Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Is it Possible to Manage an Autoimmune Disease Through Nutrition?

By: Andrew Jagim

Several of our subscribers may know that I have had my battle with health issues over the past couple of years, particularly digestion-related, ever since I had the unfortunate experience of playing host to an intestinal parasite called Giardia (by the way this is why they tell you not to drink the water when camping....ironically I was never actually camping and don't know how I got it but that's beside the point). As a result I have been in and out of the clinic/hospital the past few years trying to manage symptoms and get a good grasp on what is actually going on.

Long story short, I haven't had much luck and I still struggle with digestive issues, maintaining my weight, having the energy to get through the day etc.  Because the traditional approach of Western Medicine has failed me thus far (invasive tests, multiple rounds of various medications, waiting months for follow-up appointments and lots of money spent), I have begun to look elsewhere for some answers including various aspects of integrative medicine and nutritional therapies. The scientist in me is hesitant with this approach as I prefer to rely on science to guide medicinal and health-related practices however after doing lots of reading and having conversations with others who have similar issues with a defeating lack of success and struggles with my own doctors I cannot help but consider that maybe the traditional approach of Western Medicine is lacking in certain areas and I firmly believe nutrition is a BIG part of that.  As an example, my gastroenterologist refuses to believe that there may be a link between my dietary intake and what's going on with my digestive system.  A system, who's top priority is to digest/absorb the foods and nutrients we eat while removing the by-products of that process and eliminating wastes. WTF?

I think "alternative medicine," "integrative therapies" and "homeopathy" or whatever you want to call them get a bad reputation because they are not 100% based upon the scientific literature and in some cases may even go against medical advice.  I am guilty of being a skeptic of these practices as well and definitely have my doubts with some of them. Nevertheless, here I am about to venture into the world of alternative medicine to see if it actually works...well with my condition at least.

Two books and healing strategies in particular that have been very insightful along the way and are written/developed by very intelligent and evidence-based practitioners, which helps me believe they are slightly more credible than some of the other natural-minded hippies of the world.  The first of them is a book called: "Ultraprevention" by Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Mark Liponis.  The book focuses on some of the major flaws within Western Medicine and highlights the fact that a lot of the chronic medical conditions that people struggle with such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and cancers may actually be preventable or curable through various nutritional therapies and lifestyle changes.  The authors provide a 6-week plan designed to reduce lifestyle stress, reduce oxidative stress, improve energy production and manage inflammation through various dietary changes.  One of my favorite quotes of the book is: "Prescribing a prescription drug to someone is sometimes the equivalency of just turning off your smoke detector when it goes off instead of looking where the fire is." The book focuses on the theory of addressing the root cause of the problem rather than simply managing symptoms.

The second book/strategy is called: "The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body" written by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. The majority of the book focuses on the idea that a lot of autoimmune conditions (when our body attacks itself) stem from a condition referred to as "leaky gut," or a more scientific term: increased intestinal permeability. 

When our gut "leaks" certain nutrients, proteins and food compounds cross our intestinal barrier and enter the bloodstream where they can cause an intense allergic/inflammatory reaction as those compounds aren't supposed to be directly present in the blood. This can in turn lead to the development of food sensitivities, allergies, inflammatory conditions and full-blown autoimmune conditions, in theory that is. This concept currently isn't well-accepted within the medical community despite reports of increased intestinal permeability in people under different auto-immune conditions.

"The Paleo Approach", in particular includes a strict dietary plan that is directed towards healing the gut and ultimately reducing and/or reversing auto-immune related conditions.  Specifically the name of the diet is the Autoimmune Protocol which is a very restrictive version of the Paleo Diet (which already is rather restrictive).  For those who aren't familiar with a Paleo Diet it essentially eliminates all refined/process grains, legumes and all dairy products. So, no oats, wheat, flour, potatoes, rice, cheese, milk yogurt etc.  The autoimmune protocol goes a little further and also eliminates nuts, eggs and seeds from the diet. So what else is there you ask? Lots of meats, fish/seafood, vegetables, various oils and fruits (in moderation).  Needless to say it is a very restrictive diet. However, at this point I'm getting pretty desperate and am willing to try anything...even if that means giving up my precious carbs (i.e. breads, oatmeals, chips etc.). So how does this restrictive diet help to "reverse autoimmune disease" as the name implies? Good question. The restrictive diet eliminates a lot of foods that have been shown to be associated with food sensitivities/allergies. In addition, it also eliminates various food groups that have been shown to be pro-inflammatory and instead focuses more so on anti-inflammatory derived foods. Ultimately, this switch should help to heal the gut, restore the microbiome environment and reduce the symptoms related to the autoimmune condition. Then when symptoms have subsided over the course of a couple of months, you selectively reintroduce various foods back into the diet and observe any potential resurgence of symptoms. If that occurs, then you continue to eliminate that food. The goal is to eventually get you back to a well-balanced diet and be symptom free.

So getting back to the original question of the post, is it possible to manage an autoimmune condition through nutrition? I don't know but I'm about to find least for an "n" size = 1 type of case study. I know there are 100's and 1,000's of anecdotal reports swearing by their efficacy but again I am still slightly skeptic. The rationale is there and I think there is great potential but only time will tell. I will make sure to follow up with my journey and continue to tell my version of the story.  Am I excited about following the diet? Hell no. Am I hopeful and excited to be potentially "healed"? Yes.  I am trying to make the most of a shitty situation (pun intended) and turn my own condition into a science experiment.

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