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Is there a link between diet and autoimmune disease?

About 8 years ago, I saw a powerful TedTalk by Dr. Terry Wahls, called Minding Your Mitochondria.

Dr. Wahls is a physician who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative autoimmune disease affecting the body’s nervous system. After undergoing traditional therapies for the condition, including chemotherapy and usage of a tilt-recline wheelchair, Dr. Wahls studied biochemistry and learned about the nutrients that played a role in maintaining brain health.

After noticing a slow down in the progression of her disease after taking nutritional supplements, she decided to focus her diet on consuming foods that contained these brain-protecting nutrients. Only a year after beginning her new diet, Dr. Wahls was not only out of her wheelchair, but she had just finished her first 18-mile bike tour! She went on to develop a dietary regimen for those with autoimmune conditions, called the Wahls Protocol.

So, this raises the question, does diet play a role in the development of (and fight against) autoimmune disease?

There is evidence to suggest that there is a link between autoimmunity and one’s diet. For example, I recently wrote about a study published by NYU’s School of Medicine, in which researchers found that the autoimmune disease lupus is strongly linked to imbalances in the gut’s microbiome.

Furthermore, the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada also released a report detailing Vitamin D recommendations for MS patients, as a result of studies linking Vitamin D deficiency to the disease. Vitamin D is produced by our skin through sun exposure, but also comes from food sources such as fish, dairy and eggs.

Tara Grant, who has a condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), an autoimmune condition of the skin, believes that there is a direct link between autoimmunity and diet, as a result of a concept called leaky gut syndrome.

Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, occurs when the tight junctions between cells in the body’s digestive tract begin to loosen. This enables substances like bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream. Consequently, your immune system reacts to attack these foreign substances, which leads to the development of inflammation and autoimmune disease.

After implementing a restrictive, dairy-free, gluten-free paleo diet, Tara has found that her HS symptoms have completely gone into remission. She now promotes the paleo lifestle on her blog, PrimalGirl, and even released a book, The Hidden Plague, which talks about her struggle treating HS through traditional means, and her journey to healing.

Now I’d like to hear from you Autoimmune Warriors- has changing your diet impacted your chronic health condition in any way? What changes have you implemented that have worked?

Learn More

To read more about the Wahls Protocol, check out Dr. Wahls’ website, and click here to get her book on Amazon.

To read more about Tara Grant’s journey to being HS-free, click here to get her book on Amazon, and check out her amazing gluten-free dough recipe, here.

3 Things Not to Say to Someone with a Chronic Illness

1. “Why don’t you just try exercising more and eating healthier?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked when I first tell a friend that I have a chronic illness. And while it may be a well-intentioned question, the reality is, autoimmune conditions do not yet have a cure, and eating well and exercising is unlikely to make one’s symptoms dissipate.

While some patients may swear by a certain diet, such as going gluten-free, or adopting a particular exercise regimen, many others do not see a noticeable difference in their symptoms, despite extensive lifestyle changes. Also, such a sentiment often puts an unnecessary burden on the patient, who may feel like they ‘deserve’ their disease for not adopting ‘enough’ of a healthy lifestyle, when in fact, many scientists believe that there is a strong genetic component to autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions, which is beyond the patient’s control.

So please, the next time you think to tell someone to eat more kale to cure their painful rheumatoid arthritis- think again.

2. “Are you sure that’s what you really have? Maybe it’s just depression?”

When someone confides in you that they have a chronic health condition, they want to feel supported. The last thing they want is a friend or family member putting doubt into their mind about their health.

Furthermore, many patients go years from doctor to doctor seeking an answer about their health problems. When they finally get a diagnosis- although shocking and often devastating- there is a certain amount of relief that one experiences in at least knowing ‘what you have’ and the reassurance that what you’re going through is real. Asking someone “if they’re sure” about their condition, is essentially invalidating their health issues, right when that individual has finally found some closure.

Finally, asking if “it’s just depression” is simply unacceptable. Studies have shown that people with autoimmune conditions have a higher incidence of mental health problems such as depression. However, this shouldn’t be brushed off as “just” depression. Moreover, when I personally have been asked this question in the past, it made me think, ‘is this person saying it’s all in my head?’ This, in turn, made me more reticent about sharing health-related news in the future.

3. “It can’t be that bad, can it? You’re just exaggerating!”

For someone else to brush off your disease is the ultimate slap in the face. Many people with chronic health problems have an invisible illness, meaning that on the outside, they may look fine, but on the inside, they are suffering. Symptoms like chronic pain, organ and tissue damage, and fatigue are not usually noticeable to the naked eye.

Even health care professionals often don’t empathize with their patients’ complaints, telling them that they are exaggerating, or accusing them of being a hypochondriac. The result is that the patient may internalize their suffering, and not turn to their physician or loved ones for the medical help and support they need.

Unless you yourself have experienced the relentlessness of having a chronic condition, you can never know what someone with an invisible illness is going through. All you can do is listen and be there for them.

 

Did you like these tips on what NOT to say to someone with a chronic illness? If so, please like, share, and comment below!

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Dec. 12, 2018

Man left paralyzed from the nose down by rare autoimmune disorder

David Braham, a 40-year old man from the United Kingdom, came down with a bad case of food poisoning, which he believes was triggered by eating chicken curry. A few days later, he was in the hospital being put into an induced coma.

It turns out, the food poisoning had caused him to develop a rare autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. This disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack its own nerves, leaving the patient paralyzed.

Braham is re-learning how to do basic tasks, such as walking, washing himself and brushing his teeth, and is happy that he has been able to return home to his family. Read more about his harrowing story here.

Purdue University developing new treatment options for autoimmune diseases

Purdue University researchers have developed a series of molecules to help provide symptom relief to those with autoimmune conditions.

Mark Cushman, a distinguished professor of medicinal chemistry at the university, was the lead researcher in the study. His research team found that the molecules are more effective than pharmaceuticals currently on the market at affecting cell signaling and inhibiting autoimmune reactions. They have also shown to produce less side effects than conventional treatments.

Read more about this exciting discovery here.

MSU student shares her story with Alopecia

Payton Bland, a freshman student at Minot State University (MSU) in North Dakota, shares her story of acceptance and confidence while living with Alopecia.

Alopecia is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own hair follicles. The result can be extensive hair loss. In the case of Alopecia Universalis, the patient loses 100% of the hair on their body.

Oftentimes, those affected by this disorder suffer from anxiety. Payton, however, is undeterred by her Alopecia. Her bald head might cause her to stand out on campus, but she also stands out because of her upbeat personality and positive attitude.

Payton has spoken with young girls living with the condition, to inspire and empower them that it’s nothing to be ashamed about. She credits her family and faith in helping her stay confident in who she is. Watch her heartening interview here.