When you develop and autoimmune disease you can feel like your life is turned upside down and your whole world is ending. It can feel terribly unfair, and there’s this period of mourning where you come to terms with the why me? And what did I do to deserve this?
You’re sick, the fact of the matter is, you’re going to be sick for the rest of your life, however, and let me tell you in no uncertain terms, there are things that you can do to modify and mitigate your experience of illness. There is an exceptional amount of denial in support groups, support groups for disease usually attract the people who ARE NOT coping with their illness, who do not have access to money for medical treatment, or adequate nutrition, or who have not been correctly diagnosed, as such their long term out comes are worse, so is their outlook and their affect. There are a number of scientifically backed things that you can do to assist your body to recover from disease, and these will vary largely by disease type, but the broad principles remain the same.
I’m going to talk about my experience of pain, to provide you an example that’s real world. In the medical field, there’s not a huge volume of doctors who practice wholistic medicine, and it is in fact incredibly important. As a person with a compromised immune system, your gut is the single most important thing that your should be focusing on, and what you’re putting in to your mouth will be directly impacting your experience.
Three months ago I developed Psioratic Arthritis, this is an inflammatory autoimmune disease which aggressively causes degenerative tissue damage in the joints, lots of pain, fatigue, gut issues, swelling, skin and nail psorasis. I went from balls to the walls active writing articles for KFBAUS and making recipes, to essentially 80year old cripple in the space of 3 days. I’m mid twenties. My babies are 5 and 3, I wasn’t prepared for my life to be over. Pretty much all autoimmune diseases require DMARD or biologic medications, please do not stop taking your medications at any time, they are incredibly important to prevent long term disease damage. Some people can achieve disease remission and not require to take their medication all the time, though medication alteration should only be done under the strict supervision of your specialist.
However, by using diet and supplements as an adjunct you may find that your treatment may be more effective, your symptoms may resolve faster and your quality of life may overall improve. I was told that Methotrexate would take at least 6 weeks to start having an effect, I starting noticing an improvement after 4 days. After 2 weeks I don’t feel like I’m going to die anymore.
What’s in a gut?
Your gut is probably the single most globally overlooked facilitator of health in society. The delicate balance of bacteria, interacts with the epithelial lining cells of the intestines and essentially provide the barrier between the food you eat, and what goes into your blood stream. Normally, in a healthy individual it would just let nutrient molecules in, cells get fed, everyone’s happy. In a gut that has too much bad bacteria or patches where the epithelial cells have been stripped out, foreign bodies can enter the blood stream. This can cause rampant and systemic inflammation, associated pain, skin rashes and organ damage. The pop-culture term you’ve probably heard is “leaky gut”. It can cause weight loss, nutrient malabsorption, anemia and other deficiencies.
What can we do to support a damaged gut? Pretty much all of the below.
The ‘Fun Free’ Diet
I’ve talked about this previously, food and humans are emotionally quite intrinsically linked. We turn to food when we’re sad, and there’s so sadder time really than when we’ve been told we have an incurable disease. However, clean or strict keto, the kind that’s free from inflammatory seed and vegetable oils, preservatives, while initially quite hard, will help to alleviate inflammation and more readily resolve symptoms. While you’re sick, please especially use this time to love yourself, be kind to yourself and find things to take care of yourself that don’t involve food. Please read more about self care here.
Most of the treatment medications that you’re going to be on for an autoimmune disease are incredibly stomach and bowel caustic. This can result in a lot of pain either all the time, while you’re eating or drinking or having bowel motions; reflux, or loss of appetite. If you’re on a course of steroids, or on naproxen sodium or other long term NSAID you really need to be dialing back the acidity in your diet and probably asking for the additional prescription of SOMAC.
Some people may find that they can tolerate these things however, in all honesty you’re better off dialing it all back to boring as butts and then gradually reintroducing foods as your gut is healing. As time goes on, you honestly get more creative in the fun-free diet. As my own health improves, I’ll try to share some fun-free recipes.
High quantities of saturated fats have been show in clinical studies to flush out the epithelial cells of the intestine. These cells are what line the walls of the intestine, facilitate nutritional passage and immune defence. When you have lots of damage from the medications in the paragraph above and you eat a lot of fatty meat, you will experience bowel inflammation, pain and diarrhea. Over time, potentially even a worsening of inflammatory symptoms such as joint pain or skin psorasis. You may find that you have to dial the even the nutritional ketogenic fat levels back a little bit according to your own personal comfort levels.
There’s some new interesting research coming out in regards to artificial sweetener and the death of intestinal gut microflora. A well balanced, healthy gut ecosystem is critical for immune system function, consuming artificial sweetener on a regular basis is probably not something you should be doing, especially not if you have an autoimmune disease. You can check out the list of artificial sweeteners here.
Gluten, Dairy & Soy
If you have a compromised immune system there is a distinct likelihood that these foods in conjunction with your leaky gut are going to be seen as foreign bodies by your body and will attacked by your immune system, leading to a worsening of your own symptoms. It’s not uncommon for individuals with autoimmune disease to eventually also present as celiac or allergic or intolerant to dairy, soy is molecularly incredibly very similar to dairy and can result in a reaction with people with an intolerance or allergy. From a ketogenic perspective we advise against soy as it is all GMO.
Carbohydrates in individuals with inflammatory based conditions, so a lot of arthritic conditions, will notice an improvement of symptoms within about 4 days of starting a ketogenic diet. I think long term a lot of people have issues following through on these kinds of ‘strict fun free’ diets because again of the emotional associations we have with food. We’re also so very used to pairing foods as well. Curry goes with rice, well, it also actually goes really nice on baby spinach too. And eating salad for breakfast doesn’t mean the world is going to end. Adjusting your own perspectives surrounding food is going to be one of the biggest tools and assets you can provide yourself.
Anti-Inflammatory Supplements,Pro and Pre-biotics
There are particular strains of good bacteria that are shown to nutritionally support the repair of particular diseases. If I have to look at all of the changes I have made to life style, this has been the single biggest impacting factor. For Psioratic Arthritis the good bacteria is Bifidobacterium infantis, and with all of them you want to be taking a clinical strength dose. You can contact someone who specialises in nutritional medicine to help you find out what bacteria will help support your own condition. Once you’re taking these bacteria you need to support their growth and proliferation through your intestine and that means eating foods rich in fibre.
Individuals with autoimmune disease also seem to show a high comorbidity of vitamin D deficiency which you require for optimal gut functioning.
Supplementing high dose (6000mg) fish oil for a period of 8 weeks clinically has show to reduce visibly on MRI the amount of joint inflammation in people with disease. Also the associated pain levels have reduced.
For my own condition, it results in some savage muscle contractions, much, much worse than your typical leg cramp. I take, as you should be with a ketogenic diet, 300mg Magnesium citrate. 150mg morning and night. So I guess if you’re coming here for autoimmune disease support what you should be doing is a heavily modified nutrional ketogenic diet. It sounds really hard, but it’s better than feeling like you’re dying all the time.
You can check out my AIP shopping list on our facebook group by clicking here.