Thursday, August 28, 2014

Autoimmune Disease and Environmental/Lifestyle triggers

The link between autoimmune disease and environmental toxins and lifestyle triggers have recently gained more traction and merit with an increase in studies and articles being published on the matter.  There are numerous books now available, where people have sent their autoimmune disease into remission and have reversed some of their symptoms by changing their lifestyle, including diet and lowering their exposure to toxins.  A book I read recently, called the Wahls Protocol by Terry Wahls, MD., was written by someone who did just that.  She changed her lifestyle after being bound to a wheel chair as a result of the damage to her nerves caused by Multiple Sclerosis.  She has reversed many of her symptoms and put the disease into remission.  She has now began her study to implement her successful lifestyle changes in others who have Multiple Sclerosis to assess their results.

If a chronic disease has already begun, lifestyle change isn't a quick fix, as in making some changes will yield a result right away.  Working with the theory that autoimmune disease is the result of how your body responds to toxins, diet and various environmental triggers, it takes many years for the disease to present itself, therefore can take months to years to see the results of the healing process.  It can seem difficult to make seemingly radical changes to your life and not feel the reward, but it is important to stick with it.  For Dr. Wahls, it took her 9 months after her lifestyle changes to start noticing small improvements in her disease.

I came across a blog post written by Dr. Mark Hyman, who is dedicated to finding the root cause of chronic disease, a best selling author and advocate in the field.  He writes about medicine, disease and nutrition in the context of integrative and functional medicine.  This has a lot to do with optimal nutrition, lifestyle changes, relaxation and dealing with stress that relate to ultimate health.  He shares a wealth of information on autoimmune disease that is worth reading through to get an idea of the triggers and healing principles.  One quote that resonated with me was, "Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety."  The paragraph that puts this into context only supports that you cannot assume what you are exposed to and that packaged food/beverages and cleaning products you buy in stores are safe!  Another quote from this section, "The Environmental Working Group examined the umbilical cord blood of children just as they emerged from the womb. They found 287 industrial chemicals, including pesticides, phthalates, dioxins, flame-retardants, Teflon, and toxic metals like mercury."  These are all established toxins, from food and the environment, and we now are seeing that these chemicals pass through the placenta and enter the developing fetus.  The toxins, which can be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, reproductive toxins among others, that we come in contact with are undetectable at the time of exposure and only present themselves after years of exposure in the form of disease, that seem unrelated.

The unfortunate part is that you can't change the air you breathe or what is in your tap water.  There are those things that can be controlled and will make an impact on toxin exposure.  One way to decrease toxins is through your food and cosmetic/hygiene products.  Read the label, if there is a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, its probably not so good.  Buying whole foods, organic produce and responsibly raised animal products will eliminate toxins that you would be intaking directly.  For cosmetic and hygiene products, I use this helpful website called Skin Deep, there's also an app!  I search for a product before purchasing it to see the rating and the ingredients of concern.  On the app, you can scan a barcode if you're already out shopping and need to check a product.

I won't get into nutrition advice for autoimmune disease in this post, but there are plenty of resources that can provide additional information.  Dr. Hyman's website is a great resource to start.

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