All too often I hear from my clients, “My doctor said diet doesn’t matter for my autoimmune disease.” So off they go with a prescription and zero power over their personal health. And yet, inside most of my clients is a little voice saying…there must be something more I can do, there must be something in addition to my medication that can make me feel better and get my life back again. And guess what? They’re right.
Autoimmune disease on the rise
The prevalence of autoimmune disease and chronic illness is rising in the United States across all age groups and it’s not because of better diagnosis, it’s simply occurring more. Research shows that genetics is %30 responsible for the development of autoimmune disease and %70 is related to environmental factors, which can be classified as epigenetics. These environmental factors include things like: diet & lifestyle, nutrient status, toxin exposures, infections, adverse life experiences, trauma and chronic unrelenting stress.
I’m not sure why doctors are unaware of the most current research related to genetics and epigenetics when it comes to autoimmune disease and chronic illness, which propels them to tell their patients that diet and lifestyle don’t matter when it comes to crohn’s disease or hashimoto’s or any other autoimmune condition. What I do know is that if the research shows that epigenetics plays a %70 role in the development of autoimmune disease then every single person has an element of power over their own health as well as the ability to work towards symptom reversal of autoimmune conditions.
What is genetics?
At its most basic level genetics refers to the biological process of heredity, which is the process by which a biological parent passes genetic information to offspring. The genes a person inherits from both biological parents guides certain aspects of how they may develop. For example, genetics can determine how tall a person is, what color their eyes are, if they have curly hair or become athletic. Every person is born with their own unique and individual genetic make-up. Genetic material cannot be altered, but gene expression can via epigenetics.
What is epigenetics?
Simply put epigenetics is how your behavior and environment has the ability to change how your genes are expressed. Put another way, epigenetics is the study of how your environment can turn genes on or off. Therefore, what genes become expressed by your body can be impacted by positive experiences (such as loving relationships, a healthy living environment, low-stress childhood, a nutrient dense diet, etc.) and also negative experiences (such as exposure to environmental toxins, trauma, malnourishment, emotional neglect, gut dysbiosis, infections, etc.).
It isn’t possible to change our own genetic make-up. For better and worse we are born with the genes we are going to have as the building blocks of our lives. But…and this is a large “but”…we do have the ability to work towards controlling which genes get expressed or are turned on and off through the choices we make epigenetically. So, how do we do it?
5 ways to use epigenetics to reverse symptoms of autoimmune disease
1. Change your diet
- Eat a whole foods, nutrient dense, minimally processed diet.
- Eat healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, salmon, sardines and olives.
- Include bioavailable, minimally processed protein daily, which includes grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and wild-caught fish.
- Get enough fiber by eating six to eight cups of vegetables per day and include properly prepared, soaked legumes like beans and lentils into your regular, weekly rotation of foods.
- Cut out foods you have a known sensitivity to. The big ones are gluten and dairy. In order to reverse symptoms of autoimmune disease gut healing has to be high on the priority list and eliminating known gut irritants will decrease inflammation and allow the lining of the intestines to heal, which will allow for more absorption of nutrients and excretion of toxins.
2. Focus on the 5-foundations of health
- Digestion: Ensure you’re having at least one bowel movement per day that is dark brown, shaped like a banana and doesn’t include straining.
- Blood sugar balance: Refrain from hijacking your blood sugar all day by starting with a protein-rich breakfast, never drinking coffee on an empty stomach and putting quality fats on your carbohydrates for snacks.
- Mineral status: Put high quality sea salt on your food, add minerals to your water, eat seaweed and work with a practitioner to add high quality supplements to your daily habits
- Hydration: drink approximately half your body weight in ounces of filtered water per day
- Fatty acid status: Eliminate processed and hydrogenated fats and seeds oils that are inflammatory and disease inducing. Increase healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocado.
3. Minimize exposure to toxins and chemicals
- Use non-toxic beauty products & menstrual products. These can be found at your local food co-op or Beauty Counter is a good place to start.
- Swap toxic cleaning products with non-toxic ones. My favorite is Branch Basics…their oxygen boost powder gets any stain out of my child’s clothing on the first try.
- Buy organic whenever possible. If you can’t buy all organic then consult the Dirty Dozen to make the most informed choice.
- Use glass or stainless steel food storage containers instead of plastic, including for water bottles.
- Throw away non-stick Teflon pans, which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Use cast-iron or stainless steel instead.
4. Heal your trauma
- EMDR is a research based therapeutic modality that helps people heal from traumatic stress and memories as well as adverse life events. Find a trained practitioner in your area for support.
5. Find & treat underlying infections & prevent further exposures
- If you have a history of viral or bacterial infections like mono, herpes, h.pylori, lyme disease, etc. then it’s important to find a practitioner who can treat these underlying health issues with targeted herbs and pharmaceuticals.
- Prevent and protect yourself from further exposures by living a clean and anti-inflammatory lifestyle that focuses on nutrient dense, whole food living.
Take back your power
I know personally the devastation that comes with being diagnosed with a chronic health issue that has destroyed life as you know it. It’s traumatic, grief-filled and exhausting both physically and emtotionally. Unfortunately, in order to regain your life after a life-altering autoimmune or chronic health diagnosis you have to mourn who you used to be before you got sick while trying to acccept who you have to be now in order to get well. And who you have to be now is someone who regains their power through making choices that influence your epigenetics.