Designated Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, March recognizes the more than 23.5 million Americans who fall under the category of immunocompromised, a number on the rise according to a 2020 study. Some autoimmune diseases are common (e.g. type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease), and others are extremely rare. What they all have in common is the effect of inhibiting the immune system’s ability to decipher what is dangerous and what is safe, causing the system to attack its own healthy cells and tissues rather than only foreign invaders.
An autoimmune disease is “likely [the] result from interactions between genetic and environmental factors,” according to the National Institutes of Health. While autoimmune disease can affect everyone, 75 percent of the sufferers are female, and women of color are disproportionately impacted. The latest data on lupus, which affects more than 1.5 million Americans suggests that American Indian and Black women are 3 times more likely to have lupus than other U.S. adults.
Is an autoimmune disease manageable?
Despite the complex array of symptoms found in the 80-plus autoimmune diseases, there are lifestyle specific lifestyle recommendations which can minimize flare-ups, improve movement and overall health, and ease the pain of stiffness associated with many autoimmune diseases.
Here’s how to maximize health with an autoimmune disease
- You are what you eat. An anti-inflammatory diet is key. Clean out your pantry and fridge of all inflammatory foods like white bread, sweetened beverages, red meat, and anything with sugar and corn oils and restock with an anti-inflammatory diet, which includes tomatoes, olive oil, fatty fish, leafy greens and fruits.
- Load up on nutrients and supplements. Many nutrients have shown to improve symptoms, tame inflammation and help control flare ups. Fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics can help calm your immune response naturally as well as grapeseed and rutin extracts.
- You’ve got to move it, move it. Exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. Take walks around your neighborhood and make a concerted effort to use your body more.
- Find your zen through relaxation. Stress can trigger an autoimmune disease or worsen the immune response. Implement calming techniques into your life: Find a quiet room and take deep breaths for 15 minutes, practice yoga poses, or opt for a massage to help reduce stiffness, tension and fatigue (with Zeel, you can get one without leaving home).
- Don’t miss out on sleep. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. During sleep your body redistributes energy resources and replenishes itself. Without it, your body’s stress and anxiety levels increase making you prone for an autoimmune flare-up.
Lola has served as an editor for a variety of luxury lifestyle magazines in South Florida and began her career as a copy editor for The Miami Herald. She holds a master’s in print journalism. Now she multitasks her new role as a mother with her role as a freelance writer.