So, I know I’ve talked a TON about my journey with Ulcerative Colitis and how it is an autoimmune disorder and inflammatory bowel disease, but I thought I would bring it back to the basics for those of you who may be new readers (welcome!) or who would like to know more about what an autoimmune disorder actually is (or who think IBD is the same thing as IBS - it's not). I’ve done a ton of research on autoimmunity and IBD since receiving my diagnosis, and I thought it would be great to share some of the information I’ve learned with those of you who might be struggling along the same path or who would just like to know more.
What's an autoimmune disease?
It’s actually pretty crazy when you look at the numbers - it’s estimated that 50 million people have an autoimmune disorder and that’s just the U.S. alone. Yikes! But autoimmunity wasn’t always the norm, and there has been a significant increase in the past few decades. Why? There is a lot of speculation, but many experts contribute it to the increase of poor dietary choices (and quality of our food) and stress.
Your immune system is a vital part of the human body function. It’s basically there to kick the ass of foreign invaders (like viruses and bacteria) that get into our bodies through germs, etc. In other words, it’s your internal defense system. The issue though begins when your immune system falters and fails to distinguish your own body tissue from foreign invaders. Essentially, your body attacks itself, and this can manifest in a number of symptoms, including:
- Inflammation like swelling and redness
- Trouble concentrating (aka brain fog)
- Hair loss
- Digestive issues
There are two different classes of autoimmune diseases - systemic and localized. Systemic means that a wide range of bodily functions and tissues can be affected, while localized means that one type of tissue or organ is (like IBD). More often than not, the line between these two is not so clear with the existence of a few localized symptoms affecting different parts of the body. Autoimmune diseases often coexist - if you are diagnosed with one, there is a heightened risk that you may have another. (Related: I really hope my phlegm-y cough is not another autoimmune disease!)
So what triggers an autoimmune disease? This is widely debated with some experts pinpointing specific triggers while others giving a more general opinion that it is just something that can’t be avoided if you’re predisposed. However, the general consensus is that it is likely a combination of genetics and environmental factors, such as:
- Dietary sensitivities
- Response to a drug or medication
Basically, anything that puts a strain on your immune system. Interestingly enough, it’s been found that 75% of the population affected by autoimmunity are women and that hormonal shifts play a large part in disease flares. I saw this myself when I experienced remission while pregnant, and I have read and heard of similar stories. I definitely find it interesting that the majority of those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease are women and that a common trigger can be stress. Women have a tendency to do it all… possible connection?
What’s crazier still is the general lack treatment that targets the cause, rather than just the symptoms. More often that not, the answer is “just learn to live with it.” While I am super grateful that drugs like Entyvio are available and helped put me in remission (*knock on wood*), I went through a lot of trial and error to get here, and the confusion encouraged me to seek alternative healing methods such as diet, exercise, and learning to cope with stress and anxiety.
So, what’s my stance? I think (and have found) that my own personal journey with UC and autoimmunity can be managed through both conventional and holistic medicine - and much of my efforts are put towards maintaining overall good health to reduce overall inflammation and the likelihood of a flare. I know this will differ greatly among individuals, so I am by no means saying it’s my way or the highway - I just wanted to share some of the background behind autoimmunity and a few of my thoughts as a person who lives with an autoimmune disorder.
Question of the Day
If you're struggling with an autoimmune disease or chronic illness, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with autoimmunity, and what’s worked/hasn’t worked for you.
In fact, I'm so interested in hearing and SHARING these experiences, I want to start a new feature on Instagram Live/TV to help others who struggle with their health. I remember when I was super sick, I wanted to connect with others and hear about what they were doing to better their health - even just having the support of people who "get it" makes a huge difference in how someone experiences their illness. If you're interested in sharing your story on IG Live (basically, just a conversation/Q&A), please send me an email at email@example.com.