Autoimmune Diseases Affect 50 Million Americans
In comparison, cancer affects up to 9M Americans and heart disease up to 22M Americans.
Today, there are close to 100 recognized autoimmune diseases (AD), and an additional 40 disease processes that have an autoimmune component.
The NIH estimates annual direct health care costs for AD to be in the range of $100B.
I recently learned through social media that people can get angry when you tell them autoimmunity is incurable, but this is because of confusion about the difference between cure and remission.
Cure means you have remedied the condition and need no further management or treatment. So far, this has not been possible with autoimmunity as identified in published scientific research.
Remission means you have dampened the expression of the autoimmune disease and it is not producing symptoms or damaging tissue. However, relapses can happen.
People can frequently drive their autoimmunity into remission with dietary, lifestyle, and nutritional factors to improve the quality of their lives. However, it’s important to know that putting your autoimmunity into remission — and keeping it there for long periods — is not a cure. I have seen patients become very demoralized when they relapsed because they believed they had cured their autoimmunity.
Even many practitioners don’t understand this and unknowingly give patients false promises. Understanding how autoimmunity works and having healthy expectations is essential to managing your condition. When you understand that relapses are a possibility, you are better equipped to deal with them when they happen and take the necessary steps to get back into remission more quickly.
Understanding autoimmune relapse and remission
Autoimmunity is a medical condition that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks and destroys their own body tissue. Any tissue in the body is subject to an autoimmune reaction. We identify autoimmunity through tissue antibodies in a blood test. Antibodies are immune cells that tag tissue to alert the immune system to attack it.
Relapse happens when the symptoms of an autoimmune disease flare up. This does not point to failure on the part of the patient or healthcare professional—many things can trigger a relapse. A severe stressor, an accidental exposure to an inflammatory trigger, emotional duress, or hormonal shifts are examples of things that can trigger relapses. Triggers sometimes change as we age and our immune systems shift.
Navigating autoimmune relapses
Despite the dedicated efforts of top scientists and researchers, autoimmunity is still considered incurable.
Instead, the goal of every clinician, healthcare professional, and patient should be to put autoimmunity into remission and maintain remission as long as possible.
However, understand that relapses happen.
Plan your strategy for an autoimmune relapse
Therefore, you want to have a strategy to exit a relapse as soon as possible. You do this by monitoring what works for you when you feel good:
What foods keep you in remission?
Which supplements help you stay in remission?
Identify the day-to-day lifestyle habits that keep you in remission.
What sort of exercise routine keeps you in remission?
Do you have personal and social interactions that help keep you in remission?
The goal is to understand the key factors that may have caused the relapse and create a viable plan to help you get back into remission.
The autoimmune relapse strategy to get back into remission
This may mean following a stricter anti-inflammatory diet for a while, taking some time off work, avoiding stressors, taking a break from your volunteer activities, and so forth.
Give yourself rest, relaxation, a calm environment, and an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle as much as possible.
You may also find increasing doses of anti-inflammatory supplements such as liposomal glutathione, resveratrol, and turmeric help. However, relapse is NOT the time to experiment with new supplements. Nor is it the time to binge on inflammatory comfort foods.
You may need to lessen the intensity of your workouts if you exercise regularly. Some physical movement can help dampen inflammation in your body, but overexercising is inflammatory. Incorporate an appropriate amount of movement without overdoing it.
Common misconceptions about autoimmune relapses and remission
Both conventional and alternative health care models largely operate under misconceptions and lack of education when it comes to autoimmunity.
As a patient, it is very important to understand the basics of autoimmunity and have realistic expectations. This will help you find the best healthcare professionals who understand your condition.
Different people have different reactions to autoimmune diseases and their treatments, even if they have the same disease. A personalized treatment plan developed through careful trial and error and close observation will help you stay in remission longer, minimize relapses, and get out of relapses faster.
Healthy expectations with autoimmunity
The goal is to get into remission and maintain it as long as possible without major flare-ups.
Evaluate how your diet, nutrition, lifestyle, job, and relationships impact your autoimmunity. These variables will play a large role in guiding your autoimmunity into remission if/when you relapse.
It is okay if a relapse occurs. Have a strategy in place to deal with it promptly and effectively so you get back to remission as soon as possible. Identify the triggers that caused a relapse and try to avoid them in the future.