Balancing chronic autoimmune illness with raising children

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Because women make up about 75 percent of autoimmune disease diagnoses, this means many sufferers of chronic illness are also raising children. It’s common for women to feel disappointed or inferior because they are not the kind of mom they had envisioned. But the perfect mom is an unattainable myth, and it’s possible your illness is even cultivating good qualities in your children. In fact, some of the world’s greatest functional medicine researchers and innovators who have helped countless numbers of people discovered their passion because of their mother’s autoimmune illnesses.

A chronic autoimmune illness means days when energy is low or non-existent, or when brain fog, pain, anxiety, or depression rule. Regular life may include long treks to other cities or states to see a doctor who understands your condition and can help. Your diet is restricted and the house is void of junk food and sodas. Weekends may be devoted to batch cooking meals for the week and your autoimmune disease may require you to delegate chores to your kids. But none of this has to stand in the way of loving your kids and it may even make them better people.

A recent New York Times article explored the ways in which having a chronic autoimmune illness can benefit your children:

Patience. Everything moves more slowly when you’re chronically ill. Gratifications are delayed and trips to the doctor’s office long. When your kids are in tow, this can teach them patience, something most kids struggle with.

Flexibility. Having an autoimmune disease sometimes means canceling well laid plans because you are having a flare. Though disappointing, this prepares children for the inevitable snafus of life.

Self-sufficiency. Children who have everything done for them suffer when they strike out on their own. The child of an autoimmune mom has long been learning how to do their laundry, make their meals, walk the dog, clean the house, and so on. Adulthood won’t seem like such an ugly shock as a result. Though they may complain, this self-sufficiency is also a wonderful confidence builder.

Consideration. Children are egocentric by design. Having a mom with a chronic illness teaches them about the universality of human suffering and that sometimes we are all weaker than we’d like to be and need help.

Self-care. Autoimmunity means seizing the day when you feel good and retreating and resting when you feel bad. This teaches children the importance of a healthy diet, sleep, and other often ignored facets of good health. If you have a partner who helps and supports you, they also benefit from seeing that partnership in action.

Compassion. By seeing someone they love suffer, your children learn compassion for suffering in all people, including themselves. They may also be more likely to see grumpiness or impatience in others as symptoms of a possible illness.

Emotions. Living with a chronic illness is hard work. Sometimes the fatigue, pain, or disappointment can send us into an emotional tailspin, making it impossible to put on a happy face. Seeing a parent express their emotions around suffering can help children be more ok with their own bouts of emotional turmoil.

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Are you a sedentary athlete? Small movements all day add up

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A weekly workout routine including high intensity intervals, spin classes, running, weight training and other sports offers us many health benefits. However, recent studiesshow that even if you get a solid hour or two of exercise daily, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of sitting for hours at a time. The good news is you can do something about it — right now — by simply standing up and moving.

Exercise doesn’t compensate for too much sitting

With our convenience-centered, computer-based lifestyle, today’s recreational athlete gets less daily exercise than non-athletes of the past. The average person — even athletes — spends a whopping 7 to 9 hours every day either sitting at work, watching TV, or driving.

Sitting this much puts us at significant risk for health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, increased risk of dementia, and early death, and the risk increases the more you sit.

Sitting too much also promotes joint stiffness, back pain and disk damage, digestive issues, insulin resistance, flabby muscles, and poor circulation.

Simple lifestyle changes create big strides

Studies show sitting for more than 2 hours at a stretch is unhealthy, and researchers recommend getting up to stand and move every 30 minutes for maximum benefits.

Low-intensity “non-exercise” activities such as standing and walking are more important than most people realize. They play a crucial metabolic role, account for more of our daily energy expenditure than moderate-to-high intensity activities, and offer unexpected benefits.

By getting up and about frequently and standing more you will boost metabolism, improve circulation, regulate blood pressure, keep the muscles toned, keep chronic pain at bay, improve bone health, and increase your energy and vitality.

Following are some ways you can stand up against the sedentary habits many of our jobs require.

Create daily habits to reduce sitting risks

At work

  • Stand while on the phone, at breaks, or lunch.
  • Walk to communicate with coworkers instead of messaging.
  • Invite coworkers to walking meetings.
  • Use an exercise ball as a chair.
  • Try a standing desk, treadmill-ready desk, or a high table or countertop.
  • Move around for one to three minutes every half hour at work.
  • Use an app or quiet alarm to remind you to take movement breaks.
  • Do a few jumping jacks or pushups during breaks (great for mental clarity too).
  • Walk or bike to work.
  • Walk to the next bus stop.

At home

  • Stand to do chores.
  • Get up and move every 30 minutes.
  • Do stretching or easy yoga 10 minutes a day.
  • Limit your TV/computer sitting time.
  • If you watch a screen, stand periodically, and move during commercials.

Out and about

  • Take the long way around.
  • Walk your dog more often.
  • Don’t park so close.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Plan active meetups with friends instead of sitting to socialize.
  • Do chores and yard work manually.
  • Drive less, walk and bike more.
  • Join a club or meetup focused on physical hobbies like frisbee, birding, or dog-walking.

To help you figure out if you’re actually increasing your daily metabolic output, try using this handy online metabolic calculator.

Mystery symptoms autoimmune? How to find out

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Do you have mysterious health symptoms — such as fatigue, pain, brain fog, unexplained weight gain — that rob you of your quality of life, but lab tests and doctors keep saying nothing is wrong? Or maybe doctors tell you your chronic symptoms are depression and you need an antidepressant. Maybe you’ve even been accused of complaining too much.

Most people know when something is wrong with them, even if lab tests come back normal and doctors say you’re fine. This is because the standard health care model does not screen for autoimmunity — a disorder than occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys your own tissue. You can suffer from symptoms of undiagnosed autoimmunity for years and even decades before it is severe enough to be diagnosed and treated in the conventional medical model.

Fortunately, in functional medicine we can screen for autoimmunity against multiple tissues in the body at once. Knowing an autoimmune reaction is causing your symptoms can remove the mystery and bring significant peace of mind. It is confirmation your health symptoms are real and proof you are not a whiner or hypochondriac.

We identify autoimmunity by testing for antibodies in the blood against a particular tissue. For instance, we can screen for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease that causes hypothyroidism, by testing for immune antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (TGB). Positive results mean autoimmunity is causing your hypothyroid symptoms of weight gain, depression, fatigue, constipation, cold hands and feet, and hair loss.

Cyrex Labs tests for 24 different types of autoimmunity at once. The panel is called Array 5 Multiple Autoimmune Reactivity Screen. It is more cost effective than testing for each autoimmunity individually, and Cyrex Labs tests are highly sensitive. To do the test, simply ask us for the kit, take it to an approved blood draw center, and we will send you the results.

If your test results are “positive” or “equivocal,” it means your immune system is attacking that tissue. You may not even have symptoms yet. This is a best-case scenario because managing your health with functional medicine can prevent the autoimmunity from progressing.

Array 5 screens for the following autoimmunities:

  • Parietal cell and ATPase instrinsic factor: Stomach autoimmunity
  • ASCA, ANCA, and tropomyosin: Intestinal autoimmunity
  • Thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase: Thyroid autoimmunity
  • 21 hydroxylase (adrenal cortex): Adrenal autoimmunity
  • Myocardial peptide, alpha-myosin: Cardiac autoimmunity
  • Phospholipid platelet glycoprotein: Phospholipid autoimmunity
  • Ovary/Testes: Reproductive organ autoimmunity
  • Fibulin, collagen complex, arthritic peptide: Joint autoimmunity
  • Osteocyte: Bone autoimmunity
  • Cytochrome P450 (hepatocyte): Liver autoimmunity
  • Insulin, islet cell, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD): Pancreatic autoimmunity
  • GAD, myelin basic protein, asialoganglioside, alpha and beta tubulin, cerebellar, synapsin: Neurological autoimmunity

If you have no but a positive result, then you may be able to prevent the autoimmunity from expressing itself. If you have symptoms that correspond with a positive test result, other testing may help you track your condition. For instance, if you test positive for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, follow up with thyroid testing will track the severity.

Knowing you have an autoimmune reaction means you can halt its progression and prevent it from worsening. This can mean preventing or even reversing devastating and debilitating symptoms.

Ask my office for more advice.

Study confirms autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet works

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A recent study confirmed what functional medicine has long since known — the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is highly successful for managing chronic health disorders. The first-of-its-kind study showed the majority of participants quickly achieved and maintained remission of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis on the AIP diet. A number of participants were even able to discontinue drug therapies.

Many people follow the AIP diet to manage not just Crohn’s but also chronic pain, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, brain-based disorders, diabetes, autoimmune disease in general, and other chronic health problems.

People are surprised to find that not only do their symptoms fade but also they enjoy more energy, better sleep, weight loss, increased libido, less stress, and a general overall improvement of their well being.

A primary reason the diet is so effective is because it helps repair leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the gut becomes inflamed and porous, allowing inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation throughout the body and brain and leads to a wide array of chronic gut, metabolic, and autoimmune disorders.

Anti-inflammatory is the key to the AIP diet

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods and is free of inflammatory foods, additives, fillers, and artificial colors. It includes an accompanying protocol of appropriate sleep, physical activity, rest, and positive socialization and self-treatment. Certain nutritional compounds that gently cleanse and detoxify the body may boost the success of the diet.

AIP diet sites and articles abound, but here are basics:

  • Eliminate all processed foods, fast foods, desserts, coffee drinks, sodas, etc. Your anti-inflammatory diet should consist of whole foods found in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store, with an emphasis on plenty of vegetables. Also eliminate processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils and stick with natural oils.
  • Eliminate common inflammatory foods, the most common culprit being gluten. Many people’s symptoms resolve simply on a gluten-free diet. However, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, grain, and nightshades are commonly immune reactive as well. Eliminate these foods for about six weeks to see whether you react upon reintroducing them one at a time.
  • Eliminate sweets. On the anti-inflammatory diet you will avoid all sweeteners. This helps curb cravings, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and lose excess fat. Enjoy low-sugar fruits instead, such as berries.
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Not only do plenty of veggies load you up with vital nutrients and fiber, new research shows they create a healthy gut microbiome – the bacteria in your gut that profoundly influence your immune and brain health. A diet based around veggies creates an abundant and diverse gut microbiome and thus better health.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise. Sufficient sleep is a major inflammation-buster, as is regular physical activity. Overtraining, however, can cause inflammation so watch out for that.

Boost success with gut repair and detoxification

Adding in specific nutritional compounds can help repair a damaged gut, lower inflammation, support the liver, and detoxify the system. Ask my office for more information about a detoxification and gut-repair program using the AIP diet.

Handling store receipts raises levels of toxic BPA

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A new study that had subjects handle store receipts showed BPA absorbed through the skin stays in the body much longer than ingested BPA. The study had subjects handle common store receipts for five minutes, then wear gloves for two hours before washing their hands.

BPA measurements in the subjects’ urine showed BPA levels highest for the first two days after handling the receipts. After one week, three of the six volunteers still showed BPA in their urine.

However, when the subjects ate a cookie with BPA, follow up urinalysis showed BPA levels spiked after five hours but was cleared after a day. The scientists concluded that the body can more quickly metabolize and clear ingested BPA than BPA absorbed through the skin.

BPA toxicity in everyday food and beverages

BPA (bisphenol-A) is the main component of polycarbonate and is found in water and beverage bottles, plastic lids, the lining of tin cans, food storage containers, dental sealants, contact lenses, and electronics.

Store receipts aren’t the only place people come in contact with BPA. Canned foods often contain significant amounts of the chemical — the lining in a soup can can deliver 1,000 percent more BPA than fresh soup.

Plastics beverage bottles are another common source of exposure, especially if the bottle has been exposed to heat, light, or acids (such as soda).

Plastic food containers, especially if they have been heated, are another common source. Plastic coffee lids, straws, and any other plastics that come in contact with foods deliver BPA as well.

BPA on store receipts

Store receipts aren’t the only source of BPA that can be absorbed through the skin. Other sources of thermal paper that contains high amounts of BPA include fast food receipts, ATM receipts, airline tickets, gas station receipts, lottery tickets, fax paper (if anyone still uses that), etc.

Although this latest study had subjects handle the receipts for five minutes, previous studies have shown handling a receipt for just five seconds transfers BPA through your skin and into your bloodstream. Your skin absorbs ten times as much if your fingers are wet or greasy.

You can even absorb BPA from handling cash that has been stored with receipts.

Why BPA is toxic to the body

Studies have shown BPA to be problematic to human health in various ways. It has estrogen-like properties that skew hormone balance. Rodent studies have shown BPA causes reproductive defects, cancer, and breakdowns in metabolic and immune health.

BPA is especially toxic to a developing fetus, raising the risk of causing chromosomal errors, miscarriage, and genetic damage.

The chemical is also linked to poorer sperm quality, early puberty, reproductive dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and obesity.

BPA raises the risk of triggering autoimmunity

Recent studies have also shown that BPA can both trigger and exacerbate autoimmune diseases due to its disruptive effect on the immune system. It has been linked to autoimmunity to nerve sheathes, the common target of attach in multiple sclerosis, and to Hashimoto’sthyroid autoimmune disease.

BPA-free is no guarantee

Unfortunately, products listed as “BPA-free” are not a green light either. Many non-BPA plastics also contain synthetic estrogens.

How to reduce your body burden of BPA

Reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible by not handling receipts and avoiding plastic food and beverage containers. Additionally, help buffer the damage of BPA and other toxins by eating a whole foods diet and supplementing with nutritional compounds that support detoxification and cellular protection. Ask my office for more advice.

Could you be developing an autoimmune disease?

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You could be developing an autoimmune disease, one of the most common diseases today, and are not aware of it. This is because autoimmune diseases sometimes start off as “silent” autoimmunity. This means your immune system is attacking tissue in your body but the damage isn’t bad enough to cause symptoms yet.

Autoimmune disease is more common than cancer and heart disease combined, and that’s just the diagnosed cases. Many, if not most, cases of autoimmunity are happening without a diagnosis.

This is because medicine does not screen for autoimmunity until symptoms are advanced and severe enough for a diagnosis and treatment with steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.

Autoimmunity: The disease for the modern era

Autoimmunity can affect any tissue in the body or brain. It occurs when the immune system attacks and damages tissue as if it were a foreign invader.

Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and psoriasis. More than 80 different autoimmune diseases have been identified so far.

Autoimmune disease affects 1 in 5 people, the majority of them women. It is believed women are more commonly affected because of their hormonal complexity. Although autoimmune disease is very common, the statistics do not tell the whole story.

Autoimmunity can happen long before diagnosis

Autoimmunity can begin long before damage is bad enough for a disease to be diagnosed. Many people can go years, decades, or even an entire lifetime with symptoms but never have damage bad enough to be labeled disease.

As an example, autoimmunity against the pancreas can cause blood sugar issues long before the development of type 1 diabetes. Additionally, about 10 percent of people with type 2 diabetes, which is caused by diet and lifestyle, also have pancreatic autoimmunity. This is called type 1.5 diabetes.

One of the most common autoimmune diseases is Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Patients may need to gradually increase their thyroid hormone because although they were diagnosed with low thyroid, the autoimmunity was overlooked and left unmanaged.

Or a patient may have an autoimmune reaction that has not been recognized as a disease. For instance, autoimmunity to nerve cells may produce symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an autoimmune reaction to nerve sheathes. However, because the autoimmunity is not attacking nerve sheathes specifically, the patient cannot be diagnosed despite MS-like symptoms.

Autoimmunity can attack anything in the body

People can also have symptoms that suggest many types of autoimmunity. Although symptoms vary depending on which tissue is being attacked, many autoimmune sufferers experience chronic fatigue, chronic pain, declining brain function, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, brain fog, and more.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers lab testing that can screen for autoimmunity against a number of different tissues. We also use strategies such as an anti-inflammatory diet, blood sugar stabilizing, gut healing, addressing toxins, and habits that minimize stress and inflammation.

Ask my office if autoimmunity may be causing your strange and chronic symptoms.

Ignored by doctors, women choose functional medicine

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It doesn’t take long once you learn about functional medicine to realize it attracts primarily women. Why? Chronic disorders affect more women than men and conventional medicine’s treatment of women often ranges from disappointing to dehumanizing.

Conventional medicine failing women

When women show up at doctors’ offices with “mystery” symptoms from chronic disorders they are often left feeling demoralized and hopeless.

What are some of areas where conventional medicine fails women?

Mystery symptoms dismissed as psychosomatic or whining. Autoimmune disease overwhelmingly afflicts more women than men and can cause years and even decades of symptoms before diagnosis. Many women are told to exercise more, meditate, or take anti-depressants for their symptoms but given no real solutions.

Told to exercise more for chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue affects four times as many women as men. However, these women are often simply told to exercise as many doctors don’t believe in chronic fatigue, even though it is now medically recognized. These women often end up feeling worse.

Pain in women undertreated. Studies show doctors are slower to treat pain in female patients in emergency rooms and generally undertreat women for pain due to the belief that childbirth makes women more resilient to pain.

Fibromyalgia, a disorder of chronic pain, also affects mostly women and is often regarded as not legitimate.

In fact, some researchers believe disorders such as fibromyalgia and autoimmunity are so frequently belittled and dismissed because they affect predominantly women.

Poorer response to female heart disease. Women have worse outcomes from heart attacks because medicine looks at male-based heart symptoms. For instance, many women do not have chest pain. As a result, treatment is often less aggressive than necessary.

Hospital childbirth practices traumatic. If there is one place where many women lose their faith in medicine, it is during a hospital childbirth. Women are often pressured into unnecessary procedures or left hung out to dry emotionally in the event of a problem or emergency. As a result, many leave the hospital with postpartum PTSD.

Female sexual abuse survivors also experience worse outcomes in hospital childbirth scenarios.

Male-based studies don’t translate to female patients. Most medical models are based on male physiology. As a result, many signs and symptoms that present differently in women go misdiagnosed or dismissed. Autism and heart attacks are two examples.

Plus, women experience chronic diseases such as autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, and hypothyroidism at significantly higher rates than men and thus are often told their symptoms are “in their head.”

Functional medicine for women

Fortunately, in functional medicine we conduct comprehensive histories, examinations, and testing with all patients regardless of gender.

We specialize in working with chronic so-called “mystery” disorders that predominantly affect women and are explained in the scientific literature.

One thing we frequently hear from women is how good it feels to finally be heard.  We encourage you to work with a Functional & Lifestyle Healthcare provider who looks into your unique needs as a client.  This allows every client to have an individualized action plan to restoring health.  To learn more about the Empowered Living Institute and our Empowerment program, click here.