Lifestyle Changes for Autoimmune Diseases

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Autoimmune diseases are life-changing and require cooperation from those who have been diagnosed. Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s own immune system to attack itself, leading to a wide range of ailments and illnesses.

Some of the most notorious autoimmune diseases include Lupus, Hashimoto’s, AIDs, and even Rheumatoid Arthritis. Most patients diagnosed with an autoimmune disease often suffer from additional autoimmune diseases, as they tend to work together to actively destroy the body.

While cures are not always available for autoimmune diseases, there are a few lifestyle changes that help to drastically improve the quality of life for those who struggle with a variety of diagnoses.

Improve Diet and Nutrition

The first thing to discuss in terms of changing your lifestyle to help manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease is with your diet. This might not be what you want to hear, but it is very important in order to be successful.

Why Diet?

Diet and nutrition are extremely important for those suffering from an autoimmune disease. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and refined sugar help to feed inflammation and trigger pain throughout the joints and muscles of the body. If you are eating a standard diet with a lot of bread, rice, pasta, baked goods, and other sources of sugar and carbs, it is only making your symptoms worse.

Diet Options for Autoimmune Diseases

Some of the most popular ways of eating for those with autoimmune diseases include the Paleo and Ketogenic diets. While Paleo allows for whole grains and foods, the ketogenic lifestyle requires an increase in your fat intake, prompting the system to work using ketones from the brain rather than relying on glucose. The ketogenic has had wild success within the autoimmune community as it helps to regulate the body’s functions while decreasing pain, memory loss, brain fog, and inflammation.

More Dietary Recommendations

Avoid sugary drinks such as soda or juice and instead, opt for naturally-flavored water. Increase your water intake to keep your body flushing toxins. Steer clear of eating out or stopping at fast food joints unless you are familiar with the ingredients used in your chosen meal.

Prep your meals at home at least one day each week to eliminate cravings and feeling tempted to fall back into previous eating habits which led to negative side effects with your autoimmune disease.

When you have an autoimmune disease, speak to your doctor about a diet that is best for you based on your condition and whether or not you have struggled with kidney disease or insulin resistance in the past. One of the best ways to avoid inflammation, brain fog, and the inability to live without pain is to move towards a low-carb way of eating.

2. Avoid the Sun and Excessive Heat

Moving on from diet is ways to protect your skin and overall health. Autoimmune diseases are often triggered by exposure to the sun and excessive heat. When an individual with an autoimmune disease spends an afternoon in the hot heat and sun, they are much more likely to experience a “flare”, or a crisis within the body triggered by the autoimmune disease itself.

Flare-ups last anywhere from a few days to more than a month, and are entirely unpredictable. Flare-ups also trigger a wide range of symptoms and attack various parts of the body ranging from the eyes and brain to the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Protect yourself by spending time outdoors only once the sun has gone down or in cooler weather, where there is less risk of experiencing a flare.

Wear Sunproof Clothing and Use High-Quality Sunscreen 

It is not always easy for a patient with autoimmune diseases to spend all of their time indoors feeling cooped up. When you want to go outdoors or spend some time in the sun with family and friends, invest in sunproof clothing that is specifically designed for those with autoimmune afflictions.

Purchase a sunhat and invest in sunscreen that is high-quality and meant for those who have serious reactions to the sun. It is also important to limit your time in the sun and to retreat to shade or an indoor area if you begin to experience fatigue, respiratory issues, or feelings of nausea.

These small changes can protect your skin from the sun, and hopefully keep some of those uncomfortable and often painful flare-ups from occurring.

 Listen to Your Body 

Listening to your body is one of the most important lifestyle changes autoimmune patients need to make in order to better their overall quality of life. When you feel tired, tend to your body and take rests and naps as needed. If you are struggling with inflammation and pain, rest and evaluate your eating habits or the possible causes of your symptoms.

Seek out specialists ranging from endocrinologists and dermatologists to nephrologists, rheumatologists, and neurologists to build a support group of physicians who understand your diagnosis.

Autoimmune patients have a weakened immune system which requires additional attention that is not always necessary for individuals living with a healthy body. If you are unable to attend an event, explain your situation and find comfort in friends and family members who are caring and truly understand your health issues.

Keep Track of Symptoms and Flare-Ups 

If you have been suffering from an autoimmune disease for a while, this will probably not be a big surprise for you. But it is imperative that you understand your own symptoms and triggers for flare-ups.

What is a Trigger?

You already know what a flare-up is – it is when your symptoms return, whether that is redness and acne on your face, joint pain, fatigue, or other forms of chronic pain. You might experience some of these at all times, but with a flare-up, they tend to worsen and are often more difficult to manage.

The trigger is what caused the flare-up. Depending on your body and type of autoimmune disease, this could be the aforementioned sun exposure, or something wrong with your gut that then causes other symptoms to flare up.

Foods are often causes of flare-ups as well, with these being the most common trigger foods:

Nightshade vegetables
Dairy (if you have an allergy)

How to Track Your Symptoms

Keep track of symptoms and flare-ups you experience by using a journal or an online blog. Track your diet with a daily food log and write other physical activities or outings you partake in to determine what is most likely triggering flares. Because autoimmune impacts all individuals differently, it is essential to know how your body responds to outside environments and lifestyle changes.

What to Track – You should be as meticulous as you can with your tracking journal. For each entry, write the date and time, including when the symptoms started and when they were relieved (if at all). You also want to track what you think the trigger could have been, such as eating a certain type of food, and what symptoms you ended up with.

5. Find Support Groups

When you are first diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it feels daunting and overwhelming. Friends and family are unlikely to understand and have a difficult time empathizing with how you feel each day. Reach out to both local and online support groups to meet others who struggle with autoimmune diseases to feel less alone and less isolated from those in your life.

While it often takes time to share how you are feeling with close friends and loved ones, those who are truly there for you will take the time to learn more about your situation. Share research papers, blogs, and useful tidbits to others on your social media to bring awareness to your cause and to help spread the word of how autoimmune impacts daily life.

It is never easy living with an autoimmune disease, especially due to the lack of research and awareness of autoimmune throughout the world. While autoimmune patients are not likely to ever feel 100% healthy again, the right lifestyle changes and adequate support provides a positive outlook and the ability to maintain control over most aspects of your life.

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