If you have been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease you are probably feeling overwhelmed. There is a lot of information out there of what to do and how to do it. Although there is no, ‘One size fits all’ theory, because there are so many types of autoimmune disorders, there are some best practices that are universal when trying to navigate your new way of life.
Here are 10 of the most important Do’s with an autoimmune disease:
1. Hydrate with the right kind of fluids – There is volumes of information on the internet as to why hydrating is important for all living beings, but it is especially important for many of us with an autoimmune disease. Chances are high that you take at least one form of medication. Most folks with chronic illness take multiple medications. This can be very taxing on your liver and kidneys. Without proper hydration, it is impossible to flush out the toxins that build up in your organs because of your prescriptions. That’s why it is important to drink clean water with a little sea salt. Sea salt contains more than 84 minerals and nutrients that our body needs on a daily basis. Positive ions in the salt surround the negative ions of the water molecules and vice versa. This creates a new structure that has an electrical charge, which is easily absorbed by the body. Once ingested, the electrical charge in the solution works with the body to send electrical signals between cells and assist the kidneys in maintaining fluid balances. Clean water (not tap water) with sea salt also satisfies your thirst longer because the mineral content holds more of the water within your body.
2. Get support from those who understand – Having an autoimmune disease can feel isolating because there may not be anyone around that has experienced what you are going through. One of the easiest ways to find people that struggle with your particular disease, and may even be a little ahead of you in their healing process is on FaceBook. FaceBook groups are an easy, free way of connecting with people like yourself to share information and support. You can ask embarrassing questions, trade tips, and feel less alone. They all have different styles and personalities so join a couple and find the ones that resonate with you.
3. Lower your stress level – One of the biggest autoimmune triggers is stress. Many studies have found that up to 80% of patients report uncommon emotional stress right before their autoimmune disease presents, and the stress of having the disease is known to make the situation worse. One theory for this increased inflammation in your body is that chronic stress results in glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR), resulting in failure to down-regulate the inflammatory response. In other words, chronically elevated cortisol levels causes “cortisol resistance” and impairs the body’s ability to control inflammation, so inflammatory diseases develop. Staying on top of stress levels is key in managing a chronic illness. Ask yourself, “Is this situation worth my health?” If not, become adept at letting situations that don’t serve your health go. You will enjoy life more and stay out of the stress zone.
4. Get the proper amount of sleep/rest – When we sleep, our body maintains and repairs itself, which is absolutely essential to maintaining your health. Sleep enhances our mental clarity, helps us cope with stress, boosts mood, gives us energy, improves immunity, and keeps all of our organ systems in working order. Getting enough sleep for a “healthy” person seems extremely difficult, but it can be much harder for someone with autoimmune disease. The pain, depression, and stress that come with autoimmunity can often make it even more difficult to get good quality sleep. Your body typically has a lot more inflammation and repair to deal with on a daily basis, meaning that sleep may be more important to you than the average person While getting consistently good, restful sleep may not completely alleviate your symptoms, there’s a very good chance it will at least improve your overall well-being. Your body and immune system actually need between eight and nine hours of sleep every night. Most people then, by that definition, are sleep deprived. Establishing a healthy sleep cycle can make a dramatic impact on physical symptoms as well as emotional symptoms, because it balances hormones and chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Although you can’t make up for lost sleep, you can start tonight to get the proper amount for your body.
5. Clean up your diet – 80 percent of your immune system lives in your gut. High inflammatory, processed foods can damage the good flora in your intestinal track leaving you open to inflammation, the main trigger for an autoimmune disease. There are many dietary options for people with chronic illnesses which can be confusing. The best rule of thumb is to stick to foods that are closest to the earth. Eating organic, whole foods with minimal processing like fruits and vegetables will lower your inflammation level and increase elimination of toxins due to the increase of fiber. Also, eating fermented foods can help increase the good flora in your system which will help to strengthen your overall health.
6. Change your cleaning products – We are exposed to astounding amounts of pollution. Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released yearly by large industrial facilities. And 6 million pounds of mercury are poured into our air every year. You may not be able to control your external environment, but you can make your home as safe as possible. Toss all your cleaning agents that contain chemicals and replace them with water and white vinegar, Castle soaps or chemical free products from companies like Seventh Generation or The Honest Company. You can also clean with essential oils.
7. Educate yourself – There is a lot of information on the internet on just about everything. While not all of it is actually informative, it is worth the time and effort to find out as much as possible about your particular disease and its triggers. Make a list of all your questions and ideas for your treatment to bring to your next doctor’s appointment. Your doctor may not like it but so what? Explain that this is your life and health and you need answers. That way you can make an informed, collaborative decision as you what your treatment should be.
8. Don’t overcommit – We hate to admit when we can’t do something, especially if it is because of fatigue. Although it’s hard to miss out, let yourself off the hook if you need to miss a party or two. When you have a chronic illness it’s like having morning sickness for the rest of your life- some days are good and others are spent barfing in a bowl. Let your body lead when making commitments. Run out of steam at night? Don’t commit to evening activities that will wear you down or let your friends know that you can come tentatively. Need to go to a meeting? Make sure you take a nap if you need it before. Learning to adjust to a limited amount of energy is tricky but not impossible. If you don’t think you are up to something, respectfully decline. No one will think you are anti-social and chances are they will ask you again with you are feeling stronger.
9. Find a mindfulness practice – There is overwhelming evidence on how effective meditation is in improving the lives of those with chronic conditions. A recent study showed that health-related quality of life, including incidence of depression, anxiety and fatigue decreased significantly for those participating in a structured 8-week program of mindfulness training. Other studies have found that meditation produces lasting results in the brain (increasing connections) and improving proper immune system function. Meditation apps for your phone, youtube videos, books, local meet-ups and church prayer groups can all assist you in finding your mindfulness groove. The important thing is to find one that you will stick with. One of my favorites is by Deepak Chopra and Oprah.
10. Stretch/exercise – You may find it difficult to exercise on a regular basis but that doesn’t mean you can’t be doing something every day. Your body will tell you it’s limits of what you can do so get creative. Not feeling well? Simple stretching or chair yoga will help you tune into your body and keep your muscles active. If you are having a good energy day you can do more. The important thing to remember is to keep moving. A body in motion, stays in motion. Don’t let you muscles atrophy. Get moving.