030 // What is an autoimmune disease and what can I do about it?

Health with Hashimoto’s is your free weekly podcast to discover true, simple, and sustainable tips to improve your energy and health.

What is an autoimmune disease? In honor of Autoimmune Awareness Month (March,) today’s episode is all about autoimmune diseases. Did you know that there are over 100 of them? Every single one has a few things in common–including things you can do to improve your health. Whether you have a diagnosis or not, you can start on your path to healing today.

You will find this episode below in audio format and a written summary because I know not everyone is an audio learner. Some links may be affiliate links that will support me without increasing your price.

Each episode of Health with Hashimoto’s is for informational and educational purposes. Please discuss any questions or concerns with your trusted healthcare professional.

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What is an autoimmune disease?

This transcript is auto-generated by OtterAI and may have slight errors.

Welcome to the health with Hashimoto’s podcast. I am so glad you’re here! Welcome. I’m sorry that you are having to seek out this information because it means that not everything is going optimally and smoothly in your life or maybe you’re here for a loved one. But you are in the right spot because this is a podcast where you will find a true, simple, and sustainable path to whole health.

Now, usually, I talk specifically about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease that’s attacking your thyroid. Today in honor of autoimmune Awareness month which is March we’re going to talk about autoimmune diseases in general, because unfortunately when you have one, you are at more risk for getting another one. So you might have Hashimotos or maybe you just found this podcast because you typed in the search autoimmune disease. Either way, I’m glad you’re here. When you have one you are more at risk to get another.

So let’s answer a couple questions today. The first one is just in general, what is an autoimmune disease? The second question we’re going to answer is what causes an autoimmune problem? And then the third is what now because I’m never gonna leave you hanging I will always provide a true, simple, and sustainable path for you.

Autoimmune disease goal: hope and healing

Your goal, my goal for you, is hope and healing. And when I help you with that, it’s looking at the whole you: body, mind, spirit, diet, environment. And I don’t say that in like a woo-woo way.

My background is I was an emergency department nurse for like 17 years. 15 years, I don’t even know it was a really long time that I was in western medicine. And I eventually just got sick and tired of seeing people come in with a problem and leave with a short term Band-Aid solution.

Now of course in the emergency department, we are not we don’t have time to dive deep and really help you figure out your next step. In general, when you go to the emergency department. They figure out your immediate next step and then tell you to follow up with your general provider with your primary provider and then it’s their job to help you dig deeper.

You are the CEO of your health

Well. I want to flip that a little bit. It is your job. You are the CEO of your own health. You need to make sure that things are the questions are getting answered. You get to put people on your team to help you come up with those answers. So your primary care provider is going to be a really good hopefully he’s going to be a really good resource and person to be on your team. Maybe your endocrinologist or your rheumatologist or somebody else is a really good person to have on your team to help you figure out your next step and the path forward to health and healing for you. Every single person is different.

So I left the emergency department and I started this business the name of my business is The Whole You because I help you look at the whole person. And now I have this podcast in helping specifically women with Hashimotos or thyroid problems.

But like I said earlier today, we’re going to go a little bit broader. We’re gonna talk about autoimmune problems in general, and how that relates to you and your path forward. And before I start answering these three questions, what is not an immune disease, what causes them and what now…

This philosophy is flat-out wrong

I want you to know something that drives me crazy in western medicine and conventional medicine, whatever you want to call it. There is a block people believe that you cannot start on your path to health until you have a diagnosis. And that is wrong. It’s flat-out wrong.

You can start on your path to health today.

Yes, having a diagnosis can help with that. But you can start today whether you have a diagnosis or whether you don’t you always have something that you can do to start on your path forward to help. Absolutely right now.

In doing some research for this episode, I came across a doctor who actually said, “if you have mild symptoms, you may need to wait for the disease to blossom and the signs to become more obvious.” Well, no! I hate it. When you go in for answers. And you’re saying, “this does not feel right.” And they’re like, let’s keep an eye on it come back in six months, maybe it’ll be worse and then we can do something about it. That is absolutely wrong.

You can start on your path to health today–even without a diagnosis

You can start on your path to health today. If you’re not feeling good if you’re not feeling normal today. That’s a red flag. There’s something that’s going on that we can address. We might not be able to diagnose it today. And by we I mean the doctors I am a nurse. I do not diagnose. The doctors might not be able to diagnose it today. But you can definitely start on your path to health.

Diagnosing an autoimmune disease can take years

So how long does it take for people to get diagnosed with an autoimmune problem? It can take 10 or more years. For example, over a third of people with ankylosing spondylitis. It took them over 10 years to get a diagnosis and in those 10 years, 96% of them had at least one misdiagnosis. For people with psoriatic arthritis, it took over five years for over a third of them to get their diagnosis. And again 96% of them had at least one misdiagnosis.

So keep searching for an answer. Keep searching for a name because it might help you get key things in your path to health but know that you can absolutely start today.

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

Alright, so let’s back up and answer question number one what is an autoimmune disease? Basically, it’s your immune system getting confused and starting to attack you. We got the name of the autoimmune disease can vary based on where your immune system is attacking. For example, if your immune system is attacking your thyroid, then we call it Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Every single autoimmune problem or disease has a different name, but they all originate from the same thing. It is your immune system getting confused.

So different autoimmune diseases, you could have rheumatoid arthritis, primarily affecting your joints, psoriasis that’s affecting your skin. Multiple Sclerosis. I did not know that multiple sclerosis was an autoimmune disease. Well until this year, and I’ve been in healthcare since I was 16. And I’m 43 right now. But Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune problem and it affects your central nervous system. Addison’s disease, Graves disease, celiac disease, lupus, and alopecia all of these are autoimmune diseases. There are over 100 Different named autoimmune diseases, but they all involve your immune system getting confused and starting to attack you.

What causes an autoimmune disease?

So question number two, what causes them was your immune system getting confused, but where it attacks that’s usually genetic.

Think of an autoimmune disease as seeking out the low-hanging fruit. And for you, the low-hanging fruit might be your thyroid. Your immune system is like hey, let’s attack this for somebody else, it’s going to be something different a different tissue or a different organ, because that’s their genetic disposition. Your autoimmune disease is typically impacted by your genetics.

What is an autoimmune disease? Genetic

What else causes them? A lot of different things. So um, you can control some you can’t you cannot control your genes. You were born female or male. You can’t control that. I know there’s a lot of people saying that you can switch but every single cell in your body is either male or female.

Females have more autoimmune problems. In fact, 78% of people who have an autoimmune disease are females. One in 15 people (in the US at least) has an autoimmune problem. So of those one in 15, 78% are women.

Controlable factors

So you can’t control your genes. You can’t control your gender. But there are things that you can control that tend to cause autoimmune problems, things like smoking and toxin exposure.

You can control that you can’t control the environment that you were raised in. If your family if your parents smoked growing up. Obviously, you can’t change that and you can’t go back in time and undo it. If you made the decision to smoke or if you have a house that’s filled with toxins or you have a job that exposes you to a lot of toxins, and you can’t change the past. But those are things that can cause an autoimmune problem because they work on your immune system. But you can choose to stop. And stopping some things like smoking might be hard to stop, but it’s possible. You can choose to lower your toxins. Everything that you’re exposed to. It might take some work, but you can choose to make that decision and work through your house and perhaps where you are employed so that you can lower that risk factor.

Other things like obesity impact your risk of autoimmune problems. And with obesity. It’s, again it’s impacted your by your genetics. It’s also impacted by the lifestyle and the food choices that have been handed down and that you were raised with but you can lose weight it is possible.

One autoimmune disease can lead to another

Your genetics are not your destiny. And the other thing that can impact your risk of getting an autoimmune disease is having another one because like I said, it’s like low-hanging fruit. So if your immune system is going haywire and is starting to attack you, it goes after the easiest thing first, and then it’s like hey, I already got this one. So let’s move to the next branch. And for many, many people, once they have one autoimmune disease in a couple of years, they will add another and then sometimes another. That is not what we want.

But before we can move to question three, which is what do I do now? We need to talk about a couple more components of what causes autoimmune disease.

Three things for all autoimmune diseases

If you’ve been a listener to my previous 29 episodes, you know what I’m gonna say. There are three components to every single autoimmune disease. Number one, a genetic component. We’ve already talked about that. Number two, there’s a gut component. And number three, there’s one or more triggers.

So I already talked about the genetic component if you’re interested in more information about that, take a listen to episodes 15 and 16. In Episode 15, I answered a listener question about what to do if genetic testing reveals an increased risk for autoimmune problems. Now specifically, I was referencing Hashimotos. Take a listen to episodes 15 and 16 of this podcast in Episode 15.

I talk about nutrigenomics and what you can do about your genes, I had a clip from a guest Her name is Sarah Harding, and she explained nutrigenomics meaning nutrient nutrition and genomics meaning your genes and how you can turn those on or off and how you can have a healthy life despite having certain genetics.

And then in Episode 16, I answered a question or gave you three questions to ask yourself if you think you might have thyroid problems, or an autoimmune problem. Those are super helpful episodes that you can go back and listen to for this first component of what causes an autoimmune disease and that is your genetics. So go listen to episodes 15 and 16.

How you can help more women find this info

I will link them in the show notes. But you can obviously search for them in your podcast player. As long as I’m talking about your podcast player will you do me a huge favor? This is my 30th episode. Will you leave a star rating and a review if this has been helpful when you leave a five-star rating and when you leave a review or written review, it does not have to be long by the way, it tells the algorithm of each podcast player that this is helpful and could be beneficial to others and they will help push it out to other people and with one in 15 people dealing with an autoimmune problem and it takes up to 10 years or more to get a diagnosis. This is definitely something that we want to spread the news on we want to tell people that there is a path to hope there is a path to healing whether you have a diagnosis or not. You can take the next step on your own path to health.

So what causes an autoimmune disease genetic component, gut component, trigger. We just covered genetic components. Let’s talk about the gut.

An autoimmune disease has a gut component

There are two main components that we want to look at for gut number one is the container and number two is the contents.

So the container would be your gut itself, the lining of your gut and then the contents would be your microbiome, everything that lives inside of your gut to help you digest.

Gut: The container

The container of your gut and your actual lining is ginormous. Picture a tennis court. Can you see a tennis court in your mind? If you took your gut lining and you stretched it out? It would cover an entire tennis court that’s all within your body and most of it is only one to two cells thick or much of it.

The holes in your gut

And it is designed so that in your intestines, things can pass through that gut lining to get to where they need to go. But if you’ve ever heard the term leaky gut, you know that those tiny little gaps that are supposed to be there can get bigger. And there are some things that cause that to get bigger.

Some of them would include foods and in a previous episode, I talked about the four foods that you might want to remove if you have an autoimmune disease, and then also just chew your food. Because when you have huge things knocking into the wall of the lining, well, of course, that’s going to cause damage do so to your food, I think go back and listen to that podcast episode where I talk about what you might want to remove so that you can reduce your incidence of leaky gut because when things that are too big get through the gut lining that can cause problems.

I also spoke quite a bit on the gut back two episodes ago. So 28. I talked about collagen and its role in the gut and what I am doing to repair my gut to help with my autoimmune flare. So go back and listen to that episode as well. So that’s the container of your gut.

Gut: Contents

Let’s talk about the contents. Within your gut, you have a microbiome. The microbiome is made up of bacteria, fungi protozoa viruses. These things weigh in you about five pounds and the microbiota is involved with your nutrient digestion with your vitamin synthesis, and then other metabolic processes. It’s crucial for your health. And what we have learned about your microbiome and autoimmune diseases specifically, is what bacteria live within your gut can impact if you’re going to get an autoimmune disease.

Like I said, every autoimmune disease has a gut component. And one of the things that we’ve learned is it depends on the bacteria in there. So it is really important to make sure that we are getting good bacteria every day.

And I don’t know about you, but I was raised to think bacteria are bad and we don’t ever want them and we stay away from them. Well, that’s not quite true. There are good bacteria that really serve a purpose within our gut.

It is important to have both prebiotics and probiotics every day. You want to have them together because the probiotics are the bacteria. They feed on your prebiotics. When you put them together they have a synergistic effect which means they work better together than alone. And some people have coined the term synbiotic meaning the synergistic effect between the prebiotic and probiotic. So whether you’re eating foods or getting supplements, make sure that you are always doing both together because you want it to be more effective. So that’s prebiotics and probiotics.

Autoimmune disease triggers

So that leads us to number three, the triggers, and this is the third big cause, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that with each of these causes, I’m also answering the big question three of what now what can I do now.

So the third cause of autoimmune problems are triggers. And every autoimmune condition has one or more triggers, and they can vary based on your specific autoimmune problem, but a lot of them are related to stress and sleep.

I dedicated episodes seven and eight to stress. There are a lot of tips in there because we all needed to lower our stress.

And then in Episode 23, I talked about sleep extensively, how it can be a trigger for autoimmune diseases, and how to sleep better. I have an episode planned for the near future of more tips on sleep because it is so important for all autoimmune diseases, including what this podcast focuses on, which is thyroid problems Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

What do I do now?

That leaves you with this big question, what do I do now? I’ve given you lots of tips, but what are you going to do when you turn off your phone or wherever your podcast is playing?

I want you to pick one thing.

When I left the emergency department and I started doing this health coaching via zoom. One of my very first clients said to me, her goal was to be 1% better every day. That is a fantastic goal.

If you focus on getting completely better tomorrow. It’s probably not going to work. It’s too big of a step.

1% better is a great goal

If you focus on one thing and fixing it or improving it by 1% Each day, you’re going to make more progress. Maybe you’ve seen the picture of a ladder with the rungs like five feet apart, but super, super hard to climb. And compare that to a ladder where the rungs are, you know, spaced closer together. It’s gonna be much, much easier to climb that ladder you’re gonna get to the top faster.

1% better every day, because you can start on your path to health and healing today. It is possible whether you have a diagnosis or you don’t, you could still be in that seeking phase, but you can always do something that’s 1% better today. And that includes if your doctor has told you, we’re just gonna keep an eye on it. Come back in six months.

If you have been to your provider and you have not felt heard you’ve not felt validated, you feel like they didn’t listen to you and really hear your concerns.

What is an autoimmune disease? Common! You’re not alone

Know that number one, you’re not alone. There are other people going through this too.

There’s hope!

And number two, there’s hope you can start on your path to healing today. If you’re wondering where to start, obviously I’ve given you a lot of actionable steps in this episode, but I also offer Hashimoto’s health sessions. If you came to this episode today, and you’re like, well, Esther, I don’t have Hashimotos so can I still book a coaching call with you? Yes, you can. We can still talk through what’s going on and your next step. That is what I do.

In those sessions. I listen, you will feel heard, you will feel seen. You will feel validated because your symptoms are real. And I can tell you they’re not all in your head.

A significant number of people who have autoimmune problems have been told that their symptoms are psychosomatic, they’re all in their head. What you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing are your experiences and I’m not gonna tell you that they’re false. What we’re going to do is I’m going to listen and then together help you figure out your next step. As a nurse and as a health coach. I do not provide a diagnosis. But what I do help you figure out is your next step. What can you do today? Tomorrow, the next day, to feel better and to start finding your own path to health.

This podcast is for informational and educational purposes only. Please be sure to discuss any concerns and plans with your trusted healthcare professional

Images used in this post include those from Unsplash: Anees Ur Rehman