The Pillars of Health for Autoimmune Mastery (Part 1)

autoimmune disease, hashimotos, graves, thyroid, Coeliac disease, Scleroderma, Alopecia, Endometriosis, Lupus,  SLE, Multiple sclerosis, MS, Lichen sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, Psoriasis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Bechet’s disease, messenteric panniculitis

Health is multifaceted. It is never just about what you put into your mouth or how many sessions you do at the gym each week.  True holistic health comes when we address ALL aspects of our health, including our physical, financial (yes, money is important as financial security helps us to feel safe), mental, emotional and spiritual needs.

Many people focus solely on diet when it comes to managing autoimmune disease, but as you will soon see, this is only one small step on the road to recovery. And if this is the only thing you change, you are unlikely to see the dramatic improvements you are hoping for.

Here are the first 5 of my top 10 pillars of health to help you master your autoimmune disease:

1. Diet

If you have ever consulted “Dr Google”, you would have found a vast array of conflicting information and dietary approaches when it comes to managing autoimmune disease. Most of them are so restrictive they are impossible to sustain in the longer term, and many such as the low FODMAP or autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet remove entire food groups that can essentially starve your gut bacteria, leading to further issues down the track. 

I advocate for a Mediterranean style diet that is rich in plant foods, high in fibre and essential fatty acids and has been consistently shown in the research to be potently anti-inflammatory.  Animal products are still important for the rich array of essential nutrients they provide us, but many of us eat far too much of them. As Michael Pollan famously said, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” 

Whilst starting from some basic guidelines, I work with my patients to tailor dietary interventions to suit their needs, depending on the severity of their symptoms and their tolerance to certain foods.  Diet is and should always be individual and not a one-size-fits-all approach.

2. Water

Water is essential. The end.

Okay, I should probably say a bit more here!  Your body is between 50-80% water and yet so many women I see are chronically dehydrated, severely impacting on their health and wellbeing. 

Every single cell in your body requires water to function. We need it to digest food and absorb nutrients, get rid of waste products, make our hormones and neurotransmitters, help our brains to function, prevent constipation (this one is a biggie) and regulate our body temperate, just to name a few. 

How much? Most people should aim for around 30ml/kg of body weight. So if you weight 70kg, you should be drinking a minimum of 2.1 litres of water every day.  If you are exercising heavily, you will need more. This can include herbal teas (but NOT coffee or tea as these dehydrate you).

So drink your water! No excuses.

3. Sleep

I don’t know about you, but if I have a terrible night’s sleep, I don’t function that well as a human the next day.

Good quality (and quantity) sleep is absolutely essential for health. Our bodies do a lot of regenerative work overnight including detoxification processes in the liver. By getting your zzz’s every night, you will boost immune function, be less stressed and in a much better mood (your family, friends and work colleagues will thank you for this) and improve blood glucose control and reduce your risk of weight gain and other metabolic diseases.

4. Movement

I think everyone here knows the benefits of exercise for your physical, mental and emotional health, but did you know the type of exercise you do as someone with autoimmune disease is also important?

If your favourite type of exercise is high intensity, such as running a half marathon or engaging in HIIT classes regularly, you could be making things worse. Why? Because high intensity exercise is actually inflammatory. Normally this is a good thing, especially when your immune system is doing its job properly, however for those with an autoimmune disease, it can result in a deranged response and increased oxidative stress.  You can read more about this here.

What is my advice? Continue to engage in regular exercise but reduce the intensity, at least in the short term while we get your inflammation under control. I recommend walking, cycling, swimming, yoga and pilates.

5. Community

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famous for saying “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  It is important to surround yourself with people who love and support you, especially when you are working to make positive changes for your health.  This is why I have built a community of like-minded people in my Autoimmune Mastery program who are all on the same path, to learn together, listen and support each other and celebrate each other’s successes.

Furthermore, being part of a community, spending time with friends and family and experiencing true connection with others is a basic human need (and right). If you don’t have this, go out and find your tribe. Surround yourself with awesome people and you will soon reap the benefits.

Want to know what numbers 6 through 10 are?  You can read part two here.

Denise Berry is a Naturopath who works with women with autoimmune disease to help them get their mojo back. She is a passionate advocate for educating, empowering and transforming the health of women and has helped hundreds of people improve their health and wellbeing.