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Beyond the Doctor’s Office: Treating Autoimmune Disease at Home

By Megan Stone, DO
Much of the work in healing autoimmunity starts with personal action.

Millions of people have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and the numbers, which include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, eczema, psoriasis and celiac disease to name a few, are increasing rapidly. 

With so many people affected and very little time and attention offered by traditional medical doctors, most people are left feeling helpless. However, patients are often unaware that they have much more power over the development or worsening of autoimmune disease than they realize.

Stress reduction practices can help alleviate inflammation.

One of the main principles of autoimmune disease is the concept of “energy.” If you have an autoimmune disease, you know the severe fatigue, feeling run-down and looking older than your age. For those who have inherited the genes putting them at increased risk for developing an autoimmune disease, their mitochondria (the energy powerhouse of every cell) are not firing on all cylinders. They are not able to fully do their job of producing energy to build proteins, eliminate toxins and repair the body. Therefore, it’s up to us to give those mitochondria the best chance possible to do their job, thereby helping you to feel better, have improved mood and energy and prevent the development or worsening of disease. Fueling your mitochondria is not a job that your prescription medication can do – this is a job that only you can do.

Stop eating garbage. I know this statement sounds like a broken record. But I find that while many people know they should eat better, they don’t understand the science behind the “why.” The more fast food, processed carbs, sugars and excessive alcohol you ingest, the more your mitochondria have to work on overdrive to remove the waste. If you are already working with mitochondria that need a little more help, then the outcome is obvious. The more you stress the system with poor food choices, the less likely you are able to eliminate the waste, thereby increasing the toxins in your body and fueling the autoimmune fire that is waiting to feed on such waste. Translation: you feel worse, and your doctor is left increasing your medication dosage or adding another pill to your treatment.

Give your mitochondria the fuel they need to do their job correctly. If you feed an Olympic athlete nothing but fast food, their strength and speed will decrease rapidly. Your mitochondria are millions of little athletes in your body. In addition to glucose and oxygen, they need much more to do their job efficiently. They need B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They can’t get what they need from junk food. More so, if the mitochondria are too strained from lack of nutrition, they will send a signal for the cell to die prematurely — leading you to yet another problem, working with fewer mitochondria while trying to clear your body of more toxins. The early cell death also contributes to rapid aging in the organ, especially the brain. It’s quite simple, feed the athletes (aka your mitochondria), and they will perform well.

Let’s take a look at stress. Stressing your body creates a spike in cortisol. This spike is a natural process that we need to stay alive and respond to danger. However, when this stress becomes more the norm, and your body routinely has elevated cortisol levels, this leads to stress on every system, creating inflammation everywhere, leading to a cascade of negative effects. When this system kicks up, all other processes are halted, including digestion, detoxification, the building of proteins, essentially all functions that make your body strong and well. Why is that? Because the body senses that you are in danger, and these functions are not the priority when you’re in danger. The problem is that there are so many stressors in today’s world that keep us in the high-danger mode that our body can no longer tell the difference between what is life-threatening versus what is irritating and will soon pass. Part of the problem is that we are not creating a “life filter” strong enough to sieve through the experiences and tell our brains when it’s ok to relax. This relaxation is where we have control over the progression of autoimmune disease, and this is where the work is done by you and NOT your physician. For most people, it doesn’t come naturally before months of conscious practice. 

Do these things to calm your nervous system:

  • Take time each day to do deep breathing exercises and notice what sort of emotions and messages you are allowing to control your nervous system. 
  • Ask yourself several times per day, are you feeding the stress and adding to the fire of your autoimmune disease, or are you feeding the calm, giving yourself a better chance at recovery?
  • Do an inventory and ask yourself: what obligations, roles and plans do I have that are not essential, and can be replaced with time to relax and heal.
  • Guard your “calm” ferociously. Reassess relationships and activities that cause you regular stress and take the steps to resolve them. This process may take a lot of work and include things like finding a new job, going to therapy, leaving a destructive friendship or relationship. 

You have to put in the work to reap the benefits. These suggestions will improve your autoimmune disease recovery and prevent worsening of the disease. You may seek a functional medicine physician, coach or therapist to guide you, but there won’t be a particular prescription or magic pill. There is no easy way to tackle these things. These concepts are in no way meant to suggest that you stop your medication cold-turkey; that action could be very dangerous for you. These principles are complementary to your current treatment. Should you make enough progress to consider stopping your medication, then work with your physician to discuss a safe tapering-off schedule. 

More and more people with autoimmune disease are leaving their doctor’s office with only a prescription and a feeling of helplessness. This helpless mindset is not necessary; do not accept this fate! You have more power to fuel your mind, body and spirit than you know. You can play a pivotal role in reversing your autoimmune disease and regaining your vitality. Just start where you are and do the best you can with what you have right now.

Dr. Stone is a family and functional medicine physician and founder of Stone Functional Medicine in Palm Desert. She is a Wahls Protocol Certified Practitioner and can be reached at (760) 350.6988 or www.stonefuncmed.com.

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