If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder (like millions of Americans, myself included), you probably also struggle with chronic pain. The two often go hand in hand. While you are getting treatment from your doctor, you might also want to try these methods for managing your pain and improving your quality of life!
1. Changing Your Diet
Making positive dietary changes and learning how to create healthy eating habits can go a long way towards improving comfort because, when done right, you are effectively lowering inflammation. Diets that promote increased intake of whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and those that minimize dairy, red meat and processed foods (known to exacerbate inflammation and increase the suffering from an autoimmune disorder) can be a very effective tool for managing pain.
As a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor and National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I work with patients and clients that are in need of a change to their Standard American Diet and lifestyle to reduce symptoms, improve medically prescribed outcomes, and to make connections between diet and behavior so they can learn how their choices may be making symptoms worse and potentially driving disease progression.
There are many diet plans that claim to be “the best protocol” for autoimmune patients. However, when working with patients through the lens of Lifestyle Medicine and Functional Nutrition, we are able to see that not any one diet is a “right fix” for all. In other words, your particular situation, symptoms, disease state is different from someone else’s, even if you have the same autoimmune disease. It’s different because YOU’RE DIFFERENT. You need to find what works best for you. So yes, these diets may be good for many people suffering from autoimmune diseases:
Autoimmune protocol (AIP) Gluten-free Low FODMAP
But it doesn’t mean they are right for everyone with autoimmune diseases. When we look at the patient as a whole person, consider the impact of disease on all body systems, make connections between food, mood, even poop (it’s data!), then we can begin to consider the following from a coaching perspective:
1. What likely got you where you are today, health wise?
2. What is holding you back from making progress with symptom management and health and wellness goals?
3. How can we test, not guess to gain more information before trying a protocol?
4. How can we support your self-advocacy and health education needs so you can get the care you know you need from your medical team?
5. How can we become an Allied Health Practitioner on your medical care team to support your health and wellness goals under the direct supervision of your most trusted medical professionals?
6. The need to potentially gain a letter of medical necessity for disease prevention, lifestyle medicine, health and wellness coaching so you can take advantage of building a trusted relationship with a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach while possibly getting reimbursed from your insurance provider.
2. Taking Medications
While OTC drugs like NSAIDs can often be very effective at reducing pain to a more manageable level, there are often many side effects to consider. Some autoimmune diseases may call for even stronger medications. Prescription-strength drugs are typically far more powerful than OTC medications, but these drugs require the approval of a doctor and often come with a long list of side effects, too.
The bottom line here is this, nothing is without consequence. Know what you are taking and why. Learn how targeted lifestyle and nutrition support can alter your terrain, improve your symptoms, and help you to not become dependent on medications for pain relief. If you are taking medications, know how to listen to your body, track your symptoms, and know if things are getting better, worse, or are perhaps different due to your meds. Working with a trained Health Coach can help you to better understand and manage your symptoms. Never start or stop medications without first discussing this with your medical provider.
3. Taking Supplements
While there are many natural ways to help manage your autoimmune disease pain, it is worth noting that there are many diverse supplements on the market and some may be good options for you. You should always talk to your doctor about these options, even if you are trying to add more natural remedies to your pain management plan. It’s also recommended to track your symptoms when you start new medications. Herbal supplements, OTC, and prescription medications work in different ways within your body and can have adverse reactions when combined (some can be serious or even fatal). It’s important to discuss everything you are taking, or plan to take, with a medical professional.
4. Alternative Therapies
There are numerous care providers who may be able to offer a range of services to assist those who suffer from an autoimmune disorder. Chiropractic care can often make a real difference for those who suffer from physical pain as improvement range of motion helps to improve overall body function. Treatment options like acupuncture could greatly improve the level of comfort that sufferers will be able to enjoy and improve overall immune system function while bringing enhanced mental clarity and relief from symptoms. Salt rooms (halotherapy) can improve breathing. Infrared Saunas can improve circulation, detox the body of excess toxins, increase enzyme and hormone production, and increase metabolism. Massage therapy can be calming, reduce pain, and soothe aches. These are just a few of the many alternative therapies. Adding alternative therapies to your care plan could end up being very valuable if you are seeking to create and implement a more effective pain-management strategy. It may be worth it to explore what seems right for you with your Health Coach. Your coach may also refer you to a trusted alternative therapy professional.
5. Getting More Physical Activity
You may think that because of your autoimmune disease, you won’t get a lot of exercise, but the opposite is actually true. Staying fit and active is another way that sufferers may be able to minimize flare-ups and ensure that their other efforts to manage and reduce pain are able to be as effective as possible.
Regular exercise can help to alleviate the inflammation which causes pain and the right workout routine can even allow sufferers to train their body's natural pain response in order to further minimize discomfort. You may just need a little help rethinking what exercise might need to look like for you. For example, yoga, swimming and other low-impact workout options can often be ideally suited to those who have medical conditions which may limit range of motion or leave sufferers unable to engage in certain types of activities.
Always listen to your body and do not overdo it. If you are having a day with a lot of pain and fatigue, take it easy and then focus more on physical activity when you are having a good day. If you can though, try to get some kind of movement in, even if it’s just a walk around the house, or moving your legs, or pumping your arms above your head. Any type of movement is going to help with blood flow and circulation of nutrients and oxygen to your body’s cells. Even breathing exercises can be more beneficial than you might think! For some of my favorites, check out James Nestor’s Top 5 Breathing Techniques (for people who breathe) at https://youtu.be/f6yAY1oZUOA.
6. Lifestyle Changes
While proper diet and regular exercise are both essential to good health, there are other lifestyle changes that could have a positive impact on your autoimmune symptoms and comfort levels. Good sleep hygiene can go a long way towards improving comfort, boosting energy levels and ensuring that efforts to reduce pain and manage symptoms are met with greater success. A qualified Health Coach can help you evaluate your sleep routine and your quality of sleep as well as guide you through the behavior changes necessary to improve your sleep hygiene, and ultimately your comfort, energy, and mood!
Even making an effort to drink more water can be extremely beneficial! After all, every cell and organ system in your body (including your brain) uses water to function. A general rule is to take in 50% of your body’s weight in ounces of water daily. Even something as simple as a headache could be a result of de-hydration.
Finding ways to reduce and manage stress levels in order to promote greater relaxation can also be helpful. Working through breath exercises (as stated above), getting massages, going for walks, listening to music, all can help to alleviate stress. If stress is holding you back or causing too much anxiety, bring this up to your Health Coach and they will work with you on identifying stress triggers and finding what works for you to avoid or reduce triggers as well as to manage your stress in a healthy way.
I hope this list has helped you to better understand how taking simple steps to improve your health and optimize your lifestyle can positively impact your pain and symptoms while living with an autoimmune disease. If you wish to explore personalized Health and Wellness Coaching, please feel free to book a complimentary Discovery Call with me at https://p.bttr.to/37nWlJ3.