Living with an autoimmune disease can be very difficult. Still highly misunderstood by the medical community and the public as well, autoimmune diseases are characterized by confusing and often ambiguous symptoms that can make diagnoses difficult to come by. Many people go YEARS, and from doctor to doctor seeking answers to no avail. Treatments vary, and in some cases rely entirely on behavior changes. The good news, is sometimes these behavior changes (that are completely IN YOUR CONTROL) are the very thing your body needs to not feel so out of control from this disease you never asked for.
So what causes autoimmune disease? Genetics are obviously a large part of the equation. The genes you inherit from your parents play a role in your predisposition for developing an autoimmune disease. Because of this, it is very common for them to run in families. However, genetics only accounts for about 1/3rd of your risk of developing one.
“Genes load the gun, environment, diet & lifestyle pulls the trigger!”
The environmental triggers are another area that we can place blame for autoimmune disease. Pathogens, chemicals, certain bacterial and viral infections, toxins, pollutions and other exposures directly impacts your immune system.
The other area that contributes to development of autoimmune disease is a poor diet and lifestyle choices. A poor diet exacerbates intestinal permeability (leaky gut), creating nutrient deficiencies, and over-activating the immune system. Likewise, sleep issues, lack of physical activity (or too much) can also increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
While we can’t control the genes we’re born into, or the exposure to infectious diseases, we can certainly work on reducing our contact with toxins and chemicals while being diligent in our diet and lifestyle choices!
So what foods should you eliminate (at least initially) while trying to heal the gut, calm the immune system and become asymptomatic??
Grains! These foods contain prolamins and agglutins, which impair digestion, cross the gut barrier largely in tact, damage the intestinal lining and set off the immune system. Grains also contain digestive enzyme inhibitors, phytates and phytic acid (anti nutrients that interfere with the absorption of food) which survive cooking, resist digestion, and also cause intestinal permeability, dysbiosis, and worsen immune activation.
Gluten! The protein portion of gluten, called gliadin, is the best example of a prolamin. These gliadin fragments create holes at the tight junctions of the gut barrier which allows various contents of the digestive system to leak into the body. Inflammation is then triggered by the gliadin fragments that cross the gut barrier as well as other partially digested food Proteins, gut bacteria, bacterial fragments and toxic waste products. This causes a viscous cycle of inflammation and gut-barrier damage, and is why gluten is the most troublesome for those with gut issues or autoimmune disease. (Side note: Many prescription medications can also contain gluten. … Luckily, most thyroid medications are gluten free, but we need to be careful with the various generic brands of Levothyroxine (only 2 are gluten-free), as well as Cytomel. (Source: Dr. Isabella Wentz, www.thethyroidpharmacist.com)
Pseudo-grains and grain-like substances! Foods such as amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa contain many of the same substances that impair the digestive process as grains do. They have been known to cause intestinal permeability, worsen dysbiosis, and activate the immune system.
Dairy! For those with gut issues or autoimmune disease, there are many reasons to avoid dairy products. First, dairy is a common allergenic food (1-17% of children and 1-4% of adults.) For these people, even trace amounts of dairy found in ghee can be a problem. However, even without a lactose intolerance, dairy products contain protease inhibitors that may contribute to intestinal permeability. Dairy increases mucous production, which can irritate the gut lining and hinder nutrient absorption. Lastly, dairy proteins are also known to be gluten cross-reactors, which means dairy can stimulate a person’s immune system as if they were eating gluten!
Legumes! Like grains and pseudo-grains, legumes contain many of the same substances that impair the digestive process, cause intestinal permeability, worsen dysbiosis and activate the immune system.
Soy! Soy is a goitrogens that should be avoided in those with Hashimoto’s. It blocks the activity of the TPO enzyme. Soy has been linked to the development of autoimmune thyroiditis and should be avoided by those with Hashimoto’s.
Refined vegetable oils! Oils like canola, corn and soybean oils, are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Additionally, the manufacturing process to produce these oils results in toxic end-products forming free radicals. Free radicals damage DNA, RNA, cell membranes, vascular walls, and red blood cells, all of which cascade into deeper damage.
Added sugars! Added to the majority of packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals, etc. which make these nutrient-poor foods highly addictive and keep you craving MORE and MORE! Also, increased consumption less to issues with blood sugar regulation, which can look like insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia and diabetes. Regulating your blood sugar and maintaining insulin sensitivity is paramount to regulating your immune system and reducing inflammation.
One could very easily look at this list and think “OI VEY! IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT TO EAT???” And the answer is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY! If you’ve followed my instagram account for any length of time and watched my instagram-stories where I show my daily eats, you’ll know that I eat anything but boring! My diet is rich in vegetables; both the leafy variety and starchy like tubers, high quality protein, yummy healthy fats and fruits!
Here’s the deal though. You want to feel better, right? So that means, you may initially have to eliminate everything on this list, or perhaps go even deeper. For those with several autoimmune conditions, or are highly symptomatic, you may need to eliminate other possible gut-irritants in foods like eggs, nuts, seeds and nightshades through an Auto-Immune Protocol Diet. But that doesn’t mean you are stuck eating this way forever.
Personally, I was able to become system free by simply going Paleo and removing the list of foods you see above. I feel better, I look my best even at the age of 44, and for me, I don’t WANT those foods back into my diet. But, other than gluten for those who have autoimmune disease, which honestly should never be added back in, you MAY be able to live a healthy, symptom-free life even with the addition of some of these other foods. Since each person tolerates various foods differently, the ONLY way to know what affects you, is to completely eliminate all those gut-irritant foods to allow your immune system to calm down. Then, very systematically, and at the appropriate pace and timing of each food, you can gradually add things back in as you watch for signs of reaction.
I work with clients on adapting this lifestyle, as well as walking through the re-introduction process, and signs of reactions are different from person to person. What one can tolerate is never the same as the next person. That’s why there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to diet! It takes time and diligence, but once you figure out YOUR sweet spot, it’s a beautiful place to live!!!!