In 1984, when I was 19 and home from college on a summer break, I went numb from the neck down for six weeks. It was a terrifying time, made worse when a neurologist pronounced with certainty that I had multiple sclerosis (MS) and that there was nothing I could do except take medication and prepare for life in a wheelchair. Despite her dire prognosis, my dad stoked my can-do spirit, often telling me, “Honey, you can beat this thing!” I spent the next two-plus decades dealing with mild-to-excruciating MS symptoms, all the while doing what I could to heal. Finally, in 2010, I reversed the condition that six neurologists had told me was incurable. As amazing as it sounds, my story isn’t unique. Numerous individuals, including doctors, scientists and many others, have also reversed their autoimmune conditions. If you’re wondering how this is possible, I did, too. Newly recovered from MS, I left my corporate job and set out to learn as much as I could about the science behind my own path that had allowed me to do the “impossible.” What I discovered was so inspiring, it sent me on a mission to empower others and motivated me to write my new book, Beat Autoimmune, The 6 Keys to Reverse Your Condition and Reclaim Your Health. You may be familiar with some of the most common autoimmune disorders: rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, MS, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid), celiac disease, Crohn’s and chronic Lyme disease. There are more than 150 known autoimmune conditions, and the list keeps growing as scientists discover more evidence of diseases having autoimmune components, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, dementia and heart disease. While the names and body parts affected are distinct, autoimmunity itself is the same disorder: an immune system that has gone awry—either misfiring, cross-reacting or over-reacting—inadvertently attacking the body it’s meant to protect.
Most autoimmune diseases are diagnosed based on three presenting factors:
Mysterious symptoms that range from annoying to completely debilitating;
Elevated antibodies (immune system defenders normally used to attack invaders like viruses or bacteria) confirmed via bloodwork; and
A positive ANA (antinuclear antibodies) test, which can indicate that the patient’s immune system has created a large number of auto (self)-antibodies—in other words, evidence the immune system has begun to attack the person’s own tissues.
It was long believed that once the autoimmune reaction began, it couldn’t be stopped, which is why I received such a dire diagnosis all those years ago. But recent scientific breakthroughs reveal that anyone, regardless of genetic predispositions or how long you’ve been sick, can heal from and prevent any autoimmune condition, mostly by addressing six key lifestyle factors. I call these F.I.G.H.T.S.™ for food, infections, gut health, hormone balance, toxins and stress—and as a reminder that you, too, can beat autoimmunity.
Each category represents both a root-cause trigger and a solution. It’s not uncommon to have more than one trigger (my biggies were food—specifically, gluten—stealth infections and stress), and you’ll likely need to address all six categories in order to fully heal. You may notice that the categories are not ordered the way that F.I.G.H.T.S.™ is spelled. That’s because healing your gut naturally follows starting with food. Balancing your hormones is last since they are downstream from the other categories.
We’ll first take a quick look at how food and gut health promote autoimmunity, as well as ways to address the autoimmunity.
F.I.G.H.T.S.™: The 6 Keys to Beating Autoimmune
Start with food Certain foods, notably those associated with the Standard American Diet (SAD), are known to cause inflammation, an imbalance of gut bacteria (dysbiosis), a leaky gut (when food particles and bacteria breach the intestinal lining and wind up in the bloodstream), nutrient deficiencies and immune system impairment.
The best way to determine your food triggers is to complete an elimination diet, or as I prefer to think of it, a 30-Day Food Vacation*:
Select a realistic 30-day window you can commit to. Holidays, vacations or during business travel, for example, would not be ideal start times.
Shop ahead for a wide variety of delicious, organic foods like wild fish and 100% grass-fed meats, leafy greens and other above-ground vegetables, healthful fats and fermented foods.
For the full 30 days, remove all toxic SAD foods, including gluten, processed foods and sugar, and other “suspect” foods, like dairy, eggs, soy, caffeine and the nightshade family (i.e., tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants, peppers, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and goji berries).
Keep a daily journal and track your experience. Have any symptoms dissipated?
After 30 days, reintroduce foods one at a time every two days. Pay special attention to how you feel and make notes in your journal.
If you experience any unpleasant symptoms, from brain fog to tingling to knee pain, GI issues or insomnia, you’ve discovered one of your triggers. Remove the offending food for at least three months before trying it again, though you may need to remove it for good (this is especially true of gluten and, often, dairy).
*Note: As you feel better and your system returns to balance, you may find that you require less medication, in which case, consult with your trusted health care provider to taper or reduce medications appropriately.
Heal your gut Lifestyle factors and genetics are just two of three elements that together create the perfect storm for autoimmune disease to emerge. In the early 2000s, researchers discovered the third necessary element in the autoimmune equation: intestinal hyperpermeability, commonly known as a leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of your small intestines is compromised—by any number of inflammatory factors, including SAD foods, pesticides, medications, heavy metals, even stress!—allowing food protein and other harmful bacteria, like lipopolysaccharides (LPS), to pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream.
When these particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system launches a defensive reaction as it would with any foreign invader, which can lead to widespread inflammation, deferred tissue repair and healing and the advent of autoimmunity. As long as the gut remains leaky, these particulates will continue to make their way into your body, inflammation will increase and the autoimmune cascade will continue.
Now that we understand the role of a leaky gut in the perpetuation of the autoimmune cascade, we finally have the key to unlocking autoimmune conditions: the autoimmune equation.
Genetics + environmental factors + leaky gut = autoimmune onset and progression.
To reverse disease, we need only reverse the equation!
Remove your environmental triggers + heal your gut = halt/reverse autoimmune conditions.
You’ll learn more about the other environmental triggers in Part Two, but to heal your gut, use the effective 5R Restoration Program, often recommended by Functional Medicine practitioners:
Remove problematic foods: all SAD foods plus your personal triggers.
Replace inflammatory foods with nourishing options, as mentioned above.
Reinoculate your gut microflora with pro- and pre-biotics. Think fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee and yogurt, and fiber from an assortment of colorful vegetables.
Repair your lining with targeted nutrients: bone broth or collagen powder, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), L-glutamine, zinc, and N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG).
Rebalance your life with better sleep, more movement and less stress.
Stay tuned for Part Two, which will focus on the other F.I.G.H.T.S.™ factors that contribute to autoimmunity, including infections, hormone balance, toxins and stress.
To learn more about the critical connection between gut health and your overall health, check out the science, stories and strategies for healing and sealing your gut HERE.
Palmer Kippola, FMCHC
Palmer Kippola is a #1 Amazon best-selling author, speaker, autoimmune recovery advocate, and Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC). Palmer developed a system called F.I.G.H.T.S.™ (food, infections, gut health, hormone balance, toxins and stress) to help others beat autoimmune conditions based on her 26-year battle to overcome multiple sclerosis. Her new book, with a foreword by Mark Hyman, MD, is
Palmer has studied with the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), the HeartMath® Institute, and the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. In addition, she has completed 100+ hours of neurofeedback brain training and studied under leading experts in nutrition, holistic health, energy and Functional Medicine.
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