The Five Stages of Autoimmunity

In this series of articles, I am exploring the Autoimmune Spectrum.

If you have been diagnosed with an Autoimmune Condition, I am sorry to hear that. I encourage all of my patients to think of their diagnosis as a description (or label) for a complex process.

It is a good start, but a diagnosis rarely describes the severity, momentum, and degree of immune system reactivity.

In the previous article, I discussed Stage One – An Erratic and Reactive Immune System. If you have not read that yet, tap here.

The Five Stages

In this article, I am going to introduce you to Stage Four of the Autoimmune Spectrum and an overview of the protocols I recommend. 

Stage Four – Complex Chronic Autoimmune Disease

Stage Four Autoimmunity will change your life from the inside out. I have been at this stage twice in my life and feel very motivated every time those memories come into my mind.

In Stage Four, most things start to get stiff and sore, or just plain hurt all of the time. This often comes with the degeneration, calcification, scarring or atrophy of specific tissues in your body. Every membrane, nerve, muscle, joint, gland, organ or bone in your body can be affected when Autoimmunity gets serious.

The patients I see in Stage Four fall into two categories.

First, those with one known and managed Autoimmune Condition that is going into adaptive overwhelm.

Second, those who have been recently diagnosed with a second, third, or another known Autoimmune Condition.

In either case, their symptoms are accelerating, becoming more reactive and unpredictable, and often spreading to other parts of their body.

In a really bad marriage, both partners begin to control the stubborn and exhausting war with some good old-fashioned damage. If I can hurt you badly enough that you ignore me for weeks, I win. If I can trick you into always fighting over the things I care about, I win.

This wait and see, or passive-aggressive approach to life is the perfect metaphor for allowing any serious Autoimmune Dysfunction to spread and grow. Your body is always in a state of healing and repair. That is true for almost everyone for most of our lives.

Like a good marriage, sometimes you have to change your lifestyle, learn to be much more emotionally intelligent, and take the time to adapt to what is going to work for the long term.

If you enter Stage Four Autoimmunity, your lifestyle is going to change – possibly permanently. It will either be a journey of Pharmaceuticals and their side effects. Or a journey of healing every aspect of your life and every part of your body.

And sometimes it needs a combination of both natural and pharmaceutical support.

Unfortunately, the standard of care in mainstream medicine is to treat the symptoms and wait and see if things get worse. I always like to remind people that ‘hospital’ medicine is not meant to be preventative. It is not their job. That may sound harsh, but it is an important and freeing truth. Modern clinical medicine is focused on keeping you alive and able to work. Optimal health, reversing chronic illness through lifestyle, and prevention are not their concerns. It is not what they are trained to do.

I am grateful for everything mainstream medicine can do, and I am very clear on what is my responsibility. Keeping us alive is their job, improving your health is our job.

Each of us has to go out of our way to find the guidance we need.

You will have to change a great deal about your habits and probably read about 20 books. The opposite of controlling symptoms and flare-ups is discovering and repairing the root causes.

You cannot be passive, especially not in Stage Four. Your immune system, nervous system, and stress physiology cannot hold onto a grudge forever. As much as you may want to, you can’t kick your immune system out of the door!

Give yourself a couple of years to restore all of your adaptive systems and repair all of your tissues.

Give yourself a couple of years to become familiar with living a much more resourceful and connected life.

It is time to learn as much as you can about yourself and about your body.

Stage Four ~ A Two to Five Year Process

If your immune system has turned into a very destructive force in your body, you now have a full-time job.

For the next two to five years, you will have to get used to the reality that your stress physiology and your immune system tends to over-react to the world.

In Stage Four, you may need regular medication to maintain your hormones, reduce inflammation, or to help you sleep. If you are experiencing a flare-up, you may need to take immune suppressant drugs. Until you are back in Stage Three, you are going to need to have an active relationship with a team of clinicians, mentors, and personal practices that can keep you on track.

It is possible to recover from a Stage Four Flare-up of Autoimmune Dysfunction without pharmaceuticals, but that is not easy or common.

I encourage all my patients to focus on a combination of everything that works until they are comfortable and rested enough to take on the full-time job of healing and self-care.

Stage Four Protocol

This is a general description of what is working in my practice. Given the severity of Complex Autoimmunity, it is absolutely necessary to work with a clinician who can help you make any and all adjustments to your unique and individual process.

Step One – For the First Three Months:
      • Two Weeks of the Phase One Protocol
      • Two Weeks of the Phase Two Protocol
      • Manage any weight loss by adjusting your starch content and exercise
Step Two – For the Next Three Months:
      • One Month of Phase Three
      • Two Weeks of the Phase One Protocol
      • Two Weeks of the Phase Two Protocol
      • One Month of Phase Three
Step Three – For the Next Two to Five Years
  • Enjoy the Bounty of the Phase Four Protocol
  • Avoid all foods that you have a lab-tested sensitivity to.
  • Focus on maximizing your overall health with your Six Pillars
  • Every Season, or any time your symptoms are increasing, reset your immune system with a month of Step One (above)

How you navigate your life always matters. In Stage Four Autoimmunity, you need to navigate with wisdom, patience, and maintain consistent momentum. Find a way to make all of these choices and limitations as meaningful as possible.

It is likely you will be living a modified lifestyle for the rest of your life!

Create a guiding narrative that reminds you of why you are doing the things that you are doing that matters to you and everyone in your life.

I like the metaphor of a sailboat for a good way to move through life. A sailboat catches the wind and steers through the currents of the water with its sails, rudder, and a keel. Without the keel, a sailboat is basically a boat on its side, completely a victim to the weather. And modern life is all about the weather of constant change. As you repair your body and restore your metabolism and immune system, keep some attention on how you navigate your life by reaching down into your keel.

Can you find a rhythm and a sense of ease and flow that reduces your stress and increases your sense of appreciation for the journey?

In Stage Four, you will not only need a good support team, you will also need regular lab tests to guide and confirm your progress. This can get expensive, so look into your options with available health insurance companies. Also, your clinician should be able to negotiate a minimum necessary amount of testing – just keep in mind that your risk goes up as you guess.

I have worked successfully with people who do not have access or the economic capacity to do any lab testing. As long as you know enough about your symptoms, your immune system’s state of function and what changes are helping you the most, you could still do very well.

Mindset is everything. I used to train athletes and the difference between a champion and a great competitor was always some magical combination of genetics and mindset. You can do a lot to protect your genes, but you cannot actually change them. Your mindset, however, is a different story. You can do almost anything with your mindset. The secret to changing your mindset is mindfulness, a subject I will cover in future articles.

In Stage Four Autoimmunity, it is time to learn some new, or re-awaken some old practices like meditation and deep relaxation skills like Restorative Yoga and/or Qi Gong. That is a big subject, so I will leave it up to you to investigate all of the amazing and transformational opportunities where you live. There are also many easy ways to learn online.

Your body and mind need a good balance of physical exercise and deep restorative sleep. It is like a battery that runs on the yin and yang of intentional rest and experiential and appropriate effort.

The last conversation I usually start with a person in Stage Four is this.

Yes, you are now going to become one of those people.

Your health and the changes this kind of a diet and lifestyle protocol requires are going to affect your relationships.

Your experience as a dinner guest, or restaurant patron, is going to get picky. This is one of the greatest challenges of restrictive diets. Be proactive by calling ahead to talk with a restaurant, sit down with friends and family and have a conversation or watch a YouTube video together on what you are dealing with.

Be proactive or be passive!