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Travel tips to prevent autoimmune flares on the go

711 healthy travel

Although managing an autoimmune condition requires us extra care with diet, stress levels, sleep, and exertion, that doesn’t mean making travel off limits. Many people with autoimmunity have learned how to travel flare-free, even though it may take some extra prep time before hand. Be mindful to go into a travel experience with the mentality for a slow and steady marathon and not an all-out sprint.

Although travel can be busy and distracting, self-care must always be a priority. Taking command of some travel basics will allow you to relax and better enjoy your trip so you can come home rejuvenated instead of needing a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Here are some tips to manage your autoimmune condition while traveling.

Know what to expect food-wise and plan ahead

The autoimmune diet, or some version of it that works for you, will prevent you from flaring and crashing. Do some research and planning to make sure you can stick to it on your journey.

For instance, is there food you can safely eat where you’re going? Find out if there are health food stores in your area, or gluten-free friendly restaurants that serve other safe foods.

If you’re staying in a hotel room, make sure it will include a mini fridge or ask them to have one in your room. Some people even bring their own mini crockpot or hot plate to heat up frozen meals — stews, curries, stir fries — they cooked ahead of time.

Bring safe snack foods for when you’re stuck on a plane or on the road so hunger doesn’t tempt you to stray into dietary danger zones. Ideas include coconut chips, beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, nuts and nut butter packets (if you’re ok with nuts), and other filling snacks.

Bring glutathione support. Travel includes many stressors, such as lack of sleep, jet lag, different time zones, long days, unfamiliar environments, crowds, and so on. Stress is hard on the body, but glutathione is a great defense system that works well for many people. Glutathione is the body’s main antioxidant and it helps keep inflammation and flare-ups under control. It basically protects cells from damage caused by stress and toxins.

Glutathione is not absorbable orally on its own but glutathione precursors are N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle. You can also take s-acetyl-glutathione, or liquid liposomal glutathione. A topical glutathione cream may help too.

Is your hotel room overly toxic? Call your hotel and ask whether scents are used in the rooms. Some hotels offer room options for extra sensitive people, such as allergy-free bedding, air purifiers, and windows that open.

Carry a mask. Sometimes you just can’t avoid toxic exposure, whether it’s from pollution, exhaust, perfumes, or the person next to you on the plane sneezing and coughing. It’s becoming more common to see people wearing a face mask when flying or in polluted cities, and it’s a good idea to always have one with you. A good face mask is comfortable and is easy to breathe through reducing the load of toxins and other pathogens in the air. This can help prevent flare-ups and glutathione depletion. Some companies even make face masks  for children and babies.

Ask my office for more advice on managing your autoimmune condition and improving your quality of life.


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Could you be developing an autoimmune disease?

710 silent autoimmunity

You could be developing an autoimmune disease, one of the most common diseases today, and are not aware of it. This is because autoimmune diseases sometimes start off as “silent” autoimmunity. This means your immune system is attacking tissue in your body but the damage isn’t bad enough to cause symptoms yet.

Autoimmune disease is more common than cancer and heart disease combined, and that’s just the diagnosed cases. Many, if not most, cases of autoimmunity are happening without a diagnosis.

This is because medicine does not screen for autoimmunity until symptoms are advanced and severe enough for a diagnosis and treatment with steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.

Autoimmunity: The disease for the modern era

Autoimmunity can affect any tissue in the body or brain. It occurs when the immune system attacks and damages tissue as if it were a foreign invader.

Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and psoriasis. More than 80 different autoimmune diseases have been identified so far.

Autoimmune disease affects 1 in 5 people, the majority of them women. It is believed women are more commonly affected because of their hormonal complexity. Although autoimmune disease is very common, the statistics do not tell the whole story.

Autoimmunity can happen long before diagnosis

Autoimmunity can begin long before damage is bad enough for a disease to be diagnosed. Many people can go years, decades, or even an entire lifetime with symptoms but never have damage bad enough to be labeled disease.

As an example, autoimmunity against the pancreas can cause blood sugar issues long before the development of type 1 diabetes. Additionally, about 10 percent of people with type 2 diabetes, which is caused by diet and lifestyle, also have pancreatic autoimmunity. This is called type 1.5 diabetes.

One of the most common autoimmune diseases is Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Patients may need to gradually increase their thyroid hormone because although they were diagnosed with low thyroid, the autoimmunity was overlooked and left unmanaged.

Or a patient may have an autoimmune reaction that has not been recognized as a disease. For instance, autoimmunity to nerve cells may produce symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an autoimmune reaction to nerve sheathes. However, because the autoimmunity is not attacking nerve sheathes specifically, the patient cannot be diagnosed despite MS-like symptoms.

Autoimmunity can attack anything in the body

People can also have symptoms that suggest many types of autoimmunity. Although symptoms vary depending on which tissue is being attacked, many autoimmune sufferers experience chronic fatigue, chronic pain, declining brain function, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, brain fog, and more.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers lab testing that can screen for autoimmunity against a number of different tissues. We also use strategies such as an anti-inflammatory diet, blood sugar stabilizing, gut healing, addressing toxins, and habits that minimize stress and inflammation.

Ask my office if autoimmunity may be causing your strange and chronic symptoms.


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Prevent post-election autoimmune flares this Thanksgiving

family and autoimmunity copy

A family gathering this Thanksgiving may feel like reality TV survival show if you have autoimmunity and politically polarized family members.

Stress, anger, and fear trigger an inflammatory immune response that can rage on for weeks, flaring attacks against your tissue and sending inflammation coursing through your body and brain.

This brings not only your autoimmune symptoms, but also general symptoms associated with autoimmunity: brain fog, fatigue, depression, lethargy, chronic pain, gut problems, and insomnia.

This year more than ever, it pays to be extra careful given the fractious national mood. Avoid political discussions, but if they happen around you, try the following.

Focus on being calm, not right. Remember, the goal is to protect your health, not be right. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind anymore than they are going to change yours. Arrive knowing this is not an argument that’s going to be won.

Learn and practice self-calming techniques before you arrive. Anger is like a fire that’s hard to put out once lit. Commit to preventing anger by practicing some proven relaxation techniques you can employ even if Aunt Sally or Cousin Fred are going off.

Self-calming, anti-inflammatory ideas include:

Breathing from your diaphragmThis slows your heart rate, improves oxygen flow, and inhibits stress. Shallow, rapid chest breathing puts your body in the fight-or-flight response, which will lure you into an argument against your better judgment.

Alternate nostril breathing. Casually place your fingers near your nose and press your right nostril shut to inhale through your left nostril. Then exhale through your right nostril, inhale through your right nostril, and start from the beginning. Remember to breathe from your diaphragm. This slows the heart rate, lowers stress, and focuses the mind.

Sensing your body. Bringing awareness into your body, especially the parts where you may be feeling anger or fear, can help neutralize those emotions. Start with sensing a hand, or the feeling of your feet on the ground, and slowly move that sensation through different parts of your body.

Do not get “hangry.” I repeat, do not get hangry. Hanger is that angry hunger triggered by low blood sugar and is a recipe for war. Keep your autoimmune-legal snack items with you at all times.

Accept people where they are. And yourself. You feel strongly about your beliefs, as do your family members. You may not understand one another, but accept we can only be where we are with our beliefs.

Give thanks. This holiday is about gratitude, an enormous boon to health, so practice it (authentically) regularly. Even if you think Uncle Bob’s vote was an act of treason, focus on how generous he is, or his sense of humor.

Consider whether to go. If your autoimmunity is severe or your family especially toxic, weigh whether your health can afford the visit. It’s ok to avoid having to spend a month recovering in bed.

If you’re already managing your autoimmunity, then you know avoiding inflammatory foods, excess alcohol, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion are important. Just remember to be mindful of how powerfully stress affects autoimmunity during this particularly unusual Thanksgiving holiday.


Don’t let travel derail your autoimmune management

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Managing an autoimmune condition is hard enough. Throw in holiday travel, staying with relatives, meals out, and exhaustion, and autoimmune management goes to a new level of difficulty. However, failing to follow your plan can wreck the holidays with symptom flares or an energy crash.

What to do? First, take a deep breath and adopt a no-stress, can-do attitude. Just as at home, good autoimmune management simply requires some advance planning and strategic thinking.

Here are some tips to help you manage your autoimmune condition while traveling.

Map out meals and snacks so you don’t go hungry or trigger a flare. The functional medicine approach to managing an autoimmune disease requires following some variation of the autoimmune diet  This diet is usually a strict Paleo diet of ample produce and healthy meats and fats, and no grains, dairy, soy, sugar, or processed foods.

Google ahead of time to find out where you can eat at your destination. Look for the Whole Foods and other health food stores. Make sure you have a refrigerator in your hotel room or ask your hosts to make space for you in theirs. You can insulate and pack frozen meals to heat up in a mini crockpot, also stowed in your luggage. Some people even pack a hot plate and cookware. Bring a travel bag large enough for approved snack items to stave off hunger. Ideas include beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.

Pack plenty of glutathione support. Traveling includes plenty of stressful events that can deplete your glutathione stores. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and vital to preventing and taming autoimmune flares. Early mornings, long days, new environments, crowded airplanes, Grandma’s fabric softener, and so on — these stressors can deplete glutathione so that inflammation is more likely.

Options include glutathione precursors such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle. You can also take s-acetyl-glutathione, or an oral liposomal glutathione. Note that taking straight glutathione is not effective.

Search ahead for hypoallergenic hotel rooms. Ever walk into a hotel and get blasted with that sickly perfume smell? Some hotels overdo it with the scented products. Others have feather pillows, and dusty, stale rooms. Look for hotels that offer scent-free, allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, and windows that open.

Carry a mask to avoid pollution or toxic odors. There’s only so much you can do to control your environment while traveling. If the passenger next to you on the packed plane is doused in cologne, it helps to have a face mask handy so you can breathe easier. A good face mask is comfortable and allows you to breathe easily while protecting you from toxins in the air, thus keeping your immune system calmer. Some companies even make face masks  for children.

Don’t let your vacation become work. Schedule in down time to nap, read, or go for peaceful walks. Stress is a powerful inflammatory toxin so it pays to make sure you enjoy your vacation with plenty of rest time.


Did childhood trauma play a role in your autoimmunity?

childhood experiences and autoimmunity

Autoimmune patients expend considerable effort finding the right diet, supplements, lifestyle, and practitioner to manage their autoimmunity.

But did you know your experiences from childhood could be provoking your autoimmunity as an adult?

Abuse, belittlement, insults, neglect, loss of loved ones, parental acrimony… the traumas children weather unfortunately become a lifelong “operating system” that has profound influences on immunological and neurological health. Traumas in childhood affect not only physical and cellular health, but also our DNA.

Early traumas make it hard to turn off stress

In a healthy situation, a child can respond to stress and recover from it, developing normal resiliency.

However, chronic and unpredictable stress in childhood constantly floods the body with stress hormones and keeps it in a hyper vigilant inflammatory state. In time, this interferes with the body’s ability to turn off or dampen the stress response.

In fact, research that compared the saliva of healthy, happy children with children who grew up with abuse and neglect found almost 3,000 genetic changes on their DNA. All of these changes regulated the response to stress and the ability to rebound from it.

This means that little, everyday occurrences that might momentarily irritate a healthier person can unleash a torrent of stress hormones and an accompanying inflammatory cascade that predisposes one for disease.

These are the people accused of overreacting and who are rattled by loud noises, bright lights, and crowds.

A disagreement with someone, a near miss on the highway, a restaurant that’s too loud, an unexpected bill — for the person who had a stressful childhood these minor but regular insults create a metabolic environment that fosters and perpetuates illness.

This can include autoimmune disease, chronic pain, heart disease, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, digestive disorders, migraines, asthma, and obesity.

In fact, this research was inspired by one clinician’s observation that the majority of his obese patients endured sexual abuse as children.

Assessing chronic childhood stress

Researchers studied the effects of childhood stress on later health in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, developing a short quiz to assess the relationship between childhood traumas and disease risk.

For instance, someone with a score of 4 (scale of 0–8) is at a significantly higher risk for chronic disease, suicide, and addiction.

Early trauma and autoimmune management

Although traumas during childhood and a higher ACE score can increase hardships and disease risk in adulthood, it doesn’t have to be a prison sentence —the brain and body are responsive to change.

Many therapies have been shown to help heal these traumas: meditation, mindfulness practices, neurofeedback, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), cognitive therapy, EFT (emotional freedom technique, or tapping), and more.

Be sure and include your emotional well-being and the health of your subconscious “operating system,” which was established in childhood, in your autoimmune management plan.


Mystery symptoms? Lab testing can reveal whether it’s autoimmune

cyrex 5 panel autoimmunity copy

Do you have chronic, mysterious symptoms that drag your life down but your lab tests come back normal? You may have an autoimmune reaction, a disorder in which your immune system attacks and destroys a part of your body.

Autoimmunity can strike any tissue or compound in the body and symptoms will vary based on the part of the body attacked. However, people with autoimmunity have many symptoms in common:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swollen Glands
  • Inflammation
  • Allergies
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory problems
  • Headaches
  • Low-grade fevers

Conventional medicine has yet to fully recognize autoimmunity

Identifying autoimmunity can bring considerable relief. It validates you are not lazy, crazy, or that it’s all in your head, as many people struggling with autoimmunity are made to feel.

Autoimmunity has exploded in incidence in recent years and neither medicine nor society fully accepts it unless it is at its most severe, end stages. Autoimmunity can slowly undermine your health and quality of life for years of decades before it is medically recognized.

This leaves those with autoimmunity alone in their struggle, wondering what’s wrong and why no one will acknowledge their suffering. Identifying an autoimmune process with proper testing provides solid proof for the fatigue that keeps you pinned to the couch, chronic pain, unexplainable weight gain or loss, depression, poor brain function, and other symptoms.

Testing for autoimmunity

You can identify autoimmunity by screening for antibodies against a particular tissue with a blood test. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system that attach to the affected tissue to tag it for destruction. You can screen for antibodies to thyroid tissue, joint tissue, brain tissue, the pancreas, and other tissues in the body.

For instance, the book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? talks about screening for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease, by running antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO), the enzyme that is a catalyst for thyroid hormone production, and thyroglobulin (TGB), a protein involved in thyroid hormone production. If those values come back positive then you know autoimmunity is responsible for low thyroid symptoms causing weight gain, depression, fatigue, constipation, cold hands and feet, and more.

Screening for individual autoimmune reactions is difficult and costly and conventional medicine does not offer treatments to manage autoimmunity until it is in more severe stages. This is why doctors don’t screen for it more routinely. Also, many types of autoimmunity are still considered obscure. The average doctor will not think to test for autoimmunity the brain, the adrenal glands, the ovaries, or bladder muscle, even though these autoimmune disorders are more common than people realize.

Modern, comprehensive testing for autoimmunity

Fortunately, we now have a lab test called the Array 5 Multiple Autoimmune Reactivity Screen  through Cyrex Labs, that screens for antibodies to 24 different tissues at once much more affordably than running them individually. It can help both the patient and practitioner understand what is causing symptoms.

A positive (or equivocal) response indicates the immune system is tagging that particular tissue for destruction. However, it’s important to know that a positive result does not necessarily mean you have autoimmune disease. It could indicate your body is in the early stage of autoimmunity, which may be silent or causing less severe symptoms. By following autoimmune management protocols you may be able to keep it in a silent or less severe stage indefinitely.

The Cyrex Array 5 panel screens for the following antibodies to indicate specific autoimmune reactions:

  • Parietal cell and ATPase instrinsic factor: stomach autoimmunity
  • ASCA, ANCA, and tropomyosin: intestinal autoimmunity
  • Thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase: thyroid autoimmunity
  • 21 hydroxylase (adrenal cortex): adrenal autoimmunity
  • Myocardial peptide, alpha-myosin: cardiac autoimmunity
  • Phospholipid platelet glycoprotein: phospholipid autoimmunity
  • Ovary/Testes: reproductive organ autoimmunity
  • Fibulin, collagen complex, arthritic peptide: joint autoimmunity
  • Osteocyte: bone autoimmunity
  • Cytochrome P450 (hepatocyte): liver autoimmunity
  • Insulin, islet cell, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD): pancreatic autoimmunity
  • GAD, myelin basic protein, asialoganglioside, alpha and beta tubulin, cerebellar, synapsin: neurological autoimmunity

To learn more about how to find the cause of your chronic symptoms of how to manage your autoimmunity, contact my office.


Do you sometimes “crash” with debilitating fatigue?

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Do you “crash” after a busy or stressful event, suffering from extreme exhaustion that keeps you confined to your bed or couch? Do these crashes last anywhere from a day to a week or even longer? If so, you’re not alone and you may suffer from autoimmunity, a condition in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue in the body. (Which tissue depends on genetics and the type of autoimmunity you have.)

In fact, a recent survey of almost 8,000 autoimmune patients found the overwhelming majority listed bouts of debilitating fatigue as one of their most troubling symptoms.

Any number of things can cause a person with autoimmunity to “crash.” They can include a very stressful event, such as a car accident or a move. Pleasant events can cause crashes because they are long or exhausting, such as a wedding, a trip out of town, or a work conference. Many people hold up fine during the event but crash when it’s over. Exposure to certain foods or chemicals causes it in others.

Because such crashes are not commonplace or medically recognized, they cause anxiety and embarrassment. It’s like having the flu or a bad cold, except without the symptoms. Sufferers worry others will think they are lazy, another stressor on top of stressing about all the things not getting done because you’re in bed, barely able to function. Unfortunately, brain power bottoms out along with physical energy, which makes working at home from your laptop difficult if not impossible.

New survey brings light to autoimmune crashes

Fortunately, you may not have to make excuses for your inability to function forever as awareness about these bouts of debilitating fatigue grows. The survey polled those suffering from a variety of autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, or autoimmunity affecting the brain or nervous system.

Overwhelming number of autoimmune patients report debilitating fatigue

The survey of patients with autoimmune disease, which was conducted by a patient advocacy group, revealed:

  • 98 percent suffer from fatigue
  • 89 percent said fatigue was a major issue
  • 59 percent said fatigue was their most debilitating symptom
  • Two-thirds said their fatigue was profound and prevented them from doing everyday tasks
  • 75 percent said fatigue impacts their ability to work, 40 percent said it causes financial stress, and another one in five said it has cost them their jobs and they’re on disability
  • The overwhelming majority reported fatigue not only impacts their professional life, but also their romantic and family life and self-esteem.
  • The overwhelming majority also say it has resulted in emotional distress, isolation, anxiety, and depression.

According to one patient, “It’s difficult for other people to understand fatigue when it can’t be seen. It’s hard trying to get others, even doctors, to understand how very tired you are. One wonders if they think we are just mental cases or whiners.”

Fortunately, using functional medicine approaches can significantly improve your health and reduce the frequency and severity of these bouts of fatigue. Ask my office for more information.