These days, more than ever, we need community. As a culture, we are experiencing higher levels of stress, greater incidence of isolation, and an increase in the prevalence of autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and others.
Slowly, we are starting to realize the connection between physiological symptoms and manifestations, and mental and emotional health.
According to a 2016 article from the American Journal of Epidemiology, “autoimmune diseases represent a family of at least 80 illnesses that share a common pathogenesis: an immune-mediated attack on the body’s own organs. Collectively, autoimmune diseases affect some 20 million Americans, predominantly women. Many of these diseases are increasing in frequency in industrialized countries. Treatment of autoimmune diseases improved greatly during the second half of the 20th century but has been hampered because the diseases often progress before a clinical diagnosis is possible.”
“Invisible diseases” like lupus are being overlooked due to the fact that the people who have them often appear to be normal functioning individuals. The problem is that going about life like this can lead to depression, loneliness, and anxiety that can escalate into larger-scale health problems due to the lack of awareness, recognition, and resources available.
In a study published in 2018, results found that depression and anxiety in lupus are influenced by a complicated mix of biological, social, and psychological factors. This study discovered that fatigue severity, relationship satisfaction, and interleukin-10 concentrations (which are predictors of inflammation) are indicators of depression in lupus patients, with fatigue and relationship satisfaction being the best predictors of depression.
I had the pleasure recently of speaking with Adam Selkowitz, a 48-year-old man living with lupus in Los Angeles with his family. He is the chairman of Lupus LA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding the causes of and a cure for lupus.
I chatted with Adam about his journey and the struggle he endured while seeking a diagnosis for his symptoms.
“People with lupus have a ‘look fine’ problem. People are afraid of cancer. They identify with what it means. Cancer gets a reaction — and it should. But autoimmune diseases are on such a spectrum that it’s hard for people to identify how serious the disease is. We have to change how the world starts to fight autoimmunity on a systemic level,” he says.
Last month, Lupus LA unveiled its first public service announcement as part of its Your Story Our Fight campaign, which is focused on sharing the stories of lupus patients and creating communities as a way to raise awareness and ultimately find a cure. Lupus LA believes that community is key to winning the fight against the disease, and sharing stories one person and one family at a time is the path forward.
This is a beautiful and much-needed initiative and campaign. Treatment for autoimmune disease is holistic. In previous articles, I detailed diet and lifestyle strategies to support lowering inflammation, improving gut integrity, and supporting overall energy levels and cellular health, which go far to create an internal environment that is strong and resilient.
Yet, as much as these factors are important, the mental and social support is just as essential to the matrix. Depression and fatigue are real symptoms of autoimmune disease that, over time and without careful intervention, can wreak havoc on hormone balance, microbiome homeostasis, and quality of life.
Nourishing the spirit with community, shared experiences, and valuable resources for healing are potent medicine — and priceless in enhancing and shifting the lives of these individuals.
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, CDN, E-RYT, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, weight management expert, and an accredited member of the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) and the American Dietetic Association. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher, Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of the New York City-based fully integrated mind, body, and spirit urban sanctuary, BE WELL. Alana’s BE WELL ARC System and Method Mapping technique is a holistic multi-disciplinary approach to health and wellness that blends Eastern and clinical Western diet and lifestyle support to effect long-lasting behavior change.
A graduate of NYU with a BA and MS in clinical nutrition, Alana is dedicated to helping others learn how to nourish themselves, create balance, and understand their true nature through nutrition, yoga, and inner wellness. She leads Yin Yoga workshops and trainings as well as wellness retreats at international locations. Her health, fitness, and lifestyle expertise has been featured in Aaptiv.com, Droz.com, EatThis.com, RD.com, Redbook, WomensHealthmag.com, and Vogue. For more information, visit her website at bewellbyak.com.