I recently came across someone who was inquiring if I had any herbs to help support their various auto-immune diseases. It became apparent as the conversation went on that what this individual was looking for a magical cure. One that would allow her to live however she wanted, eat anything and would cause a whole variety of conditions that were all auto immune related to disappear. I honestly wish that I could have provided one but the truth is that the best defense against autoimmune disease is your diet. Autoimmune disease is when the immune system begins producing antibodies that attack cells within your body causing inflammation and leading to many undesirable side effects; some of which you likely are already familiar with such as upset stomach, headaches, rashes and poor digestion and even some very serious like issues with fertility.
I understand why someone would be looking for a cure, if I knew a magical herb that helped I would be the first to take it so that I could enjoy Pizza, Beer and Donuts once again without getting congested, nauseous migraine headaches, stomach cramps etc. but sadly that is not the case. We must learn to listen to our bodies warnings and nourish it accordingly.
I will use my body as an example. At a young age I developed eczema sporatically, I was prescribed cortizone cream and eventually just used plain unscented lotion as a more natural alternative. I also developed migraine headaches that would plague me from time to time, not often enough to be concerned but often enough to notice. I thought these were from the fact that I only sometimes wear the glasses I am prescribed for astigmatism in my left eye. There were a few other gastro related things that would happen on occasion strangely I would have fits of puking burps if that makes sense and from what I understand I had it pretty good symptom wise. Others have it far worse. The strange thing was that I didn't connect any of the dots. They all seemed like completely separate instances of completely separate issues. And then I began to be have a runny nose shortly after I ate almost every meal. I knew that there was something I was sensitive to but didn't want to put the effort into finding out what it was. I had been traveling for a wedding and ended up talking to someone about their food sensitivities and they said that there was no medical test that could be done, you just had to food journal everything you ate and track down how you feel. About a month later I was advised by a tea leaf reader to look into it more seriously before it developed into a worse condition so I began an elimination diet. I basically ate vegetables, rice and a bit of fish for almost 6 weeks and then began to try the most common allergens and what do you know I ate one two bite brownie, just one and within an hour I was almost immobilized with what felt like the worst hangover imaginable, nausea, migraine, vomiting the works. Ok, wheat was out. Again I tried to have a couple of beers and woke up the next morning feeling terrible. There goes barley, I didn't need to torture myself with trying rye, it was pretty apparent that gluten was my kryptonite. And yes I realize these are probably not the best choices of what to reintroduce but I was 23 and beer was practically a food group at the time. As time went on I realized that the migraines never came back, I haven't had any eczema or digestive issue and have learned so much about my own body since.
Now I'm not going to outline the ideal diet because it can vary; common sensitivities are wheat, gluten, soy, shellfish, fish, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs though they can include nightshades and citrus and unfortunately anything really.
Now lets talk about what happens when we eat something our body doesn't like, obviously we know any of the symptoms that we experience but what about on the inside. The wall of the gut is very thin. About one mm, I'm not sure if you have ever eaten or seen haggis but that will give you the idea of how thick the walls of your stomach are and your intestines? just imagine a sausage casing so now you are seeing how easy it could be end up with a leaky gut allowing those particles to permeate through and become something that your body would recognize as foreign and worth attacking. And thats essentially what all autoimmune disease is, it is the bodies immune system decides that its own cells are disease and attacks it.
And addressing the diet has worked in the past there are numerable accounts of people curing themselves of diseases by figuring out the best diet for their bodies and then actually eating that way. The follow through is key! Dara Dubinet healed her hashimotos disease with raw foods (click her name for videos and info), young Isabel from texas cured her Raynaud's disease by making diet changes, there are various studies showing the correlation of gut health and autoimmune disease,.
So how do we take care of our immune system and our gut?
We exercise, we manage out stress levels and we eat foods that agree with us and bring us greater levels of health. Please see the studies above for ideas on ideal diets, keeping in mind that everyone is different but the truth is that if you are after health you are going to have to make some changes; certain things will likely need to be eliminated and it can be difficult. But it gets easier, in fact it gets better because whole foods are delicious and make you feel great! Many people find a vegan diet, even if only temporary can be very healing, and other are finding a ketogenic diet helpful. Juicing can be amazing! I would recommend adding fermented foods and nourishing broths into your diet and definitely doing an elimination diet.
Here are the steps to follow in order to effectively do an elimination diet:
Stop eating all common allergen/sensitive foods from the list below for about three weeks.
During this time, be careful not to even eat trace amounts, label reading will be important as you really want to eliminate it entirely from your body. You may want to keep a food journal during these three weeks to record how you’re feeling, it can come in handy when you begin reintroducing the foods later on.
After 3 - 4 weeks, reintroduce one food group at a time. Eat the suspicious food daily if you can for about 1–2 weeks and record your symptoms. Notice any changes in symptoms between the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase. Sometimes you only need to try it once or twice to see how your body reacts as well. If it clearly doesn't agree with you, don't torture yourself.
If symptoms return after beginning to eat one of the suspicious foods, you can confirm that this food is a trigger by eliminating it once again. The goal is to see if the symptoms clear up once again when the food is removed. You can see that the process is a bit of trial and error, but it shouldn’t take more than 4–6 weeks to pinpoint foods that can finally improve your symptoms for good.
Biggest Foods Offenders to Avoid During an Elimination Diet:
Sometimes alcohol and caffeine
Also with autoimmune disease you will want to be sure to get plenty of exercise, and manage stress levels. I will note that other environmental factors can come into play such as pollution, water quality, weather changes etc. but often when we dial in our diet our body immune system heals and can work more efficiently to handle these factors. When we control what we can (diet, stress management etc.) our body becomes more equipped to handle that which we cannot control.
So to the lovely woman that I was speaking with, no there truly isn't an easy way out of autoimmune disease. There is no tea that makes it so you can eat anything without repercussion, no tincture that can make it disappear entirely. It is a much longer road to healing, one that will likely take sacrifice, one that will be entirely worth it in the end. One that will actually liberate you. And if you are currently suffering from autoimmune disease, I urge you to take your own health into your own hands and I wish you all the best.