What a controversial topic….. Every time I dare imply that it is possible to heal from autoimmunity I get angry messages from people all over the world. There is no cure! They all scream with deep rooted belief. My disease is genetic and there is nothing I can do about it.
Yes, that is what your Rheumatologist told you, but did you know that there is a whole world of functional medicine practitioners out there, that have different opinions. Now these aren’t Mickey Mouse doctors. They are highly qualified medical doctors who have treated hundreds of autoimmune disease patients. Functional medicine differs vastly from conventional medicine. Where conventional medicine would typically treat the symptoms of your disease with medicine, functional medicine sees your body as a whole and would first identify the cause of your disease and then find ways to address the cause as part of a holistic treatment plan.
So what do these experts have to say?
In her book, The Autoimmune Solution, Amy Myers MD explains that there is a genetic component to autoimmune disorders. But twin studies have shown that autoimmunity is only 25% heritable, which means that the environment is a far more significant part of the picture: 75% to be exact. She continues by saying that we have learned from epigenetics that genetic expression can be modified. For you to develop an autoimmune disease, something in your environment, diet, or personal circumstances has to turn on the group of your genes that causes autoimmune disorders. Once those genes are turned on, you CAN turn them off, or at least turn them down. Through diet, intestinal healing and reducing your toxic burden, you can instruct your problematic genes to turn off again, thereby restoring your beleaguered immune system to health.
According to Sarah Ballantyne, Phd, experts are increasingly recognizing that certain dietary factors are key contributors to autoimmune disease, placing these autoimmune conditions in the same class of diet- and lifestyle-related diseases as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. This means that autoimmune disease is directly linked to our food choices and how we decide to live our lives. It also means that we can manage and reverse autoimmune disease simply by changing how you eat and making more informed choices about sleep, activity, and stress… and that’s some pretty darned good news!
According to Mark Hyman, MD, most people tend to attribute far too much power to their genes. He’s seen thousands of patients who have blamed genetics for their ailments and diseases, however it is your lifestyle washing over your genes that determines who you are in any moment. What you eat, how you move, how you restore your system, along with your thoughts, feelings and social connections regulate your genes. And those genes end up creating the expression of who you are and how you are. You can turn on genes that create health or disease, weight gain or weight loss. Some genes can predispose you to obesity, type 2 diabetes or heart disease (and autoimmune disease). But predisposition is not pre-destiny. 90% of our current health is controlled by the environment in which we bathe our genes – the food we eat, our exercise regimen, our resilience in the face of stress and our exposure to environmental toxins. You don’t have to sit back and accept that you’re doomed to be sick.
In his book, 10 Reasons You Get Old and Feel Fat…: And How YOU Can Stay Young, Slim, and Happy!, Frank Lipman MD takes on the myth that our genes are more powerful than our choices. He discusses genetic tendencies that can be affected by changes in lifestyle and diet including Alzheimer’s, anxiety, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. While your genes play some role, for the most part, they are not the main determinant of your health. In fact, what matters more is your “exposome” – the environment to which your genes are exposed. Over 90 percent of chronic disease is determined by your exposome.
Chris Kresser M.S confirms this in a 2019 article where he states that while autoimmune disease has become commonplace in the industrialized world, it’s rare or nonexistent in contemporary hunter-gatherers living a traditional lifestyle. This fact, along with the dramatic rise in autoimmune disease over the past half century, suggests that environmental factors—rather than genetics—are to blame. These factors include the modern, western diet, chronic stress, changes in gut microbiota, environmental toxins, sleep deprivation, vitamin D deficiency, reduced sun exposure, and perhaps several other currently unidentified aspects of the modern lifestyle. These factors don’t just trigger autoimmune disease in the first place, they also perpetuate and exacerbate it. So while autoimmune disease may not be completely curable (i.e. it disappears without a trace), removing the triggers can often lead to a significant reduction in symptoms or even complete remission (which, for all intents and purposes, is a cure).
Yes, your genes do play a role, but how you live your life is up to you. Let’s ask that question again. Is it possible to reclaim your life from autoimmunity? Well, my answer is: YES! And if you’re still not convinced, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try. You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. You decide!