It was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend when I stopped by the lab to pick up the results of the blood test I had done earlier that week.
I remember it very clearly – we were only a few hours away from heading out for a long camping weekend with friends.
I scurried through the busy parking lot back to my Jeep trying not to peek at the results as I dodge and weave through the parked cars.
The door was barely shut behind me as I studied the test results.
My eyes opened wide and my jaw dropped when I read: “Positive ANA for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), scleroderma and polymyositis”.
I knew I’d been feeling crummy for quite a while at that point, but I figured it was just a wonky thyroid or something like that. I never dreamed I would end up with an autoimmune disease – let alone three of them.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by it though, everyone in my family had autoimmune issues but they were mostly of the digestive kind – namely Crohn’s and colitis.
I sat there in the car for almost an hour Googling each one on my iPhone. I identified with several characteristics of each one.
Then I read something that made me choke on my own breath. “People with lupus can die from the disease.”
I sat there for a few moments and pondered my own mortality, something us 30 somethings rarely do. While my mind raced with images of all the things I’d never get to do and all of my friends and family I’d leave behind, I came to a halting conclusion.
There’s no way in hell lupus or any other autoimmune disease is going to beat me.
When I got back from camping that weekend I set out on a new journey – a journey to discover:
- The root cause of my autoimmune conditions.
- An effective protocol to reverse each disease and rebuild my health.
…without pharmaceuticals merely suppressing all my symptoms.
I’d say my journey was a success.
In this blog post I will share with you the 6 little-known steps to reversing lupus and related autoimmune diseases.
Let’s dive in.
6 Steps to Reversing Lupus & Related Autoimmune Diseases
After completing numerous functional biochemistry and nutrition courses, geeking out in the latest lupus research studies and trial and error on myself I came up with a 6 step strategy for reversing lupus and all the other crazy autoimmune conditions that come along with it.
Step 1: Control stress and balance hormones.
“Stress” in this case can be defined as any emotional and/or physical stressors that contribute to overall stress body burden.
Emotional stresses can be a stressful job, taking care of kids or losing a loved one.
Physical stresses can be exercising too much, food sensitivities or unknown bacterial infections.
With today’s hectic lifestyle, it’s no wonder why people have multiple emotional AND physical stressors at one time.
The ongoing chronic stress is definitely a drain on the body, especially effecting your hormone balance, from cortisol and DHEA to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, to name a few.
When these hormones exist in levels that are too high or too low in relation to the others, the body will not run optimally.
There is a HUGE hormonal connection to Lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Hormonal imbalance can also lead to extreme chronic fatigue, PCOS, infertility, diabetes, hypoglycemia, fibroids, emotional issues, and more.
That’s why it is so important to get a handle on stress levels.
To ease emotional stress remember to take a few minutes every day as a time out. Try doing yoga, mediate for 10 minutes or go for a long walk outside.
The physical stress can be a little more challenging but working with a skilled functional practitioner can help you not only discover which physical stressors are at play but also eliminate them.
A Functional Health Practitioner or Functional Nutrition Consultant can run the appropriate bloodwork to test your hormone levels as well as help you identify which physical stressors may be ailing you (see step 4).
Step 2: Do an elimination diet based on real food.
If you have an autoimmune disease it is highly likely you will also have food sensitivities as well.
If you don’t have foods that you knowingly react to, there are foods that will cause damage to your gut and cause unnecessary stress and inflammation to your body.
Therefore, it’s necessary to eliminate all foods with the potential for doing so.
Foods that should be initially eliminated include:
- gluten (and anything that cross reacts with gluten)
- nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers)
Not only that, but the foods that you do consume should be:
- made up of real food
- mostly plant based
- nutrient dense
“Real” food is anything that grows in nature that isn’t highly processed, manufactured in a plant and sold in a bag, box or can.
Real food includes:
- meats (particularly grass-fed)
- healthy fats
Food that is highly processed isn’t real and should be avoided all together.
This type of diet is essentially an elimination diet.
The very best and most comprehensive elimination diet for anyone with lupus or other autoimmune diseases is The Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP.
I recently wrote a post where I provide a comprehensive AIP cheat sheet of all the foods to avoid and those to consume so definitely check that out.
I feel so strongly that the AIP is essential for anyone with lupus or other autoimmune issues that I did it myself for 4 months last year before transitioning to more of a simple plant based Paleo diet that I follow now.
I had great success on the AIP – I decreased my inflammation, my cholesterol and lost 12 pounds. It even helped to eliminate some of the nutrient deficiencies I had.
Speaking of nutrient deficiencies…
Step 3: Replace nutrient deficiencies.
Most people with autoimmunity have numerous nutrient deficiencies so you will want to work on replenishing the ones you have.
This is accomplished through eating more of the foods that have the particular nutrients you are lacking (maybe by eating as per the AIP protocol as described above) as well as supplementing with high quality nutritional supplements.
The most common nutritional deficiency associated with Lupus is Vitamin D. In fact, in a 2006 study it was discovered that 67% of the test subjects with lupus had inadequate Vitamin D levels.
In that same study, 18% of the subjects with lupus were critically deficient in Vitamin D.
Deficiencies in vitamin B12, as well as various minerals, such as Magnesium and Zinc, are also often associated with Lupus.
How do you know what nutritional deficiencies YOU have?
Standard blood work and/or a urine organic acids profile can identify your specific needs if the results are read by a practitioner who can analyze the results functionally.
Why hasn’t your doctor told you about your deficiencies? They’re likely too conventional to read the results this in depth. If they were, you’d have known about your nutritional deficiencies already.
Step 4: Boost digestion and heal the gut.
Poor digestion and assimilation of protein from the small intestine into the bloodstream is often the root cause of autoimmunity.
Regarding digestion, stress, nutrient deficiencies and gut bacteria overgrowth can result in a decrease of stomach acid.
Stomach acid is essential for breaking down protein in the stomach so they can be assimilated as amino acids in the small intestine.
If you don’t have enough stomach acid to do this, you end up with larger than normal pieces of protein entering your small intestine.
Once the protein enters the small intestine it is broken down further by digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
Normally, amino acids should now be available to be absorbed through the cells of the small intestine into the blood stream. However, in people with autoimmune conditions, the larger pieces of protein actually leak out in between damaged gut cells, something we call “leaky gut“, and this sets off a CHRONIC IMMUNE RESPONSE by the body.
A Functional Health Practitioner or Functional Nutrition Consultant can help you determine if you need digestive support. There are tests for leaky gut, however, if you have an autoimmune condition then it’s safe to assume that you have it.
Step 5: Find your hidden infections.
Stress of any kind is a huge stimulus for autoimmune disease and the chronic stress that results from a hidden underlying infection can be why you are struggling today.
Many people don’t realize that it’s easy to get a parasite, bacteria or fungus in the gut that doesn’t belong there (or that should be there but only in much smaller quantities).
However, it’s actually quite easy if digestion and gut integrity is compromised (hint: it is).
Giardia, h. pylori and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) are just a few well known examples. They cause chronic inflammation, damage the gut, and provide ongoing stress to your body.
That’s a prime set up for autoimmune issues!
Chronic gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, GERD, or ulcers are indicators that one should look to be tested for pathogens.
There is a simple 3 day stool test that can be administered by a Functional Health Practitioner.
SIBO can be tested for using a breath test and often times even a urine organic acids test.
Don’t worry, if one or more of these buggers are detected, treatment is a simple course of a natural herbal protocol specific for each bug for 30-60 days and then retest.
Step 6: Eliminate toxic overload.
Toxins such as iron, mercury, copper and cadmium are common in today’s environment and can lead to inflammation, poor detoxification and autoimmune issues.
Metal fillings, consuming contaminated seafood or having nutrient deficiencies are all ways we become toxic, just to name a few.
You can test for toxic overload of these minerals using a hair mineral analysis test by a Functional Medicine Practitioner. It’s inexpensive and can reveal a number of potential issues.
Moving forward, try to avoid toxic overload by refusing metal fillings from your dentist (and even having metal fillings removed), consuming smaller fish like mackerel and sardines instead of larger fish like tuna and swordfish that carry more mercury in them, and making sure you are eating a nutrient dense diet of vegetables, fruits, meat, and healthy fats.
Why “Reverse” Lupus and Not “Cure” Lupus?
According to The Lupus Research Institute:
While there is no cure for lupus, early diagnosis and treatment can help in managing the symptoms and lessoning the chance of permanent damage to organs or tissues.”
And over at The Lupus Foundation of America:
At the present time there is no cure for lupus, but there are effective treatments. However, many people with lupus can have a full and rewarding life with the help of doctors, a good support system, and lifestyle changes.”
Both of these sources focuses on “treatments”, i.e. pharmaceutical treatments that only suppress symptoms. They make no mention of “reversing” lupus by figuring out what is causing it in the first place and working to alleviate those issues.
Are you doomed because there’s no cure for lupus?
According to Phoenix Helix:
If a cure isn’t possible, what’s the point? The point is that you can get better. With autoimmune disease, the path is typically a downward spiral. Even with medication, your health deteriorates, you lose abilities, and your life can eventually feel like something impossible to survive. Reversing autoimmune disease is about reversing that process. Your health improves, you regain abilities, and your life can become full and beautiful again. It may not be perfect, but it’s certainly worthwhile.”
I maintain that the only way to really reverse and heal from autoimmune disorders is to discover the root cause(s) and work to eliminate them. Only then will you be able to finally live your life to the fullest.