Autoimmunity With Maria Berglund Rantén: Training And Recovery
A few weeks ago, we published the first of a three part interview series on autoimmune diseases and lifestyle. Have you missed when Maria Berglund Rantén told about the link between autoimmune disease (AIS) and sleep, you can find the interview here.
Today, the focus is on how exercise and inactivity affect autoimmune (AI) processes in the body. Exciting!
–Welcome back, Maria. You often talk about the autoimmune puzzle. Can you explain it again?
Yes of course! I usually refer to the AI puzzle when explaining how diet and lifestyle both contribute to and can help AI progress, but I’ll take it from the start.
There is not just one reason why one’s immune system has switched over and become autoimmune – there are always several root causes. With that said, it can certainly be a specific trigger that kicks it all in gear. It is easy to believe that the trigger is the root cause, which can lead to too much focus on only it. If you are lucky, the trigger can be a big piece of the puzzle, but nothing should be taken for granted.
The pieces of the AI puzzle are different sizes, which means that they affect the immune system and the disease course very differently. One of the major contributing factors to AIS is inactivity. Another big puzzle pieces is diet, but also sleep and circadian rhythm which we talked about most recently. In addition, pathogenic microbes, chemicals, poisons and stress.
–Don’t our genes also matter?
Yes, absolutely, but the genetic predisposition to develop a disease has varying effects. In Crohn’s, for example, seen that genetics only play a 4% role, in rheumatism between 15-30% and in Celiac around 80% – so there genetics plays a much larger role. There is an English phrase that I have often heard Dr. Jeffrey Bland in the US say at IFM meetings and it sounds like this: “genetics load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger.” This means that just because you have a predisposition to get a disease, it’s not guaranteed that you will develop it. Our genes “bathe in information” and depending on what their environment looks like, it can lead to bad genes being triggered and starting to express themselves – or not. We can also influence the environment through what we put into our bodies and how we live. All this is called epigenetics.
–Can you explain a little more about exercise and inactivity?
Absolutely! In AIS, a lot of research has been done on people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They suffer from pain and are often inactive and it is therefore easy to study how they react to exercise and movement. Taking a quick look, you can say that the more they move, the less pain they suffer. Although it hurts while they exercise, it hurts less over a long time period.
Exercise affects many parts of the body and in the media has been called “the fountain of youth”. What happens when you exercise is, among other things, that blood circulation gets started, the immune system is boosted, the body’s endogenous opioid system is stimulated, some immune system cells that defend us increase, the brain’s BDNF increases and inflammation in the body decreases over time. Then of course, lots of other things happen, but if we are to try to stick to AIS then these particular components are especially important.
–Does this apply to all forms of training?
The short answer is, no. The most important thing is to get started and do the best you can. If you suffer from symptoms, you may not be able to train very intensely – training for someone with MS or RA may be walking around the block. Start from your own capabilities and increase as you can. People who have recently developed an AIS and have more energy can be pushed harder to stimulate and balance the immune system. Personally, I don’t like extreme training or marathon-long workouts as this in the long run drains my body. If you suffer from an AIS then you should perhaps end with that kind of training and first and foremost concentrate on feeling well.
–How should you know what level of exercise you should take on?
It is of course individual and can vary depending on whether you have a symptoms or are in remission. I usually talk to my clients about how long, how frequent and how intense the workout is and how much rest they need in between. If you do, you should aim for medium to intense workouts and work out between 55-90% of your maximum heart rate several times a week, and build some muscle in addition to that. Do work out in the morning until lunchtime as your body’s cortisol increases as you exercise (cortisol should always highest as that part of the day). Many people who have AIS have low energy and the training can give a natural boost. Do you feel that you get headaches and symptom crashes, you have exercised too much, too long and/or too hard. If the crash lasts the next day, you have been training too hard. Of course, you should get tired just after exercising, but then you will get more energy. If you succeed, you have found the right one.
You could say this: there is not a single drug that can produce as many positive effects for our health as exercise. Whatever your cup of tea is, you have to get out there, into the gym, up on the bike or down into the pool. Get started!
Maria Berglund Rantén, together with Jackie Cawthra, is a partner in a new clinic called Nordic Wellth – a digital health platform that offers health-related products and services, such as lab tests, supplements, recipes, group programs, consultations.