Brain Inflammation as seen through an MRI. One of many, many autoimmune conditions.

March is National Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month — Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy and Lifestyle as Medicine

I was recently catching up with a friend when the conversation turned to family and health. Fathers in our 40’s, it was perhaps not surprising we both had stories to share, in our cases concerning the health of spouses and children. However, what was surprising was when my friend, suspecting I would be open to what he cautiously introduced as an “out there” suggestion, recommended a book that turned out to be anything but.

Perhaps I’ve been circling health care for so long that the boundary marking “out there” ideas has moved considerably. For instance, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness suggestions, for which she has taken a lot of criticism for, no longer strike me as kooky. Many may have already broken through to mainstream conversation (not solely due to her efforts, of course).

Seeking not to repeat the past, in the years since I’ve read dozens of health-related books, from heart health to Alzheimers, diabetes to thyroiditis

Long a reader of health as a general topic, I nevertheless had little direct experience with the medical community, much less autoimmune processes, until my wife was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (HT), one of the most common autoimmune diseases. Similarly common, it took us years of living with the symptoms — feeling cold, sluggish, and slow weight gain, life’s normal progression, so we told ourselves — before an official diagnosis.

But it wasn’t the creeping Hashimoto’s thyroiditis that got our attention, but rather the sudden onset of Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy (HE), a type of brain inflammation believed related to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (90% of patients who develop HE have the antibody for HT). Karen’s HE disease started in 2015 — we think — and ultimately led to a grand mal seizure in 2016. After nearly a week of hospitalization we were discharged and spent the next year recovering on high dose steroids and other medications with strange names and scary potential side effects.

The recommendation we received when we asked about nutrition during our HE recovery.

But Karen also asked her neurologist for nutrition recommendations, and that day in July of 2016 we were introduced to a “lifestyle as medicine” philosophy slowly gaining momentum in the medical field. We have lived on the prescribed autoimmune diet ever since. Further, Karen’s individual experience (ex — she lost weight while taking 80/mg prednisone daily after changing her diet) is now contributing to the growing anecdotal evidence being collected by doctors and other health professionals who care for these patients.

Seeking not to repeat the past, in the years since I’ve read dozens of health-related books, from heart health to Alzheimers, diabetes to thyroiditis. These are diverse disease processes that nevertheless seem to share a few similarities, starting first with a lack of perfect scientific understanding of the underlying disease mechanism. Secondly, the scientists studying these and other conditions share a growing appreciation for the importance of other factors, such as lifestyle, food, exercise, sleep and social interactions, and the interplay between all those and more (ie microbiome), in outcomes. However, if we can be sure of anything, it is that we have a long way left to go to isolate, much less rigorously prove through repeatable trials.

Is broccoli the answer?

It would be far too much of a reach to believe better sleep and more steamed broccoli will one day overcome all disease processes. But if our experience provides any clue as to the importance of lifestyle, the scientific community is just at the starting gate of understanding, treating and in some cases preventing autoimmune diseases. More certainly, remaining open and curious to new and different types of interventions will be critical in helping families find the right approach to treatment. Until then, some of the best, least expensive help we can provide ourselves may be found in grocery stores and our alarm clock settings.

Tests

For those interested in their own testing, the following link to Health Testing Centers contains a number of tests for inflammation and autoimmune conditions. For the month of March Health Testing Centers is offering a 25% off discount. Use code “Auto25” at checkout.

Just One More Book

I like to recommend books, a habit I just can’t seem to shake. One of the best books I’ve read recently concerning the complexity of living organisms, and therefore the difficulty of the task at hand, and have sent many copies to friends, is “I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life” by Ed Yong. With a very readable style, Ed takes us through how interrelated organisms are at many levels of scale, and, indirectly perhaps, why Gwyneth Paltrow is on to something (yea!). For a book summary, I’ve written and posted one here.

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Aaron Benway, CFP, EA

Aaron is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and IRS Enrolled Agent (EA). He co-founded HSA Coach, a digital tool to educate consumers on HSAs, track health expenses and other documents, and provide individual financial calculators, to help consumers get the most from their HSA and other savings. To help individuals directly with their financial planning and wealth management requirements he founded AB Financial Planning. Prior to co-founding HSA Coach, Aaron was the CFO of ventured backed fintech startup HelloWallet, acquired by Morningstar. Aaron has an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of the US Naval Academy.