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The more research we do, the more evidence we uncover that auto-immune responses are at play in most of our serious degenerative illnesses.

We’ve known about arthritis, multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus, to name a few, but the same sort of pathways are being discovered in allergies, in type 2 diabetes, in many types of cancer, and in Alzheimer’s.

It seems that as soon as you ask the question, the answer becomes obvious

It’s not surprising, in a way. All of these conditions involve inflammation in one form or another: swelling, redness, pain and spasm. And inflammation is an immune response; it’s what happens – appropriately - when your immune system is activated to deal with an infection, or your body is healing from an injury. But it also happens when your immune system perceives your own healthy cells as though they were foreign bodies, and mobilises its defences accordingly.

Why does this happen?

Often there is a genetic marker, but that only makes you more rather than less likely to develop this kind of response. Something needs to activate it, and we are finding out more all the time about what that something might be. Here’s a list:

  • 1. Stress – physical, emotional or mental. This includes shocks and traumas.
  • 2 The health of your digestive system. Symptoms like reflux, irritable bowel, piles or gallstones are not trivial. They mean that your system is under stress, and if you don’t sort it out, sooner or later an auto-immune reaction may well be set up.
  • 3. Mucous membrane troubles, like sinusitis, glue ear, bronchitis or repeated sore throats. If these become chronic or keep recurring, it’s a warning signal.
  • 4. Use of antibiotics. They may kill bacterial infections, but they don’t dampen the inflammatory reaction, and in fact they hinder the body’s attempts to resolve the situation. This makes it more likely that an auto-immune response may develop.
  • 5. Toxins. Tobacco, alcohol, various drugs and environmental toxins can set off a response.
  • 6. Hormones. Some women are susceptible to the hormone changes in pregnancy or the period cycle, to the Pill or HRT, and an auto-immune response can occur.
  • 7. Lack of sleep. Again, the more we look at this, the more important it seems to be in undermining the health of the immune system and making out-of-control inflammatory reactions more likely.
  • 8. Various foods. Individuals vary, but there are certain food groups that cause problems for a lot of us. Wheat and gluten-containing grains, dairy products and the tomato family are well known, but they are not the only ones. Salt, sugar, the lectins in pulses and pseudo-grains, and a long list of other food ingredients can be triggers if you have a susceptibility.
  • 9. Radiation.

…And so on. It seems almost anything can be a trigger, especially if you have an innate vulnerability, and if your resilience is lowered by stressors of various sorts.

So what can you do? Here’s the first thing: don’t panic!

Don’t stop eating everything you like, buy loads of supplements and stay indoors all the time. Our responses are individual, and we need to work out for ourselves what our triggers might be. If you just eliminate lots of foods, the reactivity isn’t going to go away, it’s going to find other things to react to.

And that brings us back, as always, to feeding and strengthening your vitality. Eating well, sleeping well, paying attention to what your body is telling you. The message is so simple that we simply discount it, as we rush about looking for cures and fixes.

Look after yourself.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (www.nimh.org.uk.) The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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