When you or your loved ones are diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, one of the first questions that you’re likely to ask is ‘why?’ These chronic, life-altering conditions can seem to pop up out of the blue. You may feel you have no real family history of the condition. You may wonder what you did to deserve it. Perhaps you feel that you have always eaten well and looked after yourself, and are confused why this disease targeted you.
Working with my clients to go through their health history in detail, right from the beginning, to try to piece together some of the reasons why their illness has manifested is one of the first things that I do. Improving your understanding of what led to the development of illness can help you work out which things are likely to help support your body and bring your immune system back into balance.
Triggers and risk factors
As everyone is different, there is not usually one clear cut cause of any autoimmune condition. Though viral infections or stress and trauma might trigger the autoimmune attack, there are often numerous things that happened before that to increase your personal risk that your immune cells could start to target your own tissues. Not everyone who gets chicken pox ends up with Type 1 diabetes, for example (this is what happened to my daughter).
My learning, experience and practice have led me to develop a framework for immune harmony, consisting of five pillars: Connect, Digest, Nourish, Balance and Calm, and I find it helpful to mentally work through these pillars with each individual first to identify the factors that have led to immune system imbalance and then to devise a strategy that could help support a more balanced immune system, moving forwards.
Your connection to your body, the day-night cycle, and other people; your digestion; the food, water air and relationships that nourish your body; the balance of your hormones and gut bacteria; your exposure to stress, infection, inflammation, toxins or allergens are some of the things that I often discuss with my clients as potentially having affected their risk of autoimmunity.
This isn’t a blame game
I know that for some people this whole exercise might feel like I am trying to lay blame at your own door, but this isn’t the aim at all. It is not to say that if you hadn’t done x or y you wouldn’t be in this boat. Nor is it to say that one particular thing caused your illness – for most it is a combination of events and habits and predispositions and personalities and circumstances – many of which we had no control over, they may not even have happened in our life time! And even if there was an element of choice, we did not have the benefit of hindsight to understand where these choices might end up.
I also do not want my clients, or anyone, to feel that once they understand the factors that led to their illness that they have a responsibility to act to make themselves well again. What you do is up to you. Your life is more than your diagnosis. Changing the way you eat, or how you live might help you improve your chances of reduced symptoms or shorter flares, for example, but only you can weigh up what is most important to you when it comes to your day to day life and which changes you are willing to make – though even small changes can move you towards increased resilience and better health. This is why I work alongside my clients to come up with a plan that fits with their life and values.
Make peace not war
Accepting your diagnosis is also important. Though nutritional therapy can help you to live life well as someone with an autoimmune condition, it will not take that diagnosis away from you. I do not particularly like the fighting metaphors that often go along with regaining health, and I think these are particularly unhelpful with things like autoimmunity. Your body has, to an extent, lost tolerance for itself, and waging a war on your immune system seems to me that you are just transferring that aggression elsewhere in your body. This is where the history comes in handy, as you can more clearly see the reasons behind your immune system’s actions. They are not malicious in any way. It is just trying to keep you safe in the only way it knows how, but unfortunately this has led to some collateral damage. Rather than fighting your condition then, can you instead use this new understanding, first to accept things the way they are, and then to move forward?
Searching for my whys
Searching for answers to ‘why?’ is how I ended up becoming a nutritionist. I knew that my daughter had a genetic propensity to autoimmunity – my grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis and there is also autoimmunity on my husband’s side of the family (mine came on later) – but I still wasn’t satisfied with the offering from the medical profession: that sometimes this just happens to some people – especially as she was so little at diagnosis.
I wanted to know if there were environmental factors that could be altered to reduce the reactivity of the immune system. For my daughter I wanted to reduce the risks of her developing further autoimmune conditions in the future, and for myself I wanted to increase the length of time I was flare-free and reduce the severity of my flares if they did occur.
I wanted to dig deeper into that why… and from that feel I could regain some control from the chaos, feel that there were things that I could do to help myself and my daughter, feel that our bodies weren’t just losing the plot, and understand that they was still trying to protect us (even if the way they were going about it had gone a bit wonky).
If you also would like to gain some clarity about why you ended up with your autoimmune diagnosis, then feel free to book in a call with me. I would love to guide you on this journey of discovery.