Autoimmunity. Are you familiar with it? Chances are you probably have heard about it or know someone with an autoimmune disease. So what is autoimmunity? In its simplest form, your body is attacking itself. What? Yup, that's right. For example, if you have Celiac Disease like me your body is attacking your small intestines and with Rheumatoid Arthritis your body is attacking it's joints. In Hashimoto's, your body is attacking your thyroid.
Why can it be challenging to figure out if you are suffering from one? As someone who has an autoimmune disease, that typically can take about nine years to pinpoint, I'd love to share some of my thoughts and experience on why so many women are not only suffering, but aren't being diagnosed.
1.) Doctors. Taking time to really listen and understand all the symptoms going on with someone takes time! Unfortunately our current medical system is not set up to accommodate time with patients. Practitioners generally are paid by insurance companies based on the number of patients they see. Functional doctors take the time to listen, look at the symptoms, and attempt to get to the root of the issue and restore balance in the body. The patient is treated as a whole, instead of treating symptoms. It's why often functional practitioners can't take insurance. It's just not cost effective. I can't tell you how many doctors and specialists I saw that couldn't find anything wrong with me but I knew something wasn't right. My diagnosis came when I worked with a functional doctor.
2.) Our SAD diet! I'd be remiss without mentioning what we put in our body. The Standard American Diet (SAD- how ironic) has contributed to the increase in autoimmunity. Sure, you may have a genetic predisposition to it but what you eat and how you live plays a huge factor. Why? The SAD diet is carb heavy. It contains foods that are highly processed and high in sugar which create inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation can often lead to disease and in many cases an autoimmune disease. Eating a diet closer to the earth, meaning food with no added ingredients. Nutrient dense foods like veggies, fruits, lean protein and nuts increase your odds to not developing one. If you aren't feeling well and not getting answers, looking at your food is a great place to start. There are other foods you can add in and take out to cool inflammation. A health coach can help with this too!
3.) Women aren't taken seriously. Okay, so if your doctor doesn't have enough time to listen and your symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, feeling depressed, aches and pains...you can feel helpless. These were all the symptoms I had in addition to heart palpations, tremors and balance issues. If you have kids then you are an overworked mom. If you have a career that demands much of your time, well you too are overworked. If you have both, forget it! That's about the time when many doctors open up their scripts for a prescription for Xanax. "You need to relax, you're stressed, take this...." and now you feel CRAZY. This happened to me during my time of trying to figure out what the heck was going on. It's infuriating!
4.) Hormones! Hormones like estrogen and progesterone and our thyroid hormones are all pieces of a complex puzzle. Many doctors just look at TSH for thyroid but there are about five other tests that can actually tell how your body is converting your hormones and how they are working together. Proper hormone testing, looking at things like inflammation markers, listening to a patient's symptoms and along with analyzing your diet can really help create a clear picture of what's going on in our bodies. From my experience, many doctors don't look at all of these things together and it's hard to put a puzzle together without all the pieces! One of the things I recommend to my clients if they are having symptoms but aren't able to get to answers, is to download a period tracker and note their symptoms around their cycle. Many times a pattern is found. This arms them with information for speaking with practitioners.
Please don't think I’m bashing traditional medicine because I'm not. If I broke my leg, I'd go right to the hospital and be very thankful for all our medical advancements. I saw five doctors and specialists before I received a proper diagnosis of Celiac Disease from an Integrative Doctor who uses a functional approach. I feel lucky to have received a diagnosis within a year as the average time to diagnosis is approximately nine years! It's why I'm a fan of Functional Medicine. It approaches the patient differently by attempting to get at the root of the issue and identifies preventative measures. It looks at the whole person instead of just one symptom. If you are a woman who is struggling with pain and hasn't been able to figure out what's going on, I've walked in your shoes. You may or may not have an autoimmune disease, but if you aren't getting answers, try seeing a doctor who uses a functional approach. If that's not an option, don't give up! Look at your food and track your cycle for starters. Remember, doctors are only people too. My advice to anyone is to follow your intuition, keep asking questions, advocate for yourself and do what you can to take control of your health!
"When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change!"
Wishing you health & healing,
Deana Gunn is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who specializes in helping women with autoimmune disease take their power back and the owner of threekindsofkale.com. She's a gluten free Mom of two, a closeted lover of comic book character movies, and enjoys a nice glass of red wine.