Ayurveda and Autoimmune Diseases
The body's immune system is brilliant and amazing. It is an intricate network of cells that protect you from infections and illness. Daily our bodies are exposed to many things that can cause illness - bacteria, mold, parasites. But we are able to withstand all of these "threats" because of our amazing immune system. One of the most important tasks of a healthy immune system is to learn to differentiate between what is part of the natural self and what is a foreign substance or something actually dangerous to the body and mind. If the body can't make that distinction, then problems arise. And this is where autoimmune disorders come in...
Autoimmune diseases arise when the body loses its natural intelligence and starts to attack itself, producing antibodies that attack its own tissues, leading to the degeneration of those tissues and undermining the body's natural capacity to retain balance and health. Examples of the most common autoimmune diseases include Grave's disease, Hashimoto's disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some studies indicate that there may be some genetic predisposition to autoimmune disorders. However, every genetic tendency needs a home to thrive. For example, some may have a genetic predisposition to addiction, but you can make choices that feed that tendency or discourage that tendency.
Here are a few tips from the wisdom of Ayurveda to support the prevention and healing of autoimmune disorders:
1. Lifestyle - the first medicine - Our bodies have a rhythm. We're part of nature and we need to live harmoniously with nature to support our system to function at its best. Are you going to bed by 10:30pm? Do you have healthy elimination in the morning? Are you eating food that is appropriate for your constitution? Are you getting enough support so you don't always feel like you're drowning in work and responsibilities? The lifestyle choices you make determine the foundation of your health. Your body wants to feel safe. It wants to know what to expect. It wants to know that there is a time for it to be active and a time for it to rest. If a little baby can't trust that her next meal is coming soon, she experiences emotional and physical distress. If your body can't be sure that you're going to make healthy lifestyle choices that provide for proper digestion, proper rest, and balanced activity, it loses equilibrium and begins to lose its way.
2. Pay attention if you're eating too much of something. - Yes, we live in a world of excess and addiction. Let's look at sugar, alcohol and wheat as examples.
- Ayurveda doesn't say to never eat sugar, for example. Ayurveda would encourage us to consume a less processed sugar consistent with the needs for your body/mind constitution and in small amounts. But our modern day diet has processed sugar everywhere - cereals, granola, beverages, desserts.
- Ayurveda also doesn't say to never drink alcohol. In fact, there are even Ayurvedic medicinal wines. The issue is how much alcohol you consume, why you consume it and what impact it is having on your life.
- Ayurveda doesn't ban wheat or gluten. Wheat can play a healthy role in your life. Our society simply eats too much wheat, not to mention that the wheat we consume are not ancient grains, but new, modern high-gluten varieties, often grown with pesticides. I'm not one to advocate that everyone go wheat-free, but if you're eating bread and pasta daily or even with every meal, it's just too much. There's a good chance it's going to have side effects for your gut and overall physical health. For automimmune disorders in particular, gluten (a protein present in wheat and other grains such as barley and rye) have been shown to aggravate autoimmune disorders. For many, going gluten-free is essential in the healing process from autoimmune disorders.
So if you're eating too much of things like wheat, sugar, alcohol, and deep-fried foods, its really time to cut back. Depending on your mind/body constitution, there may be other things that you're just eating too much. Don't make it complicated, just cut back! Your body will start to act crazy when you drown it with too much of these substances!
3. Toxicity in the body - So let's end with toxicity in the body, one of the most important issues to address in autoimmune disorders. Ayurveda has a term called ama. It is a term that is far more complete than the English word - toxins. Ama is the byproduct of undigested food. When you experience digestive distress, those are clear signs that you are building up ama in the body. In addition to improperly digested food, ama can also include external chemical or bacterial toxins that are not properly processed and eliminated in your body. Ama becomes a toxic sludge in your body that coats your cells and inhibits healthy cellular function.
In my clinical practice of Ayurveda with individuals suffering from autoimmune disorders, I integrate lifestyle medicine, herbs and body therapies, but one of the most important things for autoimmune disorders is Pancha Karma, an Ayurvedic detox protocol that is unique in its ability to pull the heavy sludge of ama/toxins from the body. For many of my clients with autoimmune disorders, a properly guided Pancha Karma program has been a turning point in their healing.
There is a possible path to recovery from autoimmune conditions. It's not based on any one pill. It means living a balanced life, reducing excess, and getting rid of the waste that is preventing your body from accessing its natural intelligence. Don't treat autoimmune disorders like a life sentence. Let's take it as an opportunity to tap into body's natural capacity to heal itself.