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Question: My daughter has just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, the same one that I have! I feel terrible . . . as if I’ve passed it on to her. What can I do to help her?
Answer: Don’t add insult to injury by blaming yourself for your daughter’s situation. Most autoimmune disorders have a genetic component, but we have no conscious control over the transmission of disease. The useful question to address is “What can be done now to regain immune balance?”
How Our Immune System Responds to Threats
A balanced immune system is one that does not over respond or under respond to a challenge. When the immune system under-reacts to an external challenge, we become susceptible to infection; when it fails to recognize an internal threat, we are susceptible to cancer. When the immune system over responds to an external stimulus, we get allergies; an over-reacting immune system to a perceived internal challenge may lead to an autoimmune illness.
|To External Challenges||Infection||Allergy|
|To Internal Challenges||Cancer||Autoimmune|
There is abundant scientific data to suggest that mind-body approaches may offer some value in immune disorders. Many of the same chemical messengers that brain cells use to communicate with other parts of the nervous system also carry messages to the immune cells. Similarly, immune cells make and release messenger molecules that provide feedback information to the nervous system. At the Chopra Center, we like to use the phrase, “Our immune cells are eavesdropping on our internal conversation.”
The First Step Is Calming the Mind and Body
If there is truth to this relationship, and in our experience there is, we need to send soothing messages to the immune cells. The first step we would recommend is for your daughter to learn a meditation technique as an antidote to the stress response. Quieting her mind on a daily basis can help send calming signals to her immune system.
She may want to participate in our upcoming 21-Day Meditation Challenge, where she will receive daily guided audio meditations and instruction in simple yet powerful meditation techniques that will help her cultivate a state of restful awareness. The theme of this challenge is “Mind-Body Odyssey,” focusing on optimal physical and emotional health, so it seems particularly appropriate for your daughter at this time.
Releasing Emotional Toxicity
In addition, if she is aware of a past or present emotional issue that continues to create turbulence for her, please encourage her to resolve it. Carrying emotional toxins often has a more harmful effect on immune health than physical toxicity.
Ayurvedic Dietary Recommendations
Ayurveda would recommend she follow a cooling or Pitta pacifying diet. This means primarily reducing foods with very pungent, sour, and salty flavors, while increasing foods with sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes. Sweet tastes include complex carbohydrates and proteins. Bitter is most abundant in green leafy vegetables, and the astringent taste is found in foods such as lentils, beans, spinach, and green tea.
There is some evidence that foods with omega-3 fatty acids can alter the production of inflammatory chemicals and soothe an aggravated immune system. Cold water fish, flaxseed oil, and walnuts are rich in these oils, which are worth favoring. Focus on a diet abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, which provide potent doses of natural antioxidants.
Herbs with a strongly bitter flavor are traditionally used to cool off an overly aggressive immune response. The classical herb for this purpose is gentian which is available at most health food stores. Aloe vera juice is a milder cooling substance that can be taken twice daily (1/2 to 1 ounce). Anti-inflammatory Ayurvedic herbs, including neem (azadirachta indica), boswellia (boswellia serrata), and ashwagandha (aithania somnifera), may be worth considering. Take time to research them, and if you sense their energetics may be complementary to yours, discuss their use with your health provider.
The Healing Power of Self-Massage
In addition to meditation, diet, and herbs, massage can be a powerful immune balancer. Have your daughter learn and perform a simple self-massage technique (abyhanga) using a Pitta pacifying massage oil.
As a final yet important note, don’t abandon effective Western medical approaches, but work with your health care provider to create a holistic program.
We wish you and your daughter all the best.