When Your Body Attacks Itself - A New Perspective on Healing Autoimmune Disease

health healing body

As a naturopathic doctor as well as someone who suffers from an autoimmune condition, I know a thing or two about healing autoimmune diseases (or should I say more appropriately, managing them). I could go on and on about the things that have been shown in the research, as well as in clinical practice that can help - key dietary changes, certain supplements, different intravenous protocols that have shown to reduce autoantibodies in the system.

It all works and the results are certainly there when patients follow the protocols.

What I think is MAJORLY overlooked and under appreciated is on another level. I’ll admit it’s also something that isn’t the easiest thing to work on in a 20 minute follow-up visit. It’s something that can take MONTHS, even years of personal work and introspection and it’s something that I thoroughly believe is the missing piece to healing autoimmune disease, as well as many other chronic diseases.

It’s your stress levels. It’s your relationship with yourself. It’s how you live your life.

Let me give you an example from my own experience.

I’m a high stress person, always have been. Dealing with self doubt, feelings of inadequacy, constantly berating myself to be better. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at 17 when I was in the hospital receiving treatment for an eating disorder. Sure, there are some other links going on there that would explain the autoimmune disease, I completely understand that and have spent the past 15 years of my life since then trying to fix it all.

The most significant flare-up I’ve ever had was about four years ago, a month or two after moving to Nova Scotia. I was lonely, seriously strapped for cash, had a mountain of student debt and was in a long-term relationship that was painfully reaching its end. I had hit that proverbial rock bottom. My thyroid became very swollen, I was sleeping more than being awake in the day and I lost a ton of hair. If there’s anything to make you stop and reflect on what the heck you’re doing with your life, it’s experiences like this. I did all the typical stuff that I could do to help heal my thyroid and improve my blood work numbers and it worked. I brought the condition back into a manageable zone, but never really got into complete remission. For four years I dipped in and out of thyroid flares, fixing up the mess every time it became an issue.

Going through my own autoimmune journey has pushed me to learn a lot about health - what works, what doesn’t work, what’s missing in a treatment plan for someone to get back to truly feeling well.

To back all this up with the research, a recent 2018 study published out of Harvard opens the door to linking stress-related diseases with autoimmune disease. What’s further, a study published in 2008 proposes that stress-triggered neuroendocrine hormones can lead to immune dysregulation which can ultimately result in autoimmune disease. They also mention in this study that “many retrospective studies found that a high proportion (up to 80%) of patients reported uncommon emotional stress before disease onset. Unfortunately, not only does stress cause disease, but the disease itself also causes significant stress in the patients, creating a vicious cycle”.

Covering the “basics” of managing an autoimmune disease like appropriate nutrition, exercise and individualized treatment plans consisting of medication, supplementation, and/or in-office treatments is the foundation of supporting a patient with autoimmune disease. That’s obvious. What I find missing in many treatment plans for patients with autoimmune disease is healing their relationship with themselves and their lives.

Is this missing in your healing journey?

This might sound a little out in left field for you, trust me I had always thought it did. If you think about it, autoimmune disease is literally your own body attacking itself. And what do you think we’re doing every day in our thoughts when we’re hypercritical towards ourselves? We’re attacking ourselves, our self worth, we’re attacking who we are. If you are someone who suffers from an autoimmune condition, think back to your last flare-up. What was happening just prior to that? Was there a stressful event in your life that preceded the condition worsening? Were you dealing with something, questioning your own self worth, unhappy with a situation in your life?

I’m not saying that I think this is THE cause of autoimmune disease. I believe it’s a part of the entire picture, that part of medicine that isn’t acknowledged enough in how powerful it is and can be for healing. I believe that we need to approach our health with the acknowledgement of how powerful our thoughts can be and a plan to work on changing them if they’re self-destructive and hypercritical.

So, HOW exactly do we get started on making these changes?

For one, I’ve always found that talking to an amazing therapist can be incredibly healing. Employing mindfulness technique into our days to help us be aware of our own thought patterns and what might even trigger negative self talk is also important. Journalling is another technique that I find to be helpful. And because I think that mind-body healing is so important for support your health journey, my online platform, Regimen by JCole has an ENTIRE module built upon research-backed stress management techniques to help guide you through integrating them into your life. Be sure to put yourself on the wait list so you can be first in line to join the newly updated program!

Make sure you’re supporting your body’s natural stress response as well. There are certain nutrients that we need to have in our bodies in order to properly manage the neuroendocrine cascade that stress creates in our bodies. Nutrients like magnesium bisglycinate, B vitamins and vitamin C are all great products to support your body’s stress response as well as minimize its harmful effects when stress does come into our lives. You can shop Regimen by JCole and check out these products HERE.

On another level, doing nice things for yourself is a great way to remind yourself that you ARE worth it. Get your nails done, go for a facial, colour your hair, get yourself that nice cozy sweater you’ve been dreaming about - I don’t believe that these things are superficial. I think that they’re reminders to ourselves that we matter and we matter enough to care about how we present ourselves to the world.

Take time to invest in yourself - mind, body and soul.

The Take-Home