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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 Feb. 13, 2019

Benefit Event Organized for New York Woman with Scleroderma

A benefit event has been organized by the friends of Krislyn Manwaring, a 25-year old woman with Scleroderma living in Erin, NY.

Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that causes the body’s soft tissue to harden. Manwaring, who is now on oxygen, is in need of a stem cell transplant. However, her health insurance won’t pay for it.

The benefit event will raise funds to go towards Manwaring’s transplant procedure. According to the event’s Facebook page, over 200 attendees have already RSVP’d for the event.

Young Woman Shares Journey with Autoimmune Encephalitis

Tori Calaunan, a young woman from Las Vegas, shares her journey with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis with the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance.

While in nursing school, Calaunan felt some weakness in her right leg, but brushed it off as nothing serious. As the weakness continued to worsen, she also experienced confusion and dizziness. She passed a neuro test and MRI, however, and doctors told her that everything was fine.

She eventually checked into the ER, and stayed there for a month before transferring to a hospital in California, where she finally received her diagnosis of Autoimmune Encephalitis.

Family of Young Man with Rare Autoimmune Disease Outraged Over Drug Price Hike

Will Schuller, from Overland Park, Kansas, was 18 when he began experiencing extreme weakness. An avid runner, he was pulled out of high school when he struggled to walk down the hall, and stopped being able to go up the stairs.

He was eventually diagnosed with Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a chronic autoimmune disorder than affects muscle strength. LEMS is reported among 3,000 people in the US, and can dramatically impact one’s quality of life.

Schuller was prescribed a drug called 3,4-DAP, which made him feel better instantly. The drug was free as a result of an FDA program called ‘compassionate use’. The drug’s manufacturing rights, however, were sold to a company called Catalyst, which renamed the drug Firdapse, and raised the price to $375,000/year for the medication.

Schuller’s family decried the extreme price hike, stating that if it hadn’t been for this medication, their son would certainly be in a wheelchair. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called the price increase a ‘fleecing of American taxpayers’.

Schuller is now a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Tulsa. Read more about his story here.

Interested in reading more? See last week’s top news in autoimmunity here.