A lot of info in this article, but bottom line is we have to watch our diets to help us cope.
Fifty million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. That beats the number of people with cancer and heart disease combined. New research indicates processed foods could play a role. In fact, an increasing number of doctors say cleaning up the diet could reverse this autoimmune trend.
Our immune system keeps us healthy by attacking invaders, like viruses. One problem, however, is our immune system can misfire and attack healthy tissue. That can lead to one of more than 100 autoimmune diseases like Graves’ disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Many people don’t even realize they have an autoimmune disease, assuming instead their exhaustion, brain fog or abdominal pain are just a part of life. Other symptoms include feeling cold much of the time or having a rapid heartbeat.
When doctors diagnosed Sierra Vellinga with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which attacks the thyroid gland, they told her the same thing millions of others with autoimmune issues hear.
“It was just always, ‘Oh, take this pill for the rest of your life and that’s all we can do for you,” she recalled. “You’re incurable and you have a disease.”
Sierra didn’t believe the medication helped and caused terrible side effects.
“I was having physical symptoms like my hair was falling out. I was very puffy-faced and joint pain,” she continued. “I had tons of sinus issues, which they either said was allergies or a sinus infection, so they’d put me on antibiotics and send me on my way.”
Then Sierra heard about Dr. Amy Myers, one of a growing number of autoimmune specialists who believe drugs often make matters worse.
“Conventional medicines can work for some people. They can be very effective,” she explained. “I just want to warn people that when you’re dealing with autoimmune diseases, at least thus far, how conventional medicine deals with those, is to shut down the entire immune system.”
“So if you have an autoimmune disease that’s attacking and displaying in your joints, they’re not targeting just the joints, they’re targeting the entire immune system, which is why when you look at these drugs, many of them have the side effects of decreased immune system, getting infections, even leading to lymphomas and cancers,” she said.
Dr. Myers prescribes a series of lifestyle changes to prevent and possibly reverse autoimmune diseases, starting with a clean diet.
“That means somebody’s symptoms can go away. Their joint pain can go away. Their muscle aches and pains can go away. They can get off these very harsh medications…and I see that day in and day out,” Myers said.
Sierra followed this route, and after six months regained her health.
“So far it’s worked great!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never felt better since I can remember. I didn’t realize I could get my brain back working where it’s firing, my hair is the longest it’s ever been, my nails grow so quickly that I can’t even get a manicure because my fingernail polish is grown out in about a week.”
Dr. Myers believes many autoimmune diseases stem from a condition called “leaky gut.”
“Nearly 80 percent of our immune system is in our gut,” she points out. “And if we have an autoimmune disease, it’s a problem with our immune system.”
A leaky gut means large openings form along the intestinal walls, allowing proteins and viruses to escape into the bloodstream. The immune system recognizes them as foreign, and begins to attack them, as well as things that resemble them.
“It’s called ‘Molecular Mimicry,'” she explained. “Some of these proteins look very similar to our body tissues, like our thyroid, and begins to mistakenly attack our thyroid when it was meant to attack say that virus or that protein.”
Myers says a leaky gut comes from things like stress, certain medications and eating processed foods, sugar, dairy and gluten, which is in wheat.
“So gluten,” she said. “Everybody’s thinking, ‘This is just a fad. This is such hype. How in the world can gluten be bad? It’s the bread of life. We’ve been eating it forever.’ Well, the bread that we’re eating now is not the bread we’ve been eating forever.”
That’s because scientists have hybridized wheat over the years. Today’s crop produces a higher yield, but contains more gluten.
Our once-wholesome cheese isn’t the same either.
“We have over processed our dairy,” Dr. Myers said. “We’re using different cows than our great-great grandparents did. We’re using a lot of growth hormones, antibiotics.”
The problem with sugar is it can cause massive inflammation.
“Inflammation causes the immune system to turn on itself,” Dr. Myers explained.
Food manufacturers add sugar to nearly all the products we buy, including ones that seem healthy like spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, salad dressing and granola bars.
“In general, eating things out of a package that are refined are not good for any of us,” she warned. “There’s a lot of research showing even gluten-free products are worse than a gluten-filled product regarding blood sugar because the grains that they use like the corn and the rice are more refined, and then in order to add bulk to a lot of these products they’re adding a lot more sugar to them.”
Dr. Myers recommends avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods in order to heal the gut and reverse autoimmune disease.
When Sierra heard this, she understood why she felt so horrible until that point.
“My diet before I started this consisted of basically only dairy and gluten,” she recalled. “I had no issue eating horribly, and I thought it was kind of funny to eat fast food all the time. I had no idea I was completely ruining my insides.”
Correcting the problem usually involves cooking at home, from scratch. That was a tall order for Sierra.
“I have never been a cook,” she confessed. “And with this diet, it made it very difficult to eat in restaurants. And I learned very quickly if I wanted to eat, I had to learn how to make it.”
Dr. Myers outlines what she likes her patients to eat.
“In an ideal world we would all be eating, I believe, like our ancestors. So eating pasture-raised meats, grass-fed meats, fish, vegetables, fruit… more of a Paleo diet.”
Sierra said she now enjoys the creativity of cooking for herself.
“I have been making lots of wraps using lettuce as a wrap, or like, a coconut wrap,” she said. “I do lots of salads, lots of grilling, tons of meat and some sort of vegetable as a side. I eat a ton of avocado.”
Sierra says eating whole foods make her feel like a new person.
“They’ve been such a game-changer in how I feel that I really don’t want to eat the other foods,” she said. “I don’t crave sugar any more. I don’t want gluten. I don’t crave milkshakes like I used to.”
So one way to guard against, or treat any number of autoimmune diseases, is to consider an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Paleo plan: one that’s rich in vegetables and healthy fats, minus the processed foods, sugar, dairy and wheat. It could be well worth the effort.