The Connection Between Food and Autoimmunity

Food Matters

Well, obviously.  Nothing like stating the obvious, right?

But, if you have an autoimmune condition, it adds an extra measure of importance.

I have Celiac disease (I HATE the word disease by the way).  So it was clear from the beginning of my autoimmune struggles that food was a critical piece of it.  My body was developing antibodies against itself, ruining my intestines as a result.  Enter a gluten free diet and I felt better.

Until I felt worse again.  And additional autoimmune conditions started entering the scene.  Episcleritis, rheumatoid arthritis, severe allergies… all making me feel miserable once more.  So I turned once more to research and being a health detective for my own body and food was once more at the root of my problems.

How does food impact those autoimmune conditions that are not so closely linked with the digestive system like Celiac Disease is?

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, arthritis, Sjogren’s, Grave’s Disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Lichen Planus, Episcleritis, Lupus, Endometriosis, and the list goes on and on, and on!

So many conditions where the body is in revolt, attacking everything with a hypersensitive, out of whack immune system.

The reason, or really the chicken and the egg question, lies in the gut.  Leaky Gut is becoming more and more recognized in medical research as being connected with autoimmunity.  It’s as yet inconclusive as to which came first, the immune system that became so sensitive it started destroying the body’s own tissues (including those in the gut), or that the intestines became permeable to the point of letting undigested food particles into the bloodstream, causing the immune system stress to the point that it loses all sense of what is a foreign invader to be attacked and what is the body’s own tissue.

Regardless of which came first, however, we know now that there is a connection.  A clear connection.  In order to begin to heal from the constant detrimental effects and symptoms of autoimmunity, we need to heal the permeability of the gut.

So what makes a gut permeable in the first place?If you want the real sciency technical answer, there’s no better resource that I’ve found than Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. She delves deep into the specifics of leaky gut in language that the lay person can understand.

If you’re ok with the quick and dirty explanation, here goes…

The most common components of food that can damage your intestinal lining are proteins that have anti-nutrients, or substances that are sugar-binding and attracted to sugar containing cells lining your intestines.  This keeps your body from being able to digest these substances and causes inflammation.  The inflammation causes the tight cell junctions in the intestines to become less tight and allow undigested food outside of the intestines.

The digestive system is meant to be a closed system, with only fully broken down food being allowed through the intestines and into the bloodstream to nourish the body.  If your gut allows undigested food out, inflammation becomes a problem throughout the body.  It also sends the immune system into high alert to the point where it can no longer distinguish friend from foe and autoimmunity is born.

So, the first steps to healing your leaky gut, finally losing weight and getting back your mojo include taking out foods that are causing harm, every day to your body.

Things you need to avoid:

Anything with gluten

How to make this easy?  No more grains, of any sort.  You may at a later date be able to add them back in, but for now, they’re a no.

Grains:

Wheat, rye, barley, rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, millet, and oats are probably the most common.  If you’re in doubt, you can easily google a list and find something that isn’t on this list.

Legumes:

All beans, lentils, peanuts and any plant product that needs to be cooked to make it digestible.  Unfortunately this list includes coffee and cocoa beans. Yup, those are two no-nos.  At some point you may be able to add them back into your diet, in moderation, but realize that cocoa beans have very high levels of phytic acid and the caffeine in coffee is a major gut irritant. The chemicals used to decaffeinate coffee aren’t so great either.

Sugar:

There are currently about 22 names for sugar that can be used legally in food package labeling.  For the most up to date list go here.  Sugar is often the most difficult food to eliminate.  You can do this in a weaning process to moderate the detoxification effects (headache, brain fog, nasty temper) or if you’re a cold-turkey type, go for it, but warn your loved ones.

Eggs:

It’s hard to make an omelet without eggs.  I know that.  But the proteins in eggs can cause all sorts of problems with your digestive system and are a common food sensitivity.  It is possible to make all sorts of other wonderful foods without breaking an egg.

Dairy:

Yup, you knew this was coming didn’t you?  And don’t try those non-dairy cheeses either.  They don’t taste very good, and their loaded with all sorts of other things like xanthan gum and preservatives to try to make a substitute for real cheese.  It’s just not worth it.  Goat and Sheep cheese can also cause problems, maybe later you can add them back in in moderation, but for now, just stay away.  This was the area that was most difficult for me to give up, I understand the mourning period.  Go here for more tips on how to move successfully through the mourning period for favorite foods.

Caffeine:

Caffeine, whether it be from coffee, tea or energy drinks has a direct impact on your cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a major stress hormone.  This is not good for healing a leaky-gut and supporting your body.  Once in awhile you may be able to tolerate caffeine in small amounts (once or twice a week and listen to your body!).

Alcohol:

Especially while you are trying to give your body the best environment for healing itself, alcohol needs to be left off the table.  It’s not only irritating, but pretty highly inflammatory.  While there are some benefits linked with red wine, right now you need to look at the benefits of a healthy gut.

Nuts & Seeds:

Yes, even the healthy omega 3’s from flax seeds need to be left out for now.  So all tree nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, etc.) and seeds (even things like celery seeds and other spices) are best to leave out.

Nightshades;

Okay, so this is a difficult one too. Nightshades are a family of plants of which only about 5% are actually edible.  The rest are highly poisonous.  Which ones are edible?Tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, potatoes (regular, not sweet), bell peppers, chile peppers, spices like cayenne and paprika which are dried and ground chiles.  For a complete list of nightshades, go here.
I bet you’re thinking, well what in the world AM I supposed to eat?

There’s a whole lot more out there than you realize.  It’s going to be an adjustment, but you can do it.  Remember, you have the best reason in the world to make these changes, a life free from the outrageous, time consuming and defeating symptoms of your autoimmunity.

If you would like extra support through the process and some coaching to get you to a better state of health with your autoimmunity, I’d love to work with you.  I’ve been there, I’m still there and we can develop a plan to get you as close to symptom free as possible.

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