The Paleo Diet Vs. Autoimmune Disease
Did you know that autoimmune disease is a major health problem? According to the America Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, a staggering 50 million Americans are diagnosed with at least one autoimmune disease. Research has confirmed there are 80 to 100 known autoimmune diseases, all of which are chronic and are often life-threatening.
Autoimmune disease arises from an abnormal response of the body’s immune system against it’s own cells and tissues. Autoimmunity can attack certain organs, such as the thyroid gland in autoimmune thyroiditis, or the nervous system in those with multiple sclerosis, or the gastrointestinal tract in a case of Crohn's.
Conventional treatments for autoimmune disease are mainly aimed at managing symptoms alone, using immunosuppressant drugs such as prednisone. Yet there is a mounting body of evidence that diet and lifestyle can make a huge impact on disease symptoms, and can even halt the progression of or reverse autoimmunity.
What exactly is paleo?
The Paleolithic diet is a lifestyle template based on the the habits practiced by our paleolithic ancestors. In principle, paleo is about eating the same whole foods that were found during a pre-agriculture era, such as meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and seafood. By eating these nutrient-dense foods, and avoiding modern, processed foods, we can reduce the risk of the most prevalent diseases of our modern society, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)
People who assume a paleo mode of eating frequently report better health, including weight loss, increased energy, better sleep, improved digestion and mood. Moreover, many of those who observe an autoimmune-modified paleo approach have experienced tremendous results in managing their symptoms and even reversing their disease. Paleo advocates, such as Sarah Ballantyne (AKA The Paleo Mom) or Terry Wahls, provide a wealth of evidence, both peer reviewed and anecdotal, that supports the efficacy of an autoimmune paleo diet for managing and healing autoimmune disease.
What does AIP do?
By using food as medicine, AIP helps reduce troublesome symptoms and heal underlying imbalances by reducing inflammation and healing intestinal dysfunction. AIP focuses on the intake of nutrient dense foods, while eliminating inflammatory and allergenic foods, in efforts to calm the immune system gone amok!
One of the most important features of autoimmune disease is presence of intestinal permeability, more commonly referred to as “leaky gut.” This happens when the tight junctions in the intestinal wall become more permeable, allowing foreign materials such as food particles, toxins, and pathogens to leak into the blood stream, triggering the immune system. When you avoid the foods that are not permitted on AIP, the gut lining gets a chance to heal and restore the balance of beneficial bacteria. Sustained maintenance of AIP can result in the relief of symptoms and healing for those facing a life with autoimmunity.
What does AIP involve?
While most healthy paleo adherents avoid grains, legumes, and dairy, AIP followers also refrain from consuming eggs, nuts and seeds, nightshade vegetables, alcohol and caffeine, as well as avoiding foods that are laden with sugar, processed oils, food additives, and chemicals. These foods are then exchanged for best quality possible, nutrient-dense foods available, including wild caught fish, pastured meats, bone broth, organ meats, fermented foods, and a colorful assortment of fruit and vegetables.
In addition to nutritional changes, altering lifestyle is fundamental to healing autoimmune disease. These include sleep, stress reduction, some form of exercise and exposure to sunshine and the outdoors.
Click here for Wholehearted & Healthy’s printable AIP Foods Cheat Sheet.
Finally, a word on food quality
The autoimmune protocol removes foods that damage the body, replacing them with foods that nourish and heal. However, when your goal is to seek out those foods that enable our bodies to heal, food quality plays a critical role.
Find out where you can purchase meats that are raised organically, pastured and/or grass-fed, and organically grown fruits and vegetables. Buying locally and seasonally cuts down on costs, and often times can be more healthy for you and for the planet. Check out the local farmers market or CSA programs in your area, and the internet can be a valuable and cost effective choice for purchasing the difficult to find ingredients or buying in bulk. Alternatively, there is nothing fresher and more delicious than vegetables grown in your own garden!
If you have an autoimmune disease or other chronic illness and would like to implement the Autoimmune Protocol for yourself, please contact me here for more information.