Do you know that diseases like type 1 diabetes, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis have more in common than you may realise? What about multiple sclerosis, motor-neuron disease or an underactive thyroid? The thing that these diseases all have in common is that they are all autoimmune diseases.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease occurs when something in your immune system has gone awry and your body begins to attack its own tissues, just as if they were foreign invaders like a virus or bacterial infection. This can lead to a multitude of symptoms as your body begins to gradually attack and eventually destroy a particular gland, joint or tissue. You may also be surprised to know that when you have one autoimmune disease, you automatically become more prone to getting others.
The Trouble with Conventional Treatments
The standard classical medical approach is to go on the attack, and begin to use medications which control inflammation but also suppress the immune system. Examples of these drugs include cortisone, immune-suppressant drugs like Methotrexate, and even chemotherapy agents. This of course leads to terrible side effects, and often no relief from the symptoms either.
Healing Starts in the Gut
There is however, another more natural way to treat and manage autoimmune disease; another way to prevent your immune system from attacking your own tissues, thereby healing the inflammation and pain being caused. That way is to start at the very source of your immune system; your gut. Yes the gut. All the food you eat is absorbed by your body, and from there it either begins to nourish you, or to harm you by increasing your body’s toxic load and allowing foreign invaders across into your bloodstream. This in turn triggers your fragile immune system to begin making autoantibodies (blood proteins which attack the body’s own cells). If healing begins in the gut, then naturally it makes the most sense to begin with a healing diet.
Paleo & Autoimmune Healing
One of the best ways to heal a leaky gut is to follow a Paleo diet. This is a nutrient-dense diet that focuses on removing all the foods that irritate and inflame the gut lining, such as:
- Grains, especially gluten
- Processed sugar
- Processed, inflammatory omega-6 seed oils (eg. canola or sunflower oil)
Instead the diet focuses on the following foods:
- Organically grown vegetables, especially leafy greens (kale & spinach), sulphur-rich veggies (broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms) and rainbow-coloured fruit & veg (blueberries, beetroot, carrots)
- Good quality fats like coconut oil, olive oil and avocados
- Pasture-raised animal protein (eg. grass-fed beef or free-range chicken)
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, pilchards)
- Pasture-raised organ meats & bone broth (stock made from pasture-raised animal bones)*
*A note from Faithful to Nature: It is possible for those following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle to follow a balanced Paleo or Banting diet that does not include animal products. For more information, take a look at our post on Paleo for vegetarians.
The AIP Paleo Diet
Dr Sarah Ballentyne, popularly known as The Paleo Mom, has taken the Paleo diet a step further and developed the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Paleo diet. This is specifically for people who have an autoimmune disease. Initially this eating plan starts with an elimination diet, followed for at least 30 days, or until your active disease begins to go into remission. As well as excluding grains, legumes and processed sugars, the AIP also excludes:
- Seeds (including coffee, chocolate and “pseudo-grains” like quinoa)
- Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, peppers)
- Seed-based spices
“Eek”, you may say, “but what will I eat?” There is actually plenty to eat, especially as you will begin to eat a larger quantity of vegetables, instead of the staples like bread, rice and pasta, which fill you up but provide no nutritional benefit. Also as you get used to adding more good quality fats to your meals, you will feel less hungry. The biggest advantage is that as your gut begins to heal and your inflammation subsides, you begin to start feeling really good and your disease symptoms begin to improve. After the elimination period, you can begin slowly reintroducing other Paleo-approved foods one at time, and based on your reaction, you can decide whether or not to continue eating those foods. It is important to note that changing your diet can help all types of autoimmune disease, whether it affects your joints, your skin, your lungs or your brain, not just ones affecting the GI tract.
The AIP Lifestyle
There is also a large lifestyle component to the AIP which involves working on your stress levels, incorporating exercise, getting enough sunlight, getting enough much-needed sleep and working on your relationships and support network. These lifestyle changes are all just as essential to heal as a change in diet.
Curious? More About AIP
There are many resources out there for anyone looking to follow an AIP lifestyle. There are bloggers, authors, recipe books, conferences and online groups. All things that can keep you motivated and encouraged to get well. As Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
- Dr Terry Wahls, MD: http://terrywahls.com
- Dr Terry Wahl’s TedX talk: Minding your Mitochondria
- Dr Sarah Ballentyne (The Paleo Mom): http://www.thepaleomom.com/
- Dr Amy Myers: http://www.amymyersmd.com/