With over 100 autoimmune diseases identified and about 50 million Americans currently suffering from at least one of them according to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, it is likely that we all know at least one person leading a life complicated by an autoimmune condition. While autoimmune disease and all its variations can be complex to understand, there are many commonalities among them—and your friends and family who are currently living a life complicated by autoimmune issues would love for you to understand what they are dealing with. They want you to know so you have a sense of what they are facing, how they handle it, why they feel the way they do and how they approach their health. Not only will this allow you to be an invaluable part of their support system, but also you just might be able to help keep them healthy.
Here are six important facts about autoimmune disease that every sufferer wants their friends and family to understand:
1. Autoimmune disease is not just a women’s health issue – Although women account for almost 80 percent of the population diagnosed with autoimmune disease, men can fall victim, too. Even if just 20 percent of those suffering from autoimmune disease are men that would still mean 10 million-plus American men suffer from autoimmune disease – hardly a figure to simply brush off.
2. Sometimes, they just need to rest – Fatigue is a common symptom of autoimmune disease. Sometimes they just do not feel well and need some time to reboot. It can be frustrating for loved ones to have their plans broken or altered due to the fatigue an autoimmune disease sufferer feels. Unfortunately, recurring bouts of fatigue are par for the course for millions of those dealing with an autoimmune disease. The extreme lack of energy can affect everything from the ability to carry out household chores to weekend dates, to vacation plans. People battling autoimmunity feel it is important for supporters to understand that fatigue is a very real symptom, one that can strike at any time.
3. Management is key – Sadly, there is no cure for autoimmune disease. However, symptoms can be minimized through proactive management, once the disorder is properly identified. Functional medicine, which offers invaluable methods for diagnosing and treating autoimmune disease, focuses on causes in addition to symptoms. This system is based on an understanding of the dynamic way our genes interact with the environment and goes beyond simply treating diseases based on their label. Prioritizing sleep, getting regular exercise, and managing nutrition and stress are all a part of proactive functional medicine.
4. One autoimmune disease often translates to more – About 25 percent of patients with one autoimmune disease are likely to develop additional autoimmune diseases. This is because an immune system that begins attacking its own cells in the first place is a confused system, likely to continue the pattern in different areas of the body when falsely recognizing healthy cells as harmful. This makes management all the more important, as it becomes a preventative measure in addition to a proactive treatment. The lifestyle vigilance that people with autoimmunity need to maintain to manage their disease can sometimes be seen as overkill or be difficult for others to comprehend, but it is important to understand what is at risk for any individual with an autoimmune disease.
5. Diet and nutrition matter – Food, additives and even preparation are proven to affect autoimmune response. There are a few key aggravators known to cause inflammation and symptomatic flare-ups for those with autoimmune disease. Gluten, sugar, dairy, mold, mercury, and antibiotics are among the many immune irritants to trigger autoimmune response. However, they do not stand alone. Individuals are unique in their genetic makeup; those suffering from an autoimmune condition have varied sensitivities and reactions to different foods, chemicals and environmental elements, which can also impact autoimmune response. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, offers advanced, innovative tests designed to detect and monitor autoimmune reactivities and their possible triggers. People suffering from autoimmunity often are evaluated with comprehensive tests like the Array 10 – Multiple Food Immune Reactivity Screen™, which evaluates immune reactions to foods, raw, cooked, and modified, food enzymes, lectins, and artificial food additives.
6. They must protect their children – As you now understand, autoimmune disease can be genetic or developed. Children of sufferers are genetically at risk for developing autoimmune disease in any form, regardless of the specific disease that their parent may have. Likewise, they are at risk of developing an autoimmune disease from environmental, lifestyle and food-related factors regardless of their parents’ history. Parents with autoimmune disease can sometimes seem over-protective with their children as they strive to head off the autoimmunity that they suffer from.
A significant element of leading a healthy life for those who suffer from autoimmune disorders is found in the support they receive from friends and family. As with any disease or illness, compassion goes a long way. Knowledge is everyone’s best tool.
By Dr. Chad Larson
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor, and Consultant on the Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine and environmentally-induced chronic disease.
Cyrex Laboratories: Dr. Chad Larson
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association: Autoimmune Disease Statistics
Top Image Courtesy of Dr. Chad Larson – Used With Permission
Featured Image Courtesy of Sophie’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License