As I’ve started to do some (a lot) of reading on functional nutrition and the larger connections of food to overall health, I am increasingly fascinated by the research and various stories about autoimmune and chronic diseases.
What are these and what is going on? All of the 11 systems of the human body are interconnected and work in concert to allow us to live and function. The circulatory system moves oxygen and nutrients around, the digestive system takes the food we eat and converts it into a form our cells can use and then eliminates the waste, the endocrine system is about hormones, the musculoskeletal systems are the muscles and bones that provide structure and movement, and on it goes. When one system gets stressed, overwhelmed, or damaged, the other systems may be compromised and that is when odd symptoms or conditions may start to crop up. It may take some time (decades, even) for this overwhelm to occur, but then it can seem like one random day, you feel different or sick as your own body rebels against itself.
According to the United States Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institute of Health (NIH), autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100 serious chronic illnesses. Some examples from the list are digestive issues (like Celiac or Crohn’s disease), joint issues (like rheumatoid arthritis), skin issues (like eczema and psoriasis), and endocrine issues (like type 2 diabetes).
In the past few weeks, as I’ve been have having more conversations around nutrition and food issues, some interesting research, statistics, and anecdotes have revealed some interesting information.
Approximately 1 in 12 women are afflicted with distressing symptoms. And in 2017 a new classification of diagnosis was discussed in peer-reviewed journals: “medically unexplained symptoms” (MUS). Patients were going to their physicians with odd persistent symptoms and a diagnosis couldn’t be pinpointed. These patients often reported seeing at least 4 doctors (over 3+ years) before getting a true diagnosis. Lifestyle issues (including questions about stress, sleep, and eating habits) were rarely addressed and doctors either prescribed medications or offered a referral to a psychologist. But in all fairness, many physicians are unaware of autoimmune diseases, especially in our modern times as there has been a rapid rise in these chronic illnesses in their patients.
What can we do? As I learn more about functional nutrition, I am becoming more aware of the interaction of food to support the various body systems and symptoms. It is time to integrate the silo'ed medical system with diet and lifestyle. These various autoimmune diseases are complicated and require a more comprehensive solution to treat the whole patient. And hopefully, we’ll be able to support people (especially the overwhelming number of women) struggling with these symptoms to feel healthier and more vibrant.
(Note – just this morning, August 9th, 2019, I saw that Netflix is premiering a new series in the fall called “Diagnosis.” The premise is based on a physician at Yale is using the internet to connect people together from around the world with MUS. People are relieved to find out that they are not struggling alone. These autoimmune issues and rare diseases are isolating and lonely and we need to think ‘outside the box’ to find solutions and share ideas).