I am fascinated with autoimmune conditions.
Weird thing to be fascinated with, I know. But believe it or not, it is probably the most common subject people ask me about when they find out I’m Paleo.
Why? Because when drugs aren’t working, autoimmune sufferers are turning to the Paleo diet – and completely turning their health around.
I have hesitated, however, to talk about these conditions here because they ARE CONFUSING. From a research standpoint, autoimmune diseases are still in their infancy. There are about a million different types, and a million different specialists for each condition. Okay, 80. But that’s a lot. And let’s not forget. I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I really have no business telling anybody how to treat their autoimmune disease.
That said. I’ve gotten quite a few requests from readers to talk about the subject. So I thought where I could be of service is to help summarize what it is, why it is, and how the Paleo diet has become the alternative treatment for those who suffer from them.
My tactic here: Take all the complicated research and facts and dumb them down until a 5th grader could understand them.
The question is, are YOU smarter than a 5th grader? Ahem. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Okay. Here we go…
What is an autoimmune condition?
An autoimmune condition is when your body’s immune system is confused. It starts attacking its own cells because it recognizes them as foreign invaders.
Symptoms can turn up as joint pain, skin rashes, horrible stomach aches, low energy, and much, much more. These are all a result of the damage done to the cells, tissues and or organs in the body.
What separates one disease from another is the proteins that the immune system attacks.
What are the different autoimmune conditions?
There are reported to be 80 different autoimmune conditions (1). I’m not going to list them all here. But I will go with the 10 most “popular” ones, along with the part of the body that is being attacked.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis –> Thyroid gland
- Rheumatoid arthritis –> Tissues in joints
- Psoriasis –> Proteins that make up skin
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) –> Nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord
- Celiac Disease –> Small intestine
- Ulcerative Colitis –> Colon and rectum
- Lupus –> Tissue all over the body
- Sjögren's syndrome –> Moisture-producing glands, i.e. eyes and mouth
- Type 1 Diabetes –> Insulin-producing cells in the pancreas
- Ankylosing Spondylitis –> The spine and large joints
How many people are affected by them?
Approximately 50 million Americans, 20% of the population, or 1 in 5 people (2).
How do you get them – nature or nurture?
The jury is still out. The traditional medical community leans more towards nature (i.e. genetics), while they also recognize that bacteria, drugs, chemical irritants and environmental irritants could all be factors.
As you might have guessed, non-traditional medicine leans much heavier on the nurture side. With the huge rise in these conditions over the last 50 years, they think environment has a LOT to do with it. Namely the western diet, chronic stress, environmental toxins, sleep deprivation and Vitamin D deficiency.
What do I think?
Remember. I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. And I am not a medical professional. But I am a believer in the influence of our diet on our health. At the very least, from my own personal experience, and at the most, from the thousands of autoimmune sufferers who have made changes to their diet, and noticed vast improvements.
Like this guy.
And then, there's the Dr. Terry Wahls story. Wow.
So, Stacey. How can food help?
There is a special division of the Paleo diet that has come to be called the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). Its purpose is to heal the immune system and the gut through eating specifically nutritious foods, and eliminating foods that cause (or tend to cause) a negative immune response.
I’m not going to lie. This diet is NOT easy to follow. Especially for people who are completely new to the Paleo diet. But when you read the stories like those above, and talk to people who have FINALLY seen relief after years of drugs and traditional medicine, it’s hard to ignore.
There are a few variations on the diet, but here is the gist.
Eliminate the foods that trigger a negative immune response, such as:
The usual suspects (from the standard Paleo diet):
- Industrial Seed Oils (i.e. Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Peanut Oil, Sunflower Oil, etc., etc.)
Nightshade vegetables (found to be inflammatory to joints, skin and gut):
- Naproxen (i.e. Aleve, Midol)
And two foods shown to be irritants to people with Autoimmune conditions:
- Eggs (paticularly the whites)
- Nuts & Seeds
Increase highly nutritious foods that are GOOD for the Immune System:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Organic vegetables
- Grass-fed meat
- Wild-caught fish
- Bone Broth
- Organ meat
- Good fats (ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, rendered animal fats)
Eat more foods that are good for your gut:
- Naturally fermented sauerkraut
- Naturally fermented pickles
- Naturally fermented kimchi
- Naturally fermented kombucha tea
Who are the AIP experts?
As I said, I am not a medical professional, nor am I an expert on AIP. Just a fan (of the diet; not the condition, obviously).
But there are some great people out there – medical experts, autoimmune success stories and many, a combination of both. I encourage you to check them out if you or a friend or family member suffers from an Autoimmune Condition. These are the three AIP experts that I have come to follow through the years:
Dr. Terry Wahls: The traditional medicine doctor that suffered with Multiple Sclerosis, found Functional Medicine and created her own version of the Paleo diet, The Wahls Protocol, that was the key to not only silencing her MS, but transforming her whole body (she went from wheelchair to active bike commuter!).
Learn more here: terrywahls.com
Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD: AKA, the Paleo Mom. She healed herself of IBS, psoriasis and lichen planus (all autoimmune conditions) by following a Paleo diet. A trained scientist, she believes that the rationale for why the Paleo diet heals lies in the scientific evidence more than the evolutionary evidence.
Learn more here: thepaleomom.com
Lauren Geertsen, NTP: A self-proclaimed 21st century hippie and one of my favorite bloggers, Lauren suffered from a severe form of ulcerative colitis from the time she was 14. When she was faced with the threat of the surgical removal of her colon, she completely and totally dedicated herself to the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol. Not only did she relieve herself of all symptoms, she no longer needs medication, and eliminated the need for surgery.
Learn more here: empoweredsustenance.com
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