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Our immune system is designed to protect us from the outside world. If a pathogen gets into our body, our immune system is activated to defend against the invader. However, in autoimmune disease, the immune system has been stimulated in a way to label its own tissue as the enemy. At the core of any autoimmune disease is an immune system that has become dysregulated.
The first step with most naturopathic or functional medicine doctors is to change diet to be whole foods based, organic if possible with grass fed meat, to get enough sleep, to learn to regulate blood sugar with adequate fat and protein, to remove environmental toxins that confuse the body, and to test for undiagnosed infections that could be chronically engaging the immune system. There is a tremendous focus on what elements in the physical environment are driving immune system activation, dysregulation and subsequent autoimmunity.
To be clear, I think these lifestyle factors are massively important and I am not devaluing their role in contributing to disease. They are a necessary step. However, I think we are missing a big piece of the puzzle when we exclusively focus here.
Has anyone else had the experience of going on a diet like the autoimmune paleo diet (AIP) in which it helped initially, but became obsessed with the belief that if you could just identify all your food allergies, your symptoms of AI would go away? Or when symptoms would present seemingly out of the blue, your mind would go into overdrive cataloging your diet in painful detail over the last few days to find where you slipped up?
I remember the words, what did I do to make this happen repeating again and again in my brain. I was taking all the supplements to regulate my immune system, was resting adequately, had learned to stabilize blood sugar, had gotten out of a moldy house, but my symptoms persisted.
I had the belief that if I could just restrict a little bit more and create the perfect physical environment, my symptoms would go away. I think a lot of people are stuck at this point in their healing journey and I believe this level of hypervigilance, control and fear around our physical environment is part of the problem and not the solution.
What I am most curious about right now in my own healing process and my journey to becoming a naturopathic doctor is how our belief systems, relationship to self, past experiences, unfelt emotions, past trauma, and connection to spirit shape how our immune system responds to the world to either create health or promote disease.
These components matter just as much as the food we put in our bodies and the supplements we take. And yet much of medicine chooses to ignore these areas because they are not black and white, easy to work with or always clear.
Addressing these areas requires a willingness to go to uncomfortable places within ourselves, to engage with how we are telling our life stories, to observe how we are talking to ourselves, to feel unfelt emotional pain, to work through the conditioning from past experiences, parents and society, and to have grace for ourselves in the process as we begin to ask the hard questions about what’s truly causing us dis-ease.
This path of discovery is not the easy path, but I deeply believe it is the way through to a life that is deeply meaningful and in-alignment with our who-ness in the world. Health is in this place.
So where do you start? What can you do today to begin to go into the deeper layers of what is driving your dis-ease?
I would encourage you to do an experiment with me. Every morning for the next week, I want you to make the commitment to get up early enough to have 30 minutes for yourself before the day is off to the races.
Light a candle and find a place in your home where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes and just notice how you feel in your body. This is not about perfect meditation technique. This is about the intention and desire to listen to your body. When you are in a state of present listening, say the words in your mind:
Body, I am here to listen. What do you want me to know and understand?