The Auto-immune Paleo diet
(Click here for a list of autoimmune diseases)
This post covers:
- A brief introduction to the conventional view of auto-immune disease, causes and treatment
- An brief outline of Cordain’s theory of auto-immune disease and the link to agricultural foods
- The food you need to eliminate if you have an auto-immune condition. (You may not need to eliminate these foods forever, however I recommend you strictly cut these foods from your diet for 4 – 6 weeks to see what impact it makes.)
- Links to interviews and videos
- Links to previous posts on auto-immune diseases and the paleo diet
My next post will cover in simple explanation of Cordain’s theory of auto-immune disease and how the food we eat contributes / or even causes an auto-immune reaction in genetically susceptible people. Plus links to success stories in real people, and tweaks that some people have found successful.
What is an auto-immune disease?
From the American Auto-immune Related Diseases Association: “One of the functions of the immune system is to protect the body by responding to invading microorganisms, such as viruses or bacteria, by producing antibodies or sensitized lymphocytes (types of white blood cells). Under normal conditions, an immune response cannot be triggered against the cells of one’s own body. In certain cases, however, immune cells make a mistake and attack the very cells that they are meant to protect. This can lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases. They encompass a broad category of related diseases in which the person’s immune system attacks his or her own tissue.”
“The immune system normally can distinguish “self” from “non-self.” Some lymphocytes are capable of reacting against self, resulting in an autoimmune reaction. Ordinarily these lymphocytes are suppressed. Autoimmunity occurs naturally in everyone to some degree; and in most people, it does not result in diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when there is some interruption of the usual control process, allowing lymphocytes to avoid suppression, or when there is an alteration in some body tissue so that it is no longer recognized as “self” and is thus attacked.”
Particular autoimmune disorders are frequently classified into organ-specific disorders and non-organ-specific types. Autoimmune processes can have various results, for example, slow destruction of a specific type of cells or tissue, stimulation of an organ into excessive growth, or interference in its function. Organs and tissues frequently affected include the endocrine gland, such as thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal glands; components of the blood, such as red blood cells; and the connective tissues, skin, muscles, and joints. Some autoimmune diseases fall between the two types. Patients may experience several organ-specific diseases at the same time. There is, however little overlap between the two ends of the spectrum.
In organ-specific disorders, the autoimmune process is directed mostly against one organ. Examples, with the organ affected, include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (thyroid gland), pernicious anemia (stomach), Addison’s disease (adrenal glands), and type 1 diabetes (pancreas).
In non-organ-specific disorders, autoimmune activity is widely spread throughout the body. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), and dermatomyositis.
The conventional medical view of what causes of autoimmune disease is also described, i.e no-one really knows:
“The exact mechanisms causing these changes are not completely understood; but bacteria, viruses, toxins, and some drugs may play a role in triggering an autoimmune process in someone who already has a genetic (inherited) predisposition to develop such a disorder. It is theorized that the inflammation initiated by these agents, toxic or infectious, somehow provokes in the body a “sensitization” (autoimmune reaction) in the involved tissues.”
And the conventional treatment, which primarily involves treating symptoms, like drugs to suppress the auto-immune response or the inflammation:
“Of first importance in treating any autoimmune disease is the correction of any major deficiencies. An example would be replacing hormones that are not being produced by the gland, such as thyroxin in autoimmune thyroid disease or insulin in type 1 diabetes. In autoimmune blood disorders, treatment may involve replacing components of the blood by transfusion.
Second in importance is the diminishing of the activity of the immune system. This necessitates a delicate balance, controlling the disorder while maintaining the body’s ability to fight disease in general. The drugs most commonly used are corticosteroid drugs. More severe disorders can be treated with other more powerful immunosuppressant drugs, such as methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, and azathioprine. All of these drugs, however, can damage rapidly dividing tissues, such as the bone marrow, and so are used with caution. Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy is used in the treatment of various autoimmune diseases to reduce circulating immune complexes. Some mild forms of rheumatic autoimmune diseases are treated by relieving the symptoms with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Drugs that act more specifically on the immune system, for example, by blocking a particular hypersensitivity reaction, are being researched.”
Before I was introduced to Cordain’s work, it never occured to me that my own auto-immune problems could be altered in any way except by conventional means. (Note – there very little awareness of diet except with celiac disease in the conventional website) My main issue was joint swelling and discomfort, which reduced with large amounts of omega 3 (anti-inflammatory), anti-inflammatory over the counter drugs like ibuprofen and rest.
The first paper I read that convinced me to cut out grains and legumes is this one by Cordain: Cereal Grains; Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword
Autoimmune Diseases and Cereal Grain Consumption
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body loses the ability to discriminate
self proteins from non-self proteins. This loss of tolerance ultimately results in
destruction of self tissues by the immune system. Autoimmune diseases occur
in a variety of tissues and include such well-known maladies as rheumatoid
arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).
Typically, autoimmune diseases are characterized by the presence of auto-antibodies
against specific self proteins . Most autoimmune diseases are
thought to develop via an interaction of an environmental factor or factors
in conjunction with a specific hereditary component.
Dietary cereal grains are the known environmental causative agent for at
least two autoimmune diseases: celiac disease  and dermatitis herpetiformis .Withdrawal of gluten-containing cereals from the diet ameliorates
all symptoms of both diseases. Further, evidence from clinical, epidemiological
and animal studies implicate cereal grains in the etiology of other autoimmune
diseases. The mechanism or mechanisms by which cereal grains may induce
autoimmunity in genetically susceptible individuals is not clearly defined;
however it is increasingly being recognized that the process of molecular
mimicry, by which a specific foreign antigen may cross react with self antigens,
may be involved in a variety of autoimmune diseases [232, 233]. Additionally,
cereal grain lectins and proteins may also have involvement in the development
of autoimmunity via their modulation of immune system components. (Read the rest in the article from page 48)
An excellent interview with Cordain is found here, where he describes the mechanism by which agricultural foods may trigger auto-immune reactions in genetically susceptible people: Loren Cordain – Autoimmune Disease and Food Triggers, Link to MP3 interview with Loren Cordain (45 minutes)
What foods should you eliminate for the auto-immune version of the paleo diet?
- Gluten grains MUST be strictly avoided. Wheat, oats, barley, rye, triticale
- All other grains (rice etc) and pseudo- grains like buck-wheat
- All legumes; lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, peas, soy and soy products, peanuts …
- All dairy; cream, butter, ghee, milk, yoghurt, even raw.
- All alcohol, it is a gut irritant
- Nightshades; includes potatoes, eggplant, capsicum, all peppers and chilli, tomatoes
- Although Cordain does not include these – I’ve noticed many people with auto-immune disease do not tolerate any nuts or seeds, or need to limit them. For this reason I recommend a 30 day trial eliminating all nuts and seeds
- No sugar or sugar alternatives
- No chemical additives, preservatives, colours, flavours
- No vegetable oils
So what can I eat?
- All unprocessed meat and poultry; no additives, wild or free range, ideally organic.
- Seafood / fish high in omega 3 oil
- Include organ meats and bone broths
- All vegetables, including peeled root vegetables, organic if available (but not nightshades)
- Sea vegetables, seaweed
- Fruit in moderation, especially berries. Fruit is best eaten at the end of a meal so it doesn’t elevate blood sugar too much
- Include fermented foods, like sauerkraut to improve gut bacteria
- Healthy low omega 6 oils; cold pressed from olives, avocado, coconut and palm
- Meat fats; lard, tallow, duck fat
- Avocados and olives
- Coconut cream without guar gum or other additives (these are legume derivatives)
More from previous posts on Auto-immune conditions and paleo eating;