you can do right is to embrace the “precautionary principle,” which means avoiding unnecessary synthetic chemicals as much as possible. You can’t control all environmental factors, like, for instance, the air outside your home, but there are many manageable ways most of us can improve what goes on and in our bodies just by starting small with simple swaps.
For extra advice about eliminating toxins, click here. Otherwise, consider the baby steps below.
Like taxes and teeth cleaning, stress is an unavoidable part of life that invariably comes with some measure of discomfort. But there’s a big difference between acute stress—the burst of adrenaline you feel when avoiding a near-miss on the road or the temporary exhaustion that comes with a looming work deadline—and chronic stress, a constant state of anxiety, worry, or panic.
Chronic stress often comes when dealing with a barrage of challenging circumstances (including ill health) or traumatic events (including a childhood of abuse or neglect), and while it messes with your state of mind, chronic stress can also be disastrous for your physical health. Ongoing stress is toxic and causes mega inflammation throughout the body, and, as you know, inflammation is where chronic disease begins. (For more details about the science linking stress with autoimmune conditions, click here.)
The good news? Stress isn’t just something that happens to you. It’s how you react or respond to stress that makes all the difference; this means you can learn to improve your coping skills and lessen your stress response even if you can’t readily reduce the stressors in your life.
What Can You Do?
You must prioritize your emotional wellbeing, and that means embracing self-care. For many people, especially women, who’ve been taught to believe that self-care is synonymous with selfishness, such a suggestion may seem too indulgent to consider. If that’s true for you, I’m here to give you permission to take ten minutes a day to care for yourself. I promise those few minutes will only make you a better partner, parent, friend, or colleague, and they’ll certainly help you better cope with the stress in your life.
So what does 10 minutes of real self-care actually look like? Give the suggestions below a go, and while you’re at it, take a few minutes to consider any areas of your like where you can eliminate stress. Even reducing a few regular demands can go a long way towards improving your mental health, which is a big step towards improving your physical health too.
Balance Your Hormones
Hormones might be too small to see by the naked eye, but they have a huge impact on your health. These microscopic chemical messengers of the endocrine system instruct cells across various other systems to perform major functions, like developing at puberty, stabilizing your mood, and regulating your blood sugar, to name only a few. A single imbalance — too much or too little of one hormone — can prevent these important instructions from being received as they should. And it’s not uncommon for one hormonal imbalance to lead to another.
Fortunately, in most cases, balancing your hormones, aka hormonal homeostasis, will naturally occur as you address the other F.I.G.H.T.S.™ categories. As you optimize your diet, heal your gut, ward off infection, avoid toxins, and address stress, your hormones should fall into line.
The most common imbalances are also those most closely linked with autoimmune diseases. As you read through their descriptions and symptoms below, keep in mind that it’s not unusual to have more than one—or even all six!
What Can You Do?
If you’ve addressed all the other F.I.G.H.T.S.™ categories and still have reasons to believe your hormones are out of whack, you’ll need to go a little further. Start with the list below, and if that’s not enough, consider bioidentical hormones (not to be confused with hormone replacement therapy). If you do want to go that route, you’ll need to work with a skilled practitioner. Find one here:
Beat Autoimmune with F.I.G.H.T.S.™
Congrats! You’ve taken the time to learn about the major autoimmune root cause and solutions, which is a huge step on your healing journey. With this primer, you can now start the oh-so-rewarding work of addressing F.I.G.H.T.S.™ head on. All at once, one at a time, or incorporating a single action-item from each category, it doesn’t matter how you begin, only that you do. As you see positive results, you’ll find the motivation to try more until you’re living the life you deserve, one of vibrant health and wellbeing.
Still need some help getting started? Try these six tips, a summary of my top, most impactful recommendations.
It’s Time for a Root Cause Revolution!
I wrote a book to help people who seek to reverse and prevent autoimmune conditions. I simply couldn’t sit idly by while people continued to suffer. I am honored that Mark Hyman, MD, Functional Medicine pioneer and eleven-time New York Times bestselling author, wrote the foreword.
Beat Autoimmune, The 6 Keys to Reverse Your Condition and Reclaim Your Health is available in all major bookstores and online in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions on Amazon.com for about $10.
Take good care!