One of the frustrating things about autoimmune disease is the lack of common ground. Everyone’s diagnosis and cures are unique to themselves.
What works for one person, may not work for another.
Knowing your triggers helps you navigate through your symptoms and find answers. Learning what your triggers are is paramount. It is a way for you to control the severity of symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
There are many triggers to autoimmune disease, which means a LOT of information! We want you to digest this information slowly and completely. To make it easier we’ve divided our piece on triggers into two parts – non-food triggers and food triggers. We will discuss food triggers next week, so stay tuned!
We all have bacteria in our digestive tracts. These bacteria are also called gut flora and aid in breaking down food. There are both good flora and bad flora. Your healthy gut flora helps maintain balance. If the bacteria are out of balance, it can perpetuate deterioration in the walls of the digestive system. This deterioration can lead to leaky gut. Leaky gut is a common trigger of many autoimmune diseases. So, it is important to maintain your well-balanced digestive system flora. Bacterial imbalances can trigger lupus, inflammatory bowel diseases, and multiple sclerosis.
There is a plethora of nutritional and environmental autoimmune diseases triggers. These triggers move into action when combined with genetics. Autoimmune diseases are often hereditary. It is not uncommon for multiple patients within the same family to have the same conditions. This does not mean you are destined to develop autoimmunity but it means you may be predisposed. Predisposition from genetics is key to set off an autoimmune reaction. Knowing and dodging your triggers can help you stay in control. You can lessen the severity of flare-ups so your disease will not progress as fast.
Something simple like washing your hands can make a huge difference! Viral infections are a major trigger of autoimmune diseases. If your body becomes infected with a virus, your immune system immediately reacts. It attacks the foreign bodies that carry the virus. With an autoimmune disease, your immune system continues to attack the healthy cells. This happens even after the virus is gone. With autoimmune disease the immune system gets confused. The healthy cells resemble the virus and trigger an autoimmune disease flare-up. You need to take more health precautions than someone without autoimmune disease.
Second to infections, stress is the most common trigger of autoimmune flares. Stress effects change to all systems in your body. It spares nothing. It increases blood pressure, creates inflammation, and affects digestion. Sleep is huge. To avoid stress, make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Make time for yourself each day, or at least 3-4 times per week. Eat well, plenty of vegetables and healthy meals. Draw boundaries and ask for her where you need it. Limit your responsibilities. If stress starts triggering an autoimmune reaction, discuss possible treatment plans to prevent continued flare-ups with a functional medicine trained doctor.
It is counter-intuitive to think that the sun, in moderation, wouldn’t be good for our health. Sunlight is beneficial for most people and can boost vitamin D! Unfortunately, sunshine can trigger autoimmune reactions in some. Sunshine should only be avoided if you have a sensitivity to it which aligns with some autoimmune conditions. Research finds that women are at a higher risk for developing myositis if they have more UV exposure. (Myositis is an inflammation of the muscles.) No one can avoid the sun completely. But, taking precautions can help to reduce the risk of autoimmune disease flare-ups. Wear hats, sunscreen, and long-sleeved lightweight clothes in the summer for best protection.
It is a tough challenge to avoid environmental toxins. Thanks to pollution these toxins are a constant threat. Microparticles you ingest from water, food, and air can trigger an autoimmune response. One of the most common toxic substances to the body is mercury. Our exposure to mercury is only a couple hundred years old. So, our bodies have not built up a biological resistance. This makes mercury a serious autoimmune disease trigger. Precautions? Avoid polluted cities and filter your water.
Often an individuals’ autoimmune disease started with a trigger from a prescribed medication. This condition is a drug-induced autoimmune disease. It is more common with some diseases than others. Lupus is often triggered from prescribed medication. Genetics play a large role here. With drug-induced autoimmune disease manifestation, a patient has genes that cause that disease. This phenomenon links to specific heart medications, antibiotics, and anticonvulsants. Research estimates show that close to 100 different medications cause drug-induced autoimmune disease.
Dr. Tiffany Caplan & Dr. Brent Caplan
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Board Certified in Integrative Medicine
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Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner