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Autoimmunity and Diet: Is There a Cure?

Posted on November 8, 2018 at 10:45 AM

Photo by nattanan23 from Pixabay.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a discomforting irritation inside my chest, hot, puffy, tingling hands and feet that feel like hot potatoes to the touch, yet my elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles feel like they’ve just been pulled out of the freezer. I drag myself out of bed for that middle of the night potty trip. Washing my hands under cold water feels oddly soothing so I let it run over my hands for just a few more minutes. Then I crawl back into my snuggly bed. Instances that require my attention for an hour or so in the middle of the night make getting up in the morning nearly impossible. I have joints that yell at me, "We don't like you anymore!" At times I’ve discovered a reddish rash across my cheeks and nose for no apparent reason. Mid-day fatigue from blood pressure and heart rate drops force me to nap sometimes. Every once in a while, it feels as if someone reached inside my chest tightly squeezing my heart for several minutes taking my breath away. Should I call an ambulance or my doctor’s office? This is what my own life is like with autoimmune disease intertwined with fibromyalgia.

I’ve often been told if I just follow a particular diet I would be cured of my illnesses. Would I love to be healed of these health problems? Yes, PLEASE! As if I don’t ask God for healing. Do they think I haven’t sought treatment all these years. For Pete’s sake! I don’t like being up in the middle of the night with my hands and feet in throbbing, fiery pain. HELLO!?!? I don’t like being stopped in my tracks because my heart rate and blood pressure tank. So, as my personality dictates, I did my research—no, I didn’t ask my friends—about whether or not these diets actually do what they claim. I share my findings with you, not to influence you toward a particular treatment plan, but to open your eyes to the truth about these claims so you can get the low-down for yourself. Remember, this blog post is for INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY! It is not intended to be a substitute for your medical providers’ care.

What’s the Hype?

Several doctors have websites with blogs promising that their diet plan will reverse your autoimmunity. Of course, these sound legitimate because a doctor says so. There is usually a catch of some sort: Buy products from their online store like detoxes, flushes, shakes, MCT oil, and more. The claim is that if you follow their diets and use their products, you will be healed. If it were that easy, wouldn’t more people be cured?

According to Clean Eating Magazine, people with autoimmune disease can improve their symptoms to reverse autoimmune disease by eating just 6 healing foods. First, I don’t think I could stand eating only these foods for the rest of my life. Second, I hate fish. Gag! And what do they mean “reverse” my disease? Does it have gear shifters like in a car? Really? Let's keep looking around.

The Paleo Autimmune Protocol Diet is hot right now for autoimmune sufferers. Medical News Today tackled the claim that this diet, which is very structured, can help alleviate symptoms of autoimmune diseases. It eliminates all grains, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), dairy, limits fruits, and all processed foods. WebMD discusses it as well, concluding there is no cure, but the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol Diet can help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms.The belief is that people with autoimmune diseases suffer from “leaky gut”, which is yet to be proven in clinical studies (NIH 2014). More research is needed.

The Mediterranean Diet is considered very for people with autoimmune diseases. WebMD cites a study in the Netherlands which showed drastic improvement in symptoms of people with RA when they ate the foods which are included in the Mediterranean diet. This diet and the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol Diet differ in that the Mediterranean diet includes grains, nightshades, and dairy due to theirnutrients and specific properties of antioxidants in those foods. There is no evidence of being healed from autoimmune disease with this diet either. The Arthritis Foundation is in agreement with these findings and make the recommendation that people with RA eat primarily a plant-based diet and include low-fat dairy and lean meats. They say there is “no magic elixir for RA” (Arthritis Foundation). Kaleidoscope for Lupus Foundation includes certain herbs and spices that are considered helpful in reducing inflammation such as turmeric. Any way you look at this information, there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but symptoms can be improved by eating a healthy, less processed diet that includes all of the food groups 

Fibromyalgia News Today says eating a healthy balance of foods while eliminating food with cytotoxins that are found in artificial sweeteners and lunch meats. These toxins aggravate pain receptors increasing flare-ups for fibromyalgia sufferers.

Sorting Fact from Fiction

Autoimmune diseases and fibromyalgia (not considered an autoimmune disease) are usually genetic, with varied triggers that trip a switch that starts the disease. Some of them are triggered by a virus like a strain of the Epstein-Barre virus. Fibromyalgia NewsToday shares fibro's link to viruses. Mine is known to be hereditary, made valid through family history. I have two different strains of Epstein-Barre found dormant in my system, by the way. Environmental conditions or foods can also trigger them, like irritants and allergens, low-nutrition foods full of fats, sugar, salt, and/or preservatives, exposure to molds, a medication, etc. My first episode began with CMV. I found myself hypoglycemic for a few years afterward, which I was able to control through diet. The next trigger was an overload to my immune system when taking a medication that caused an allergic reaction. Boom! I was stuck in bed feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Fibromyalgia and a mildly positive ANA were my diagonoses. The last one is exposure to dust mites and mold. These systematically pulled me down over the last three years until I could barely get up in the morning and stay awake all day. I began having hypoglycemia really bad again, and my heart rate and blood pressure were ridiculously low. Raynauds really took hold of my joints making it difficult for me to handle cold. Each person has a slightly different story about how it starts and affects them, but many will cite similar triggers and responses. Now that the immune system is waging war on its own body, there is no way to stop it. However, it can be managed.

According to the National Institute of Health, a national organization that does testing and clinical trials for a variety of health conditions, medical treatments, and natural remedies, said they cannot yet find the “ switch” to shut off with diet, or anything else for that matter. They have found great improvements in IBD, Crohn's disease, and other inflammatory gut diseases. Their findings do show that symptoms can be improved with a diet of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat dairy, while reducing saturated and trans fats, preservatives, artificial dyes, and other irritating additives. Removing gluten from the diet of those with gluten sensitivity helps suffers feel much better. Whenever you have a allergy or sensitivity to a food, personal care product, or environmental irritant, you will begin to feel much better when you eliminate it from your daily living.

The Arthritis Foundation concurs with the findings of the NIH that inflammation can be greatly reduced by eating healthy, less processed foods, reduce stress, and improve your environmental conditions, you will be better able to manage your health condition like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and more. I have a friend with RA who tried the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, but she still needed a cane, then progressed to a walker. She realized that diet would not heal her, so she is now on a treatment plan with her doctor and follows a natural healthy eating plan.The concern about trying to treat your health condition with foods alone, is that many autoimmune diseases are systemic; that is, they affect internal organs. Those internal organs can fail which you want to avoid. You can boost your nutrition and reduce inflammation to make your quality of life so much better when coupled with the treatment plan you develop with your medical provider.

Tips to Make Life Manageable

I have found that living an overall healthy lifestyle has helped my own symptoms of mixed collagen vascular disease and fibromyalgia. I know many other people who have regained daily function with dietary and lifestyle changes as well. I can attest to the findings in the research done for this blog post that these tips may help you feel and function better on a day-to-day basis:

1. Stop eating meats high in fat, deep fried foods, and baked goods using transfats. Do include minimally processed meats like low-fat (93/7 or better) poultry.

2. Stop eating highly processed foods using preservatives and food dyes like most lunchmeats. I have found that the “Naturals” meats are safer for me like Hormel Naturals and Oscar Myer Naturals.

3. Try eating cold water fish like tuna and salmon, among others for Omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Do eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables without added salt and sugar, preferably organic. Avoid the ones that include sauces.

5. Use healthy oils like olive, grapeseed, canola, and others that remain liquid at room temperature.

6. Limit coconut oil because it is processed like a saturated, although have anti-inflammatory properties and raises HDL, good cholesterol, it could affect your blood vessels. Use sparingly.(Harvard University)

7. Do reduce or eliminate artificial sweeteners.

8. Do increase intake of probiotic foods like sauerkraut and yogurt.

9. Do increase foods known for their antioxidant properties like berries, broccoli, and more.

10. Do increase your water intake and limit drinking caffeinated beverages.

11. Do eat whole grains, but limit your intake of carbs and spread out through your day.

Basically, if any food or drink causes swelling, heat, pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, headaches, or other unpleasant symptoms, leave it alone and discuss with your doctor. Our bodies will function better so we can serve God and others more effectively.

May God bless you!

All resources are linked for your convenience. if one is missing or takes you to the wrong website, please let me know.

Categories: nutrition, health, special health conditions

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