Environment

Why Do Our Bodies Attack Us?

Why our bodies attack us in the form of autoimmune (AI) diseases is still unknown. There has been much research and there are correlations, links, hypotheses……but no definitive cause has been found.

Some of the studies I have read over the years have looked at:

  • gut bacteria
  • smoking
  • stress
  • genetic predispositions
  • pollution
  • diet
  • processed foods
  • links to medications we may have been on for other conditions
  • lack of exercise
  • B lymphocytes
  • environment

Some AI diseases are local (i.e. single organ involvement), others are systemic. Co-morbidity (patient has more than one condition) is reasonably common, about 25% of patients. The rate of co-morbidity is increasing, as is the number of conditions a patient may develop.

Although it does me absolutely no good to ponder about WHY I have the conditions I do, I ponder anyway. Most patients probably do!

I can tick off several items on that list: I’ve had a reasonable amount of stress in my life, I used to smoke (quite heavily by today’s standards), I may have a genetic predisposition but am unable to confirm that, I live in a major city so am certainly exposed to pollution. Like everyone else, I am exposed to our rapidly changing environment.

“Our gene sequences aren’t changing fast enough to account for the increases,” Miller says. “Yet our environment is—we’ve got 80,000 chemicals approved for use in commerce, but we know very little about their immune effects. Our lifestyles are also different than they were a few decades ago, and we’re eating more processed food.” Should prevalence rates for heart disease and cancer continue their decline, Miller says, autoimmune diseases could become some of the costliest and most burdensome illnesses in the United States.

Source: Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Autoimmune Disease

It isn’t just the chemicals. We are destroying our soil and our water. Both vital aspects of our food chain. Pop across to my book review earlier this year of Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century for more details. The Adani mine proposal in Queensland is most likely a health disaster waiting to happen. I look at the photo above: which environment might be healthier?

Yet many people do not develop AI diseases. Do they have a natural resistance?

Are all the different diseases really just different expressions of one disease?

So many unanswered questions.

I do think we have changed our natural world so much and so fast. We live entirely different lives than we did a hundred years ago: faster paced, less exercise, exposure to many things that didn’t exist a hundred years ago.

We also died younger: perhaps these diseases did exist, we just didn’t recognise them or live long enough for them to bother us. Yet many of these diseases do not worry about age: young or old, so many succumb to an out of control immune system irrespective of age. Consequently I’m not a fan of that theory.

It is estimated a hundred years ago humans got five times more exercise that they do today, just from living their lives. Office jobs were a rarity, not the norm. Movement was a natural part of life, not something we were encouraged to do for thirty minutes a day.

“Sitting is the new smoking” has been a mantra for a while, but now studies show standing is not the solution either. Movement is the key to good health, but we have developed a civilisation in which movement is not happening enough. We sit or stand without movement in so many jobs.

Sleep is another lifestyle concern. Most of us don’t get nearly enough. We watch too much TV, have the iPad or our phone on our bedside table so go to sleep way after sundown, yet get up at 5:30am to get that 30 minutes of mandated movement in the gym before 8 hours sitting (or standing). Rinse and repeat.

For those of us already managing AI conditions, (the pain, the financial impost, the lifestyle restrictions) finding the cause may be too late for us personally. For those coming after us, I do hope science finds a solution. Soon.

I do recommend counteracting as much as we possibly can. Eat healthily, sleep well, MOVE, avoid processed foods, give up smoking, minimise stress. Science has given us ways to manage many of these conditions reasonably well, however we can help. There is no point in my taking my prescribed medications every morning if I undermine the efficacy by my lifestyle choices.

While the scientific jury is still out, I’m looking at AI diseases as having a multi-factorial cause. I don’t believe I can rid myself of my conditions, but I can sure as hell give my body the best help I can.

Resources:

Multiple autoimmune syndrome

Autoimmune diseases (a good intro from the Australian Society of Immunology and Allergy)

Recent insights in the epidemiology of autoimmune diseases: Improved prevalence estimates and understanding of clustering of diseases

 

 

Beat the Boom Bust Cycle

BOOM! You feel great! You do all the things you’ve had to put off. What a sense of achievement!

BUST…… Can’t move, feel totally wiped out, no energy……

And so the cycle goes.

While the boom/bust cycle is certainly applicable to pain, today I am looking at another symptom of many chronic conditions, fatigue. Lethargy can be a better description.

If you google “fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis” you will get about 579,000 results. Similar with other conditions. “Fatigue and lupus” will find about 705,000 results.

While fatigue can be, often is, linked to pain levels, I have found it can also not be: I can be fatigued without pain. Thankfully, not nearly as much now because I’ve adopted strategies to manage the fatigue much better than I did in the early days. As will be the case with many people, there may be more than one condition involved. In my particular case, hyperthyroid, a condition that may cause sleep disruption/lack of sleep quality – not something that helps a person suffering fatigue.

I still remember one particular day early in my journey. I woke up feeling FANTASTIC! Off to the gym I went, did a great workout, did the grocery shopping on the way home, changed the linen on the bed: and then collapsed. I had no energy for three days. Not how I want to life my life.

In an earlier article on removing stress from our lives, I spoke of certain practical changes I made. Not all were for stress alone.

The following should be read as ideas. This is some of the things I’ve done: all, some or none may work for any other individual, or may simply prompt thoughts about what might be applicable in your own situation.

Depending on how aggressive your condition or conditions are you may not need to be this drastic. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, eating well, ensuring adequate hydration and good sleep hygiene may be sufficient. The Arthritis Foundation has a short introductory article on beating fatigue with lifestyle changes. I certainly incorporate all those (especially the exercise, of course) in my life!

Don’t Overdo It!

Rule Number 1 is the same as Rule Number 1 for pain management. On the “BOOM! I feel so good today” days DO NOT rush around madly doing a list of things a mile long (shopping, go to the gym, vacuum etc etc). Especially in the early days (battling the guilt of not getting things done) we can go completely overboard on the BOOM days. Guess what? The next few days are awful. BUSTed. Then we feel awful again because we aren’t doing what we feel we should be doing…… around and around it goes.

Even now, I never do my grocery shopping the same day as I do a strength workout. I don’t do a strength workout the days I go to my day job. I do not check my work emails on the days I am not in the office (that took discipline, developing and sticking to that rule). I plan ahead and I PACE myself carefully.

RELOCATION

When I was appointed to my current role, I lived a considerable distance from my new work location. I love driving, but spending an hour in peak-hour traffic in the morning and up to two and a half hours getting home after eight hours in the office was NOT a happening thing. Not only did I find driving on the freeway in second gear extremely stressful, an eleven and a half hour day was just way too much. The best solution for me was to relocate closer to work.

I can now drive door to door in ten minutes, or I can take a tram and be there in twenty minutes. No stressful driving conditions and a much shorter day.

Reduce Working Hours

This is a tough one. Again this is an aspect of life that can relate to both stress and fatigue. If you are fatigued, you are less likely to perform as well at work and that creates stress (and in some cases, guilt). If your work is being a mother and a wife, the same feelings can apply.

In either situation, reducing working hours can be difficult. There are financial implications of reducing paid hours of employment. For a mother, who is going to do the work?

I have been extremely fortunate and am extremely grateful for my situation. The reduced hours I work allow me to feel I am professional and effective when I am in the office, yet I get enough time to ensure my exercise regime is followed, I can prep meals on a day off for the days I work and I get adequate rest. I can also schedule medical appointments on my days off without feeling guilty for taking time off work.

No, financially it is not as beneficial as working full-time. But I am a lot healthier.

Exercise

Yes, well, it goes without saying that would be high on my list of recommendations! Limberation would not exist if I did not believe so strongly in the benefits of exercise. I won’t repeat my How Tough is it to Get Moving article here, I’ll just repeat, when I say exercise, I’m not suggesting you rush out and start running 10 km a day!

The days I do strength workouts I ALWAYS sleep well that night. Exercise has definitely helped alleviate my fatigue.

Healthy Eating & Hydration

Particularly, I have found, a problem if you live alone. When you are so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open (but of course you can’t sleep either), perhaps also in pain, maybe also stressed because you missed that important deadline at work or missing the school concert: guess what, taking the TIME to eat properly, or even enough, just seems to fall by the wayside.

Once I started making sure I ate enough protein and stopped depending on “easy” solutions such as toasted cheese sandwiches, I did indeed feel a lot better. The meal prep mentioned above is not just about time, it is also about ensuring I have nutritionally balanced meals right there when I am too tired to cook.

Drinking enough is also crucial. I find I am good on the intake when I am at work or the gym. I am slack when I am home – the water bottle always seems to be where I am not and I forget. I certainly know about not drinking enough later on though.

Don’t Worry About the Ironing

Or the vacuuming. Or polishing the furniture (a quick dust will do). Yes, you must feed the cat, dog, fish or bird if you have one. Vacuum one room a day. If you are in a family environment, delegate the ironing if possible: if living alone a) buy clothes that don’t need ironing or, b) iron one thing the night before. Hide the ironing basket in a cupboard out of sight, not only of visitors, but out of sight of yourself so you won’t be tempted to overdo it!

Sleep Hygiene

There are lots of different sleep hygiene strategies/techniques you can try, from breathing techniques to relaxation music, yes, even counting sheep will work for some. Temperature of the bedroom is important, put the screens (iPad, phone, TV) away well before bed-time. Talk to a professional about strategies that might work for you.

This one is an ongoing challenge for me, so I have no brilliant suggestions of my own to share. I know it is important and I’m working on it!

Why the Cat?

Why is my cat the photo? Because Cleo is doing what we must all do. Learn new things, within our restrictions. I don’t have an area I can let her experience the great outdoors freely. Learning to adjust to a harness and lead allows her experiences she would otherwise not be able to have.

Our harness is learning to PACE ourselves, so we can still have adventures.

Additional Resources:

A very interesting media release from 2007 by Arthritis Australia is worth reading, Women’s Insights into Rheumatoid Arthritis.