Hows and whys of autoimmune disease

My interest in autoimmune disease started 10 years ago — not as a doctor, but as a patient. I went to a dermatologist to have my moles (collection of melanocytes) removed by laser therapy. I had been told it could lead to melanoma (skin cancer). Long story short, the laser treatment was not done properly, leading to an autoimmune condition called vitiligo.
Vitiligo is basically the loss of pigmentation: The skin turns white. And this is not the only disease that can be clubbed under the category of autoimmune disease: The other common ones are hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Those who have one autoimmune disease are at risk of contracting another.
Luckily for me, being a doctor, I knew the side-effects of conventional medicine. So, after much research and meeting lots of alternative and functional medicine doctors, I went the alternative way. I focused on healing from within rather than suppression of symptoms!
Of course, I did not decide my course of treatment alone — I managed my condition with a team of holistic practitioners: I went for detox, massages, lymphatic drainage, acupuncture, Tai Chi, homeopathy.
The disease occurs when the immune system, which is supposed to protect your health, starts attacking healthy cells instead. Eighty per cent of those who have this disorder are women. Autoimmune condition manifests in the affected part of the body as inflammation, which typically causes redness, pain, heat and swelling.
Though the disease is on the rise in India, we are not as badly affected as the United States. In the last half a century, the incidence of autoimmunity in the US has tripled, says Amy Myers, author of The AutoImmune Solution.
So when I discovered what was happening inside my body, especially my gut, I reminded myself of what Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
That is why I am mostly vegan, though I have fish occasionally for its omega 3 content. I strictly consume only organic fruits and vegetables, never take processed foods. I take balanced meals based on clean whole foods, stressing on alkaline foods. I drink lots of green tea, fermented food and probiotics.
People with vitiligo have to be very careful with sun exposure: they should use sunscreens (with a high spf factor) and hats. If you live in Delhi, invest in air purifiers, which can be installed in cars, home and office! Sleep and stress have to be managed, not left to chance.
There is basically no cure for autoimmune diseases — only management is possible. Diagnosis is also difficult. It could be years before doctors finally give a name to the beast, as all symptoms are often subtle, non-specific and intermittent until the disease enters the acute stage. Regrettably, there is no routine lab test you can go for, as you would do for thyroid problems, or diabetes, or blood pressure. But when a doctor does suspect that the immune system is the culprit, a test is conducted called antinuclear antibody test (ANA).
As a preventive step, eliminate foods causing inflammation: dairy, gluten, sugar, meats fried and grilled at high temperature, coffee, fizzy drinks, cured meats that use preservatives and highly processed foods. If you can’t give up kebabs, for instance, at least consume them only as a rare treat!

Dr Reshma is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health.
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