Have you ever had a story drafted in your mind? Maybe it’s a fiction piece, blog post or news release or perhaps a nonfiction story about your own life. As I sit down and put my thoughts to paper, the phrase one step forward and two steps back comes to mind.
The importance of the microbiome to good health is no surprise. The body of research regarding the role that the gut plays in overall health has been growing for decades. In recent years, leading experts in the field of functional medicine have increased awareness on this topic with their patients. Autoimmune disease expert and gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano, is a pioneer in understanding the complexity of celiac disease and asserts there is a recipe for autoimmune diseases that features a trinity of components:
- Genetic predisposition: certain genes make individuals more likely to develop certain diseases, and these genes vary based on the disease.
- A trigger: yet even with a predisposition, it is the trigger that sets disease in motion. A trigger could be a specific antigen, hormone, or protein that the immune system sees as a threat, which sets off the domino effect of over-activation of the immune response. In the vast majority of autoimmune diseases, the trigger remains unknown. Stress, food sensitivities, hormone imbalance, other disease—there are many possibilities.
- Intestinal permeability: epithelial cells that line our intestines are joined together by tight junctions. These cells and junctions regulate the entry of nutrients, water, and ions and also restrict pathogen entry; think of them as the gatekeepers. All good stuff, right? Unfortunately, when the gut becomes permeable, pathogens including bacteria, fungi, and toxins can leak into different parts of the body and over time may cause an immune response. The breakdown of this barrier (a.k.a. leaky gut) has been linked to many diseases, including multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, autism, and celiac disease. Leaky gut is a predisposition to autoimmune diseases.
To discover the root causes and flare-up triggers of autoimmune diseases, the trinity must be explored. As I mentioned in my last post on HealthComU, a diagnosis is just the beginning of the journey toward healing. In my own life, I’ve been working with my functional medicine team to discover triggers and heal the gut. This is such a process—I can’t emphasize that enough.
Whether you’re in a personal journey of healing or you’re writing health communication pieces for such an audience, it’s important to weave into your dialogue an emphasis on the nonlinear process. Mental health professionals have long recognized recovery as nonlinear; however, medical writers and providers often discuss disease and treatment as a direct progression. Although that may be the ideal process, it isn’t reality. We want our audiences and patients to have realistic expectations; even if the truth means a long and rocky road ahead. When reality matches expectations, we can give people the tools they need to reach successful health outcomes.
As people travel an indirect healing route, they may also be jumping in and out of the stages of change. How can we support, prescribe, and write in such a way that keeps people motivated with their essential lifestyle modifications (e.g., active living, stress maintenance, probiotic integration, healthy eating, detox, quality sleep, nutrient supplements)?
Accepting the cycle of healing and discovery was monumental for me. It meant embracing new ways of eating, self-love, and celebrating (of which I still struggle with). It meant taking things in stride, like new eczema, hives for weeks, bloating, and gut inflammation. It also means celebrating victories, such as lower levels of candida, pain that has nearly vanished, greater cognitive clarity, and improved bowel function.
Intentional practice is necessary, whether it’s with self-acceptance and new behavior change, or creating health stories and molding provider-patient dialogue. Practice leads to progress even when it looks like one step forward and two steps back.
With a passion for educating for the purpose of heath empowerment, Katie Bevan has been raising awareness of public health issues for over eight years at the Lorain County General Health District. She specializes in the development and administration of population-based messages to reduce chronic diseases and unintentional traffic-related injuries. She earned a Master of Science in Health Communication from Boston University. Katie is crazy about kale, blueberries, and purple potatoes.