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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!

5 Celebrities with Autoimmune Diseases

Did you know that the following celebrities have autoimmune diseases? Unfortunately, being an A-lister does not exempt you from having health problems. Read on to learn about their powerful stories of hope and living with chronic illness.

1. Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez.jpg

In 2015, it was revealed that Selena Gomez suffered from Lupus, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own vital organs, skin, joints and other tissues. Selena also disclosed that she was undergoing chemotherapy as part of her treatment.

Her life took a dramatic turn in 2017, when her doctors advised that she would need a new kidney. Thankfully, her best friend, Francia Raisa, generously donated her own kidney to Selena, undergoing an intensive, 6-hour organ transplant surgery. Although the surgery seems to have had a positive impact on Selena’s physical well-being, she admits that Lupus has also taken a toll on her mental health, causing her to experience depression, panic attacks and anxiety. She has become an advocate for Lupus awareness, and was co-chair at the 2017 Lupus Research Alliance Gala.

2. Venus Williams

Venus Williams.jpg

Tennis all-star Venus Williams shocked the world in 2011 when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Sjogren’s Syndrome. Sjogren’s primarily affects the body’s moisture-producing glands, resulting in symptoms such as dry eyes and mouth, severe fatigue, and joint pain.

Venus attributes the disease to taking longer to recover from injury, and was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open in 2011 due to her symptoms. However, she believes in a “never give up” mentality, and has adopted a vegan diet to improve her overall health. Venus also became an Honorary Chairperson for the Carroll Petrie Foundation Sjogren’s Awareness Ambassador Program to raise awareness about the disease.

3. Jack Osbourne

Jack Osbourne

Jack Osbourne, son of heavy-metal singer Ozzy Osbourne and reality TV personality Sharon Osbourne, was devastated to learn that he had been diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis in 2012.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the nervous system, and can result in a diverse range of symptoms, from mobility and speech issues, to pain and even blindness. Jack revealed in an interview that he was diagnosed with MS after noticing a black dot in his vision, that turned out to be optic neuritis, an inflammation of the eye nerves that resulted in 90% blindness in his right eye. Despite the diagnosis, Jack is determined to live a fulfilling life, and has partnered with a neuroscience organization to create the international campaign “You Don’t Know Jack About MS” to raise awareness about the disease.

4. Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams shocked viewers when she fainted on live TV during an airing of her daytime talk show, Wendy. When she returned after a three-week, doctor-ordered hiatus, Wendy revealed that she had been diagnosed 19 years prior with Grave’s Disease, which may have contributed to her fall.

Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland. Symptoms are varied, but may include hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), bulging of the eyes, heart palpitations, weight loss, and fatigue. During a segment with Dr. Oz, she discussed her struggle with the condition, and has used her platform to raise awareness for the disease.

5. Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow

24-year old model Winnie Harlow rose to fame at a young age as a contestant on Tyra Banks’ reality TV show, America’s Next Top Model. The Canadian model revealed that growing up, she had been a victim of vicious bullying due to having a chronic autoimmune skin condition called Vitiligo, which causes the destruction of melanocytes, resulting in a depigmentation of the skin.

Winnie did not allow her autoimmune condition to stop her modelling career, however, and has modeled for international brands such as Desigual and Swarovski. She has become an outspoken advocate for self-love, presenting a TedxTalk on the topic and participating in Dove’s Real Beauty campaign.