Holiday indulgences aren't always autoimmune friendly. A healthy diet, adequate amount of rest and an overall balanced lifestyle are recommended for all of us. But for those living with autoimmune disease, a season marked by decadent meals and running around visiting family and friends can make getting through each day a physical and mental challenge far superior to that of an average healthy person. The most common holiday rituals can be the crux of falling victim to this.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine points out that there are over 80 different autoimmune diseases and the American Autoimmune Diseases Association puts the number at more than 100. Yet there is one common denominator when it comes to the symptoms of most of them: inflammation. The body can fluctuate between flare-ups, where symptoms get worse, and remission, where the symptoms get better or go away. The state of an autoimmune disease can be affected by inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain and swelling.
So, what is causing the inflammation that aggravates the symptoms of their autoimmune disease? You guessed it – the wrong food choices, inadequate sleep and elevated stress, to name a few. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season, with all its joys and guilty pleasures, comes with physical consequences that can be especially detrimental to anyone living with autoimmune disease.
However, in my years of treating patients with autoimmune disease around the holidays, I've found there are some general steps and guidelines for navigating the holiday season with an autoimmune disease. With this in mind, the following six tips will help those with autoimmune disease to enjoy a healthier, more feel-good holiday season:
Get adequate rest and sleep. This can be easier said than done during the hustle and bustle of the holidays but it's important as fatigue is one of the most common side effects of autoimmune disease. If you don't listen to your body when you're tired you can exacerbate your condition. Losing sleep can trigger the key cellular pathway that produces tissue-damaging inflammation. Make it a point to set limits for gatherings. You don't need to be the last one at the party and don't over-commit yourself.
Keep your stress at bay. Chronic stress alters the gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they're ready to fight infection or trauma – even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This leads to increased inflammation. So again, set limits for yourself and communicate them to your friends and family. We often set high expectations for ourselves that we can't always realize. Your loved ones will understand. Health and happiness come before having the best-decorated house, the most presents under the tree, or attending the most festivities. Pace yourself!
Embrace the delicious holiday fare…carefully. Don't eat anything that you know you're going to have an adverse reaction to but try to not limit yourself unnecessarily because of your condition either. Try keeping a record of everything you eat so that if you do feel any symptoms after a big holiday feast you can try to narrow down and identify the offending item. Dairy, gluten, sugar, refined starches and grains, saturated fats and alcohol are inflammatory and should be avoided. At the very least, eat them in moderation.
Keep an eye on your kids. Autoimmune diseases are often hereditary so if you have an autoimmune condition your kids are likely at a higher risk for developing one as well. Keep on alert to any behavioral or physical ailments that your kids may display when indulging in holiday treats.
See your doctor. Have you been formally diagnosed with an autoimmune condition or are you just guessing? Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page in terms of diagnosis/treatment options so you can properly game plan the holiday season.
Get to know your triggers. Is there a specific food that triggers your condition? Do you know if you are consuming any cross-reactive foods? Are you better off consuming a food in raw, cooked or modified form?
- Consider the low FODMAP diet. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are connected. A new meta-analysis of 27 studies finds that 1/3 of patients with IBD in remission have IBS-type symptoms, and those individuals tend to have more anxiety and depression symptoms. The low FODMAP diet has been shown to give relief to 75% of people with IBS. Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified foods, protein powders and supplements are low FODMAP, all natural, gluten-, lactose- and soy-free, so you can eat with confidence.
It is important to consult with your doctor if you have or suspect you may have autoimmune related issues. Good communication, awareness and professional medical guidance are key to good health and feeling your best, especially as we approach the holiday season. Making time for you and your well being is always a worthy investment. Happy Holidays!
- Dr Chad Larson