Americans are facing an auto­immune epidemic. More than 24 million of us are currently affected by autoimmune disorders, which encompass 80-plus conditions including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. 

Conventional medicine attempts to tackle these tricky conditions with treatments such as powerful immune suppressant medications, steroids and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms such as joint pain, skin rashes, abdominal pain and tingling limbs. But these drugs can be hit or miss and lead to side effects as extreme as bone and muscle loss, diabetes, depression, liver problems and kidney failure. And they don’t address the root cause of the problem. 

A Much Better Way  

Thanks to groundbreaking research in the last decade, functional medicine—which aims to treat medical problems at the root cause—now provides an effective plan to prevent and reverse autoimmune diseases.  

The various autoimmune diseases are really just one disorder with countless variations based on a patient’s genetic weak link and a common denominator of systemic inflammation that prompts the body to attack its own tissues.

Aside from genetics, most autoimmune diseases stem from environmental or lifestyle triggers, which include hidden infections…allergies or sensitivities to foods…toxins such as chemicals or heavy metals…and physical or psychological stress. 

On top of that, the body may be missing factors it needs to regulate itself, such as certain vitamins, hormones, rest and relaxation, and/or exercise. One ­autoimmune patient’s root cause could be chronic stress and a vitamin deficiency while another’s might be high mercury levels in the body.   

Try these strategies to treat or ward off autoimmune diseases…   

• Make changes to your diet. Unearthing possible food allergies or sensitivities that contribute to auto­immune problems starts with eliminating grains…legumes…dairy…eggs…nightshades such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers…alcohol and coffee…flour…and processed sugar for six weeks. 

Food groups can be added back into your diet one by one while monitoring how your body responds. If you experience symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, digestive upset, headaches and/or sinus congestion when adding a particular food back into your diet, that food is likely a problem for you and should be eliminated from your diet. 

Note: While some lab tests are very helpful in detecting food allergies and sensitivities, the elimination method described here is best.     

Beneficial foods for autoimmune disease: Whole and unprocessed foods including vegetables…small amounts of meat and other proteins…and healthy fats such as extra-virgin coconut, olive, avocado, macadamia, walnut and almond oils, organic coconut milk, avocados, fatty fish like sardines, wild salmon, mackerel and herring, nuts (except peanuts) and seeds, olives and grass-fed or clarified butter or ghee. 

These foods are nutrient dense with high levels of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and omega-3 fatty acids.

• Add these supplements. Vitamin D, fish oil, vitamin C and probiotics connect with immune receptors to calm the immune response naturally. Also, consider taking a turmeric or curcumin supplement, which research credits with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Note: Check with your doctor before taking any new supplement and for the dosage that is best for you.     

• Get more exercise. Regular physical activity is a proven disease-fighter, largely because it’s extremely effective at reducing systemic inflammation. For those with autoimmune diseases, the best types depend on your possible limitations. Cardiovascular exercise such as jogging, biking, hiking or interval training for 30 minutes, six times a week is ideal…but even taking a brisk, 30-minute walk several days a week can make a real difference.

• Try a variety of relaxation techniques. We know that stress creates inflammation…so cutting stress is key to fighting autoimmune disorders. Try meditation, massage or even journaling for 20 minutes a day. Yoga can be relaxing as well. 

• Improve sleep. It’s worth a reminder that good immune function and stress reduction are both linked to getting high-quality, deep sleep. To promote optimal sleep, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, use your bed only for sleep or sex, forgo caffeine after the morning hours, avoid vigorous exercise after dinner, and stop cell-phone and computer use within a couple hours of turning in. 

Additional Strategies

From my experience, astoundingly, about 80% of autoimmune disease cases will improve solely by making dietary changes. But if you’re not feeling dramatically better within six weeks of making changes to your diet, get tested for other underlying causes of inflammation. Simple blood tests or other tests can check for…  

  • Infections such as Lyme disease, bacteria, viruses and yeast
  • Celiac disease
  • Heavy metal toxicity such as mercury exposure from fish consumption

Also helpful: Talk to your doctor about multiple systemic infectious disease syndrome (MSIDS). MSIDS is a persistent illness caused by Lyme disease and/or related tick-borne coinfections, parasitic or fungal infections, allergies, environmental toxicity and compromised immune function. Symptoms can include joint and muscle pain, dizziness and sleep problems.

To access the MSIDS questionnaire, go to LymeActionNetwork.org. If your score is moderate to high, you will be advised to consult your doctor.