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Struggling With Autoimmune Disease? Heal Your Immune System Naturally With This 4-Step Plan

Written by: Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill

As a career firefighter and mom to three children, our author thought she was the picture of health until she got a health-related wake-up call. Turning her pain into passion, she now helps other women who struggle with the painful symptoms of an autoimmune disease heal their immune systems naturally as a certified health coach and holistic nutrition consultant.

The diagnosis Autoimmune disease written on a clipboard.

The wake-up call

In my 20s and 30s, I thought I was the picture of health. I ate well, worked out five days a week, had low blood pressure and perfectly normal cholesterol levels, and had no history of significant illness. Even though I worked a high-stress job as a firefighter, I was aware of the risks associated with the profession. I took care to limit my exposure to carcinogens, always keeping health a priority in my life.


One morning, when I was in my mid-forties, I awoke with severe bilateral wrist pain. The pain was so intense that it brought me to tears as I brushed my teeth. For weeks, the pain only seemed to intensify with each daily task, like dressing myself and shampooing my hair. Suddenly, my body felt like I had aged four decades overnight. 


The pain radiated to my hands and fingers, making something seemingly simple, like opening a bottle of water, feel like a monumental task. Pulling hoses, climbing ladders, and operating fire department equipment became arduous. 


The diagnosis

During my first visit to a rheumatologist, it was determined that the inflammatory markers in my blood were quadruple the typical values for someone my age who had no previous health history.  Tears filled my eyes as I sat in that office, wondering, “How did I get here?” I didn’t recognize my body anymore. More importantly, I wanted to know WHY this showed up in my body. 


I had systemic inflammation, joint pain, sudden muscle weakness, and chronic fatigue. All symptoms of an autoimmune disease, my doctor told me. As we awaited further testing to confirm his suspicion of rheumatoid arthritis, he calmly explained how putting me on a course of immunosuppressants would make me feel better within a few weeks. When I asked how and why this happened, there was no explanation other than these diseases seemed to just show up. 


When I was prescribed Methotrexate, an immunosuppressant drug commonly used for chemotherapy patients, I was incredibly hesitant to take it. Reading the list of side effects was mind-boggling, but thinking about how I was to be on such a medication while working in public safety – around carcinogens and sick and injured people - was terrifying. There had to be a better way, and I was determined to find it. 


Healing my immune system

Remembering the quote, “Food is Medicine,” from one of my favorite college classes, I immediately embarked on a journey to discover how my food choices affected the symptoms of an autoimmune disease. I remembered that the body has extraordinary healing abilities when given the proper environment, and I was on a quest to heal myself naturally. 


Within six months of creating this plan for my own healing, I had reduced my inflammation to undetectable levels. My joint pain had moved on the scale from a ten to a two, and I had more energy.  I healed my immune system naturally through a series of steps I now refer to as the E.A.S.E. Method, and I coach other women to do the same. If traditional pharmaceutical therapy isn’t working or you’re looking for a more natural approach, I’d like to offer you renewed hope for natural healing.


EASE into natural healing 

Although each of us is a bio-individual with different varieties of autoimmunity and symptoms that may present in various ways, it’s important to remember that inflammation stemming from a confused immune system is at the root of all autoimmune diseases. Numerous commonalities exist among all variations of autoimmune diseases, and food—or how we choose to nourish our bodies—plays a central role. 


Stress and typical environmental exposures can also damage the immune system. Because each individual has arrived at their diagnosis with multiple layers of stressors contributing, it’s essential to consider the whole person when unraveling symptomology. The following is a brief overview of the four-step system, which does not include the entire plan but will allow you to jump-start your natural healing. 


Step 1: E – Eliminate

The first step in the EASE plan is to eliminate all known contributors to autoimmune disease from your diet and environment. One of the most common dietary contributors is wheat gluten. I recommend all my clients start by removing it completely, even if they don’t think they have a gluten sensitivity. Modern medicine can test for food allergies but cannot definitively test for sensitivity. Symptoms of gluten intolerance can include fatigue, brain fog, sore joints, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even skin eruptions. 


Gluten contributes to “leaky gut syndrome,” causing the immune system to launch a defense against the undigested molecules that pass through the gut lining and into the bloodstream. Other significant contributors include processed foods, added sugars, and dairy products.


Environmental toxins can also play a role. From black mold to mercury to contaminated drinking water, looking for all potential exposures is essential. Be sure to consider home, work, indoor and outdoor air quality, and exposures to chemicals in beauty products or cleaning materials. 


Step 2: A – Add 

Once we begin to eliminate all the known contributors to inflammation, we must also introduce – or add – healing foods, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. The goal is to heal the leaky gut by nourishing the gut lining and relaxing the immune system. 


Whole foods, organic fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins are introduced alongside supplements that support digestive health. These additions also support the gut-brain axis, which will begin to lift brain fog, allow for better sleep, and improve overall mood. 


Adding in gentle exercise is also encouraged. When our body is in pain, we often avoid exercise. Ironically, the more we can move, the more it assists our body in reducing and removing inflammation. 


Step 3: S – Stress reduction

It’s important to understand that two types of stress occur in our body. Acute stress, which allows us to run from danger or react immediately to a threat, is vital in saving our lives. Our adrenal glands secrete a quick burst of adrenaline mixed with cortisol that rapidly becomes our fight-or-flight instinct. The beauty of acute stress is that it goes away almost as quickly as it shows up. 


On the other hand, chronic stress maintains increased levels of cortisol in your system that, when left unchecked, contribute to a whole host of diseases, including all autoimmune disorders.  Reducing cortisol levels in the body becomes essential to healing the immune system. 


We must understand and recognize our body’s first stress reaction and develop a quick action plan for various situations. I assist my clients in developing a stress reduction plan that works for them in numerous situations, and my suggestions can include everything from breathing techniques to sound therapy and nature walks. Developing a plan that works for them is critical. 


Step 4: E – Explore

The fourth and final step in the plan is the most comprehensive one. When I advise my clients to explore, it involves both internal and external exploration. Internal exploration requires us to examine topics like self-love, limiting beliefs, outdated patterns that no longer serve us, and how we nourish our souls. We create a self-care plan that promotes our internal healing and mental well-being. By encouraging internal exploration of the soul, new growth patterns emerge, and we rediscover passions that were long hidden away.


External exploration comes in the form of travel. Whether local, regional, or across the globe, travel opens our minds to new ideas. It can also be healing, allowing us to embrace compassion and understanding while providing an environment for growth. 


One of my favorite forms of exploration is through wellness travel. There are almost countless ways that wellness travel can assist in whole-body healing. Learning a new skill, such as plant-based meal preparation, or trying a new form of exercise like Pilates or gentle yoga can bring us self-awareness that is often hard to embrace in our home environments. Since becoming a certified travel coach, I have assisted my clients in matching their still unmet needs to a wellness travel experience that will bring them closer to the results they are looking for. 


Using the EASE method has helped countless women regain their passion for life while feeling great in their bodies again. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and natural healing, if you’re considering utilizing a natural approach, I’d suggest having the support of either a naturopathic practitioner or a certified health coach. Individualized medicine and personalized nutrition plans are the way of the future. One of my biggest passions in life is assisting women in having a fulfilling life beyond their diagnosis. 


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and visit my website for more info!


Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill Brainz Magazine
 

Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill spent 30 years as a career firefighter, where she developed a passion for holistic health, wellness, and nutrition. During that time, she became a trusted collegue, often coaching other firefighters toward healthier habits. After retirement, she continued coaching and developed a passion for traveling. Combining her two loves, she now coaches on transformation, mindset, and all things wellness travel. Her mission: Helping women to find their mind, body, and soul connection.

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