The Autoimmune Spectrum: Take Back Your Health
Conventional medicine tells us that autoimmune disease is a black-or-white issue—you either have it or you don’t—and if you have it, you are destined to a life of painful symptoms and harsh medications. However, that’s simply not true. Instead, there is what I call “the autoimmune spectrum” and inflammation determines where you fall on that spectrum.
I coined this term back when I first began writing about autoimmunity, and thanks to my book, The Autoimmune Solution, it’s now become an established term in functional medicine to explain how autoimmune conditions develop, and more importantly, how to reverse them. You can also find this approach in The Autoimmune Solution online program.
My goal is to empower you and provide you with the tools I wish I had when conventional medicine failed me during my personal struggle with autoimmune disease. I want to help you get to the root of your autoimmunity so you can take back your health and avoid the harsh treatments that were pushed on me by conventional medicine.
The good news is that by reducing inflammation, you CAN work your way down the autoimmune spectrum and reverse your condition! By understanding the factors that contribute to inflammation, you can get to the root cause of your autoimmunity and start leading your best life.
Autoimmunity: Your Immune System Gone Rogue
Autoimmune disease develops where your immune system attacks healthy tissue in your body. When functioning optimally, your immune system attacks foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.1 A healthy immune system functions properly and knows the difference between your own cells and foreign invaders.
However, when you have autoimmune disease your immune system mistakes your joints, your skin, and even your organs as foreign invaders causing painful inflammation. The more inflammation you have, the further along the autoimmune spectrum you are. However, you can reverse your progress along the autoimmune spectrum. I’ll tell you how to reverse your autoimmune disease in just a bit.
Autoimmune disease comes in many forms and can affect different organs. For example, if you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks your thyroid. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it attacks your joints. If you have multiple sclerosis, your immune system attacks the protective coating on your nerve cells. At its core, autoimmune diseases are similar in that they are an immune response that leads your body to attack itself. If you have one autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop another. Regardless of what type of autoimmune disease you have, the true problem (and solution) is your immune system.
The Real Source Of Your Autoimmunity
Conventional medicine looks at the body as different systems working together. Functional medicine approaches the body as a whole. This means that conventional medicine views autoimmune diseases as diseases of particular organs, not as a disease of the immune system.
When you have autoimmunity, it means that somewhere along the way your immune system went rogue and began attacking your own tissues. It could be your thyroid under attack, your intestines, your skin, your brain, your pancreas, or another organ.
Regardless of what part of your body is under siege, the underlying problem is within your immune system. This means in order to prevent and reverse your autoimmune disease you’ll need to get to the root of your problem by getting your immune system functioning optimally.
Inflammation and The Autoimmune Spectrum
So what induced your immune system to go rogue in the first place? One word: inflammation. Nearly everyone in our modern society has at least some inflammation thanks to our modern lifestyles. The five factors that I’ve identified in my patients that lead to chronic inflammation are diet, leaky gut, toxin exposure, infections, and chronic stress, or a combination of these factors.
For many people, diet is their primary source of inflammation, particularly gluten and dairy, as well as corn, soy, grains, and legumes.
Even those of us with a clean diet are exposed to thousands of environmental toxins that contribute to inflammation every day in the form of plastics, pesticides, herbicides, and hormones in our food, heavy metal exposure from fish and dental fillings, air and water pollution, and the list goes on and on.
Family history can also impact where you fall on the spectrum. The more relatives you have with an autoimmune condition, the higher your risk is, especially when it’s a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling. Even so, genetics only account for about 25% of the chance that you will develop an autoimmune disease. That means the remaining 75% of the picture is environmental—and therefore up to you. I find that an incredibly empowering statistic.
Once you figure out where you fall on the spectrum, you can assess your risk for developing autoimmunity. If you’ve already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you can reduce inflammatory factors in your life and work your way back down the spectrum.
The Autoimmune Spectrum
Think of the autoimmune spectrum as five stages ranging from 1 to 5 with 5 being the worst and 1 being the best. At the low end of the autoimmune spectrum, you have no inflammation or very mild symptoms. Your immune system is functioning optimally. You may get occasional acne, digestive issues, and fatigue, although these tend to come and go, and you haven’t begun to show signs of chronic illness.
Toward the middle of the spectrum are those who experience symptoms of chronic inflammation that have not yet turned into full-blown autoimmune disorders. These conditions might include joint pain, obesity, allergies, muscle aches, fatigue, and digestive issues. Although you don’t have an autoimmune condition at this point, your risk is higher if you do not address your root cause of your inflammation through lifestyle changes.
Finally, at the high end of the spectrum are those who can be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. While conventional doctors would doom you to being on medications for the rest of your life, there are simple lifestyle changes you can adopt to live a healthy and symptom-free life.
By addressing the root cause of inflammation, you can stop your immune system’s attack on your tissues. That way you can work your way back down the spectrum. I have a four-step approach to help you do just that. I call it The Myers Way®. I’ll discuss the four pillars of The Myers Way® shortly. Before I do that, let’s talk about how you can move up and down the autoimmune spectrum.
Life Happens: Moving Back Up the Autoimmune Spectrum
Right before I wrote my second New York Times Bestseller, “The Thyroid Connection,” I was at the healthiest point of the autoimmune spectrum. I was feeling great and all of my autoimmune markers were negative. However, life happens and it’s easy to get off track.
I added more variety into my diet. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t go crazy and start eating gluten. However, I reintroduced some of the foods I knew I could tolerate in moderation, including rice, legumes, and eggs. I was also traveling, so I ate at restaurants more and was sometimes eating foods that were not organic. Additionally, I enjoyed a gluten-free, dairy-free dessert on occasion.
Then I became really, really sick. Several of my inflammatory markers were higher than I wanted them to be. I was moving in the wrong direction along the autoimmune spectrum. Something was wrong, and I needed to figure out what. After lots of testing and lots of digging, my husband, Xavier, and I discovered toxic mold in our house.
We moved to a newly built apartment, and I became even more ill from the off-gassing of the building materials, wall-to-wall carpeting, and composite wood cabinets. Even leaving the house was a risk because I became so sensitive to certain chemicals. I never knew what would cause me to break out in a bright red rash. I became so sick that I actually slept on our outdoor balcony for a month so I knew that I was breathing fresh, clean air at night!
The Myers Way® for Life
The important lesson in my story is that life happens to all of us. Even the healthiest people can move in the wrong direction on the autoimmune spectrum. They also experience symptoms again because of circumstances that are out of our control.
That is why it is so important to remember that you always have the power. You can work your way back down the autoimmune spectrum by getting 100% back on board with The Myers Way®.
I call my program The Myers Way® because it really is a way of life. Life may throw you a curveball. However, you can control your place on the autoimmune spectrum using the four pillars of The Myers Way®.
Pillar I: Heal Your Gut
Did you know that 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Without a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system. Without a healthy immune system, you’re open to infections, inflammation, and autoimmune disease. When your gut loses the ability to discriminate between the good and the bad bacteria, you have a leaky gut. You can address your gut by following the 4Rs:
- Remove: Get rid of inflammatory foods that contribute to an unbalanced gut, such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. You’ll also need to ditch toxic foods, including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Restore: Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that have been depleted by diet, medications (such as antacids), chronic illness, or aging. This includes digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and bile acids that are required for proper digestion.
- Reinoculate: Restore beneficial bacteria to reestablish a healthy gut microbiome balance of good bacteria. This can be accomplished by taking a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species.
- Repair: Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself is essential. My most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut is Leaky Gut Revive® powder, which contains powerful gut-repairing ingredients l-glutamine, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm and marshmallow root.
Pillar II: Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
Leaky gut puts you on the autoimmune spectrum, which is why healing your gut is the first pillar of The Myers Way®. Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to make lifestyle and diet changes to put you on the path toward optimal health. One of the best ways to do that is through diet and eliminating foods that are causing inflammation and damage to your intestinal tract: Gluten, grains, and legumes.
Grains, pseudo-grains (like quinoa), and legumes contain similar proteins as gluten and dairy that contribute to leaky gut by damaging intestinal cells, opening the tight junctions of the gut lining, and feeding unfriendly bacteria to create gut dysbiosis.
If you are following an elimination diet and determined that you don’t have a sensitivity, you can reintroduce them. Grains, pseudograins, legumes, and a few other foods will likely need to stay out of your diet for good. I don’t recommend that anyone add gluten back into their diet.
Pillar III: Tame the Toxins
About 80% of the healing for most people occurs after addressing pillar I and II. If you haven’t fallen back on the autoimmune spectrum, you need to dig deeper and reduce exposure to toxins. A toxin is any substance that is poison to your body. It includes heavy metals like mercury, industrial chemicals in your household products, and pesticides. Toxins even lurk in your body products.
We breathe in, eat, drink, and absorb toxins. Each exposure adds to your body’s toxic burden. If you have a leaky gut, a poor diet, infections, and stress, even the smallest exposure can cause your toxic burden to be too much. When you reach this level, you fall down the autoimmune spectrum. Here are the best solutions to address your toxic burden:
- Clean your air. You may not be able to clean the air outside, but you can keep the air inside your home as toxin-free as possible. I recommend getting a HEPA filter for your home and office. I use AirDoctor® purifiers, which use HEPA technology that is more effective than traditional HEPA filters.
- Clean your water. Install water filters on your sinks and shower taps. I myself have a full-house filtration system from Aquasana. Avoid drinking out of plastic bottles (even BPA-free plastics).
- Buy clean food. Eat organic whenever possible. It can be expensive, so when you can only buy some things organic, buy grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught seafood.
- Buy clean body products. Many personal care products are made with hormone-mimicking chemicals that can be absorbed through your skin.
Pillar IV: Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress
When I saw a patient that has not experienced full reversal of their symptoms and reversed their progress on the autoimmune spectrum after addressing Pillar I and II, I knew we had more work to do. Once Pillar III was addressed, and I determined that toxins weren’t the issue or were addressed, I focused on underlying infections and stress. Some common infections included Herpes simplex (HSV) and Epstein-Barr (EBV).
Stress is also important to address. Stress is a release of hormones that your body produces when it’s met with a challenge. The number one stress hormone is cortisol. When you’re in a stressful situation, cortisol tells your immune system to buckle up for a fight. Your immune system responds by producing inflammation, and then cortisol signals your immune system to calm down when the danger has passed.
When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never gets a break and your inflammatory immune response is activated for too long. Eventually, your immune system goes rogue and attacks healthy tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard, leaving you with a weakened immune system.
Adopt daily stress-relieving strategies. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Controlled Breathing: When you find yourself overwhelmed with stress, take a moment to breathe. Meditation is a great tool to help reduce your stress.
- Dance: In the words of Taylor Swift, just “Shake it Off.” Just moving your body can help you literally “shake off” your stress.
- Music: Just listening to music for a half hour can reduce your cortisol levels.
- Gentle exercise: Try yoga, or a long walk in a natural setting.
Being told you have an autoimmune disease isn’t a life sentence. I have seen thousands of patients take back their health and reverse their place on the autoimmune spectrum. I even experienced it personally.I created The Myers Way® to empower you to take back your health by getting to the root cause of the problem so you can live a normal life and reverse your autoimmune disease.
- What Is Your Immune System?. Camille Noe Pagán. WebMD. 2021.
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