Autoimmune Diseases and Mindbody Medicine by Dr Ruth Gawler
I was struck by how extraordinary it was when daughters of two of my friends – one aged 18 and the other 22 – were recently diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE), an “incurable” autoimmune condition.
My friends, both highly knowledgeable doctors, who were understandably devastated by these diagnoses, and the life-long implications this condition would have on their daughter’s lives, poured their efforts into trying to understand how this could happen. Medically, the cause for SLE is unknown.
Autoimmune diseases have not always been this common. When I graduated from medicine in 1981, SLE was an extremely rare condition, which you were likely to diagnose once or twice in your whole medical career.
Both of the daughters mentioned here come from educated families where “good food” was served at the home table, no genetic history of autoimmune conditions in their families, and they both grew up in a loving, wholesome environment where they were encouraged to exercise and enjoy the sunshine when it was available.
This painful personal experience, of my two friends, drove me to look at what is happening in Australia and throughout the developed world with respect to Autoimmune conditions and what I found out deeply shocked me. What I discovered was an alarming situation currently unfolding in our communities.
What we are seeing is a sharp rise in the numbers of people diagnosed with Autoimmune diseases – the most significant increase has happened in the last ten years, with soaring numbers of younger people being diagnosed with conditions which were once rare or confined to the elderly. The numbers of those diagnosed with these diseases are growing exponentially, and concurrently being found in younger and younger people. The pattern of these illnesses is also quite different with the kinds of epidemiological distributions in a population changing as well.
This phenomenon is also happening with Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Coeliac disease, Grave’s disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, to name a few. Also, there are also new autoimmune conditions identified by blood tests showing antibodies to cell components that are hard to classify as any particular condition, but which nevertheless, are autoimmune. In some cases, autoimmune diseases are three times or more, more common now than they were three decades ago. These changes are not due to increased recognition of these disorders or altered diagnostic criteria. Rather, that more people are getting autoimmune disorders than ever before.
The immune system in our bodies is charged with an amazingly complex task: to recognise and ignore all the cells and tissues within our body and—at the same time—to attack any and all “invaders,” foreign cells, viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Our wondrously complex immune system can successfully protect our bodies while recognising and eliminating billions of distinct infections with which we come in contact. When functioning well, the immune system immediately recognises a virus or bacteria that has gotten into our body and initiates a spirited and robust attack on the invader, allowing us to recover from a cold after only a few days. However, this precisely choreographed dance between the immune system and the tissues it is designed to protect goes badly awry in autoimmune diseases. In such diseases, the immune system mistakes friend for foe and begins to attack the very tissues it was designed to protect. The soldiers guarding the castle turn and attack it.
Over the last 40 years, something has been pushing our Mindbody system over the edge. Something is causing the immune system to increasingly make mistakes in which the line becomes blurred, the immune system attacks the body itself, and autoimmune disease occurs. In all likelihood, much of the reason for this often-catastrophic mistake of the immune system comes from the countless environmental toxins to which we are currently exposed—toxins that interfere with the way the immune system communicates with the rest of the body. To paraphrase W. B. Yeats, when that communication is lost “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.”
So what can we do?
Keep on investigating the causes behind the diagnoses, and see whether we can find out what is contributing to the development of their development.
Research the Lifestyle Medicine factors that could offset immune dysfunction.
Promote a detoxifying diet and other ways of cleansing the body, such as a whole-food plant-based diet, organic produce, and minimising additives and preservatives.
Reduce the ‘load on the liver’, which is our body’s clearinghouse, e.g. ceasing or reducing alcohol and other recreational drugs.
Find out what Complementary Medicine has to offer for healing and/or reducing immune dysfunction.
Learning stress-management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga, to make coping with a long-term diagnosis easier and possibly aid recovery.
Dr Ruth Gawler (Integrative GP) andProfessor Sanjay Raghav (Integrative Neurologist) are running their new Mindbody Medicine Retreat program at the Yarra Valley Living Centre from 17-21 May, and also from 29 Nov – 3 Dec in 2019. Specifically tailored to people managing autoimmune conditions, chronic degenerative illness and anxiety or depression, this unique retreat program will empower you with practical tools to make a tangible difference to your state of health and wellbeing. Call 1300 651 211 or visit gawler.org/mbm to enquire/book.