Explaining Autoimmune

How it works and how to manage it

Autoim-what?

You’ve probably heard the term autoimmune before, and may even have an autoimmune disease, and still not know what it means. A basic explanation is that the body is attacking itself. The immune system has decided that some type of cell or organ is now a threat to your overall health and is attempting to remove it from the body. Unfortunately, this is an issue because the cells or organs the immune system is attacking, are actually essential for health and proper operation of the body, so instead of helping, it’s creating harm.

Shouldn’t we just shut it down then?

Conventionally the answer is to give certain medications that will suppress or turn off the immune system. In some cases, this is what has to happen. However, we like to look a little deeper.

What is actually causing the body to attack itself?

Something is wrong with the function and balance of the immune system and we need to address why it is happening. IF we think about the immune system as teeter-totter, we see on one point of balance, the system is set to fight different infections, clean up debris of inflammation and normal body function, and clean up cells that are dying or mutated. If it shifts towards the other end being dominant, it is more sensitized to have environmental allergies, autoimmune diseases, and is unable to properly control infectious agents or clean up cancerous cells.

So why, why do we get this imbalance?

One way it occurs is continual exposure to things in our diet’s that cause a constant, mild reaction, and that leads to the imbalance. The other reason can be changes that occur with chronic stress , due to cortisol influence on the function of the immune system, as well as nutrient depletions as your body tries to deal with stress management demands, and because while under stress we tend to reach for comfort foods, and those foods that have low nutrient value.

The final way this seems to be triggered, is due to an issue with non-acceptance of self.

In cases where we cannot find a physiological reason why an autoimmune response is occurring, we have to look to the mental-emotional aspects of health. The power of our thoughts controls the expression of certain genes in our cells.

This is a bit of an upper level concept to understand, but it has been validated with scientific review.

Our mind literally controls our body, and if we are unaccepting or unloving of ourselves, and we carry genetic content that could be turned on to influence this type of response, it becomes a potential for your long-term health.

So, practicing self-love, stress management, and having a clean and healthy diet, goes a long well to helping prevent, manage, or even reverse in some cases, autoimmune diseases.

The common causes of Acid Reflux

(And why acid blocking medications aren’t solving the problem)

That uncomfortable burning sensation in your throat or chest, or regurgitation of food after you’ve eaten, that’s heartburn.

Sometimes heartburn presents with very obvious symptoms. Other times it can just feel like you are having chest pain ranging from mild to severe. In other cases, there is not burning feeling, but you may notice excessive burping, bad breath, a chronic cough that is not asthma, or even post nasal drip or sinus congestion. These can be signs of silent reflux, where you are having the acid reflux but not noticing the burning or pain symptom.

Tired of reaching for tums?

Very often when we have heartburn, we are prescribed a medication to lower our stomach acid. This is based on the theory that stomach acid must be too high which is causing the reflux. In truth though that is the only the rarest of case, and most cases of reflux come from a different cause.

The number one cause being LOW stomach acid.

What! How can that work? Well, there is a sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus, into your stomach. The trigger to close this sphincter really tightly is actually having stomach acid that is high enough. So, in order to fix the reflux, we often usually have to build that acid back up. And it is important we do so, because it actually is necessary for many other body processes.

Having enough stomach acid is important for how your whole digestive tract works, and a lot of other body processes too.

First, we need adequate levels to digest our foods to a certain point so that they can’t be fermented by bacteria in the gut. Second, we need those levels high enough so that we control populations of certain bacteria and yeasts in the gut. Third, the level of stomach acid triggers the release of other factors that aid in absorption of certain nutrients, as well as trigger the release of digestive enzymes from the gallbladder and pancreas to process different parts of our foods.

There are other causes of heartburn as well.

One is a reaction to a food that you are eating. Another is dysbiosis, or inappropriate levels of certain bacteria or yeast in the wrong areas of the digestive tracts.

And finally, it could be a hiatal hernia, which is very common.

That is where a small portion of the top of the stomach is shifted out of normal position and basically comes up through the hole in the diaphragm where your esophagus comes through. This causes a mechanical disruption of the sphincter being able to close properly (imagine two sides are stretched too far apart). These hernias are common after pregnancy, weight improper lifting techniques, and with activities that have us bending over while working with an increased pressure within the abdomen (think gardening etc). The good news is that all of these things can be treated easily and effectively, and that you can get off of your reflux medication with proper guidance.

To Multivitamin or NOT to multivitamin…

Should you be taking a Multivitamin?

There are a lot of mixed reviews on multivitamins – take them, don’t take them, they’re a waste of your money, you pee them out, they are harmful. You can hear something different almost every day.

It all gets a little confusing sometimes.

Probably not a good Multi…

In the end, the truth of a multivitamin is that it is designed to ensure you get the bare minimum basic of nutrients into your diet on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there are huge differences in different kinds of multi’s. most of the inexpensive and mass-produced varieties use synthetic, poorly absorbed forms of the vitamins, in extremely low doses. At best you’re getting almost nothing out of them. In fact, some don’t even break down in most people’s digestive tracts!

So how do you know you’re getting something out of it?

I hate to say it, but some a lot of the higher priced multi’s are in fact better. The reason for this is that they are actually manufactured in a way that you can digest and absorb the nutrients, and they use vitamin types that are often in active, bio available forms that your body can actually use.

But do you really need one?

If you’re in doubt, ask a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor that can advise you on the differences and understand which one is best for you.

Wait, what about the fact that they can cause harm?

Finally, I’d like to address the causing harm concern. A few years ago, there was a study that came out claiming harm from multivitamins. It was a very poorly constructed study, and it used a multivitamin that was both very difficult for someone to digest, and had imbalanced levels of some minerals, which can cause deficiencies that lead to body harm when these amounts are not balanced in intake over a long term. So be critical about what you read and hear, and again, ask for advice from someone who is trained and understands you individually if you are unsure what you need.

Keeping your Mental Sanity

Are you really stressed or super busy? Are you taking time to relax and ‘ground’every day?

Mindfulness is a practice where you really connect to yourself, or the world around you. By doing this you slow everything down for a few minutes, and allow your body to return to a state of relaxation.

Connecting and calming your body is important for it to function properly and not get burnt out.

 A mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be as simple as sitting quietly in your yard and listening to the sounds in the world around you, notice the birds calling, the sound of the wind, water running. Or it can be a breathing with movement practice, where you really call your attention to how you are breathing when you are moving in a certain way. It brings you into a slower breathing pattern. There is a great book called the little book for mindfulness that you can purchase to get some ideas.

There are other practices that can help to calm you as well.

Guided meditation is a little different from mindfulness, but still they are very similar in a lot of ways. With guided meditation, you are listening to someone, usually with your eyes closed and laying down or sitting quietly. They will guide you on how to breath and what to think about during the practice.

It can really help to quiet your mind and give you something to focus on.

It is really helpful for people that don’t know how to meditate, or people who think meditation sounds scary, or people who can’t get their minds to quiet down, even if they sit quietly. Insight timer Free is my favorite app because it has a huge network of different types of free guided meditations. You can even start one to fall asleep and have it shut off when it is done. Another great app is called Calm. They have a free and paid version as well. One of my favorite parts of that app is the breath work function. Especially if you are feeling anxious or having difficulty calming down, it will gradually work with your breathing to slow you down.

It doesn’t matter what you practice, but you should use something every day, for a few minutes,to feel that calm and relaxed state settle over your body.

Understanding your Menstrual Cycle is Essential Knowledge

Ladies, this one is for you.

If you’re of the age where you are having a menstrual cycle, then you need to read this.

There is an essential knowledge about ourselves as women that just wasn’t taught to most of us.

This is about how your menstrual cycle actually works. This information is invaluable regardless of if you want to get pregnant, not get pregnant, or just understand why you have discharge, no discharge, or if your cycle is “normal”.

This is just so important to know, that I’ve written a bit of a longer post today so that you at least know the basics about how your menstrual cycle works.

It’s just a melting popsicle…

Why should you track your menstrual cycle? There are many reasons to do so, to ensure things are normal, to know what your ‘regular’timing is, to be able to prevent pregnancy or time fertility properly to conceive. Tracking your cycle is easy, and it provides a lot of information that can be extremely helpful to your healthcare provider if you ever have something abnormal going on. You can track on paper, but in this day and age where technology is so easily accessed, I suggest getting an app. My preference is Kindara, a free app, that is based off of the book Taking Charge of your Fertility. You can choose to put as much or as little information into the app as you want, but it will over time learn your cycles and predict when you’ll ovulate and have your menses next.

Menses is a fancy word for your period, by the way. And ‘cycle’ is the length of the whole thing from day 1, until the start of your next menses.

The first day of your cycle is the first day that you start bleeding, actually bleeding and not just spotting. A normal cycle is regular,meaning it is the same length each month. It could be 28, 30, 32 or even 36 days long, and still be “normal” as long as it is regular.

While tracking your cycle you want to track how many days you are bleeding (menses), if you have any symptoms such as cramps, spotting,or anything else you want to add. You should also consider tracking your ovulation, depending on your goals with cycle tracking. The easiest way to track ovulation is to track cervical mucus. It can be dry, creamy, wet, or egg-white/mucousy consistency. There should not be odor or color with discharge. Egg-white and wet discharge should occur approximately 14 days before your next cycle starts. If you’re trying to get pregnant, or actively prevent pregnancy, you should also consider tracking cervical position. If you would like more information on that part of tracking, I would highly suggest reading Taking Charge of your Fertility.

There is one more piece of the puzzle you should know about.

Finally, a helpful way to track your cycle, but also hormone levels, and thyroid function, is to track your basal body temperature. To do this, have a digital thermometer on your bedside table. When you wake first thing in the morning, take your temp before you even get out of bed. You can easily add this piece of data to the app as well.

The danger of your cell phone at night

We’ve talked about screen time before bed in a previous blog, but there is something even more important in relation to brain health that I want to talk to you about.

Did you know that in the past few years it was discovered that there was a whole part of the brain which we had never know about before.It was discovered that we have a whole lymphatic system in the brain, called the glymphatics. This system works to clean up the bi products of cellular metabolism, or the toxins produced by your brain on a daily basis.

What! Something we didn’t even know existed in this day and age?

This system is active in the darkest part of the night, when we are in the deepest sleep. It will only work properly when we are in a deep sleep. We need this system working to keep brain health optimal, to have clear thinking, to heal damage from injury, and to prevent long term issues like alzeheimers and parkinsons.

Turn it off at night!

The depth of your sleep might prevent some of these cognitive diseases!

There is another thing, besides lack of sleep, that has been studied and shown to inhibit the activity of these glymphatics. This is something called Electro Magnetic Frequencies or EMFs, and it has been shown that when EMFs are present, the glymphatics cannot work properly. Now some people seem to be more sensitive than others, but even those that don’t seem to notice, are still having negative effects on their body.

So what are the easiest ways to make sure this system can work properly?

First, put your cellphone in airplane mode at night. If you absolutely cannot do that, then ensure it is at least 6m from your bed. Second, turn off your wifi at night. The easiest thing to do is put it on a timer, like the one you can use to control your lights, and have it shut off before you go to bed and turn on when you’re going to get up in the morning. Other things to look for in your house include wireless phones – ensure you do not have one in your bedroom, AppleTV – ensure it is unplugged at night (turning them off does not decrease their transmitting and EMFs), and Alexa’s – should be turned off and unplugged as well.

Healthy Immunity

“I have an amazing immune system.”

A lot of people tell me they are healthy because they “never get sick”, or “haven’t been sick for years and years”.

Sounds great, right? Or, maybe not.

This actually doesn’t suggest to me that they are any healthier than the person who gets sick all the time. All it tells me is that their immune system isn’t responding when exposed to infectious agents.

What is normal and healthy for an immune system?

A normal and healthy immune system should show signs of fighting an infection (like a cold) a few times per year. This might mean feeling like you are getting sick, and then using your favorite remedy to boost your immune system to get over the cold the next day. Or it might mean getting quite sick, quickly, which only lasts a few days and then you are back to normal.

What about having a fever?

Being able to spike a fever is an important part of the immune system response. Too often do we try to suppress it when really, we should support it and let the process run its course, though we should be mindful to monitor fevers, especially in kids to ensure they don’t get too high. Most adults struggle to mount a fever due to suppression of their immune system through a variety of factors. Restoring that ability is a great sign of healing an immune system.

What does it take to improve an immune system?

Well, if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, I’ve already given you all of the basics.

  1. Get more deep, restful, sleep.
  2. Ensure you are well hydrated.
  3. Work on a clean and healthy diet – more whole foods, less junk food and refined sugars
  4. Reduce stress overall
  5. Support a healthy, happy gut.

TV-To watch or not?

When I’m stressed, I like to watch TV and zone out.

Tv is a favorite way to shut down and unwind. A lot of people use it as an escape and as a stress release. You would think this is a good thing and it helps you wind down towards bedtime, however it actually has the opposite effect.

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It feels like my mind shuts down.

the interaction with the screen and images, actually change your brain function patterns into something that more closely resembles depression, rather than relaxation or sleep.

Then I feel sleepy and want to go to bed.

The color from the screen inhibits your production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for getting sleeping and falling asleep, so it disrupts your sleep wake cycle.

I suppose I feel more like a zombie than relaxed, and when I get to bed, I can’t sleep…

For these reasons it is important to shut off all screens, including TV, phone, and tablet, at least an hour before bed. Also, implement a different strategy for stress reduction and coping, such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness, or guided meditation practices, to name a few ideas.

We all worry about what screen time does to children’s brains, but we have to keep in mind that our brains are constantly growing new connections, and doing ongoing complicated processes that we don’t even know about. We need to nurture those processes and allow them the time to heal with proper deep sleep as well.

Sleep = Health

I feel like a zombie, I just need to sleep!

There are many life circumstances that can interrupt our sleep patterns. Especially those with really young children… it’s okay momma, this will eventually get better. Sleep when they sleep, and do the best you can, you’re already a superstar! For the rest of you though, these circumstances should be temporary, returning to good sleep when a certain situation has passed. We know for most people though it just doesn’t work that way. That’s tough because lacking sleep has such massive impacts on your waking life.

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But what is good sleep?

What do we actually mean by saying ‘good sleep’? It means that you are able to fall asleep quickly when you go to bed, that you stay asleep all night, or if you have to get up for some reason you are able to fall right back to sleep, and that you feel rested when you wake up in the morning.

Then why are you tired when your alarm goes off?

Notice I didn’t say it’s a certain number of hours per night as that will vary for everyone. Generally, it works with your sleep cycle, which for most people is around 90 minutes, making up a longer cycle of 3 hours, with variations of sleep depth at 45 minutes. This is why “8 hours” doesn’t always work for everyone. In fact, often we will see more people that do well with 6hr, 7.5hr, or 9 hours of sleep.

Saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is actually going to lead you there early.

Sleep is so important because the time when you are sleeping, and deeply sleeping, is when your body does its healing processes. It is also when your digestion regulates itself from the day, your immune system regulates itself, and your brain processes all of the things you saw and heard that day, as well as cleans up the biproducts of its cellular metabolism. In fact, the time when you are deeply asleep is the only time that your brain will do its clean up and processing. So, lack of sleep not only impacts energy, it will also impact your mood, your digestion, your hormone regulation, your immune system function, and your memory.

3 simple ways to improve sleep

Begin with setting a regular bedtime and wake up time, that remains the same every day, regardless of being a work day or weekend. Wind down before bed by turning off all screens (tv, phone, or tablet) at least 1 hour before bed. And exercise at some point in the day, the best time being in the morning, but any time is good as long as you don’t feel too stimulated afterwards if it is just before bed. This helps to regulate your sleep wake cycle and will improve sleep, as well as mood and digestion.