Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease

Why are your wrists feeling stiff for no particular reason?   

What’s that odd itching sensation you keep feeling on your arm, even though you can’t see anything?

And how come, although you felt completely normal yesterday and didn’t engage in any unusual activity, your knees and ankles feel as swollen as though you’ve run a marathon… on cement and in the wrong shoes?

Before you shrug it off, swallow a couple of NSAID tablets and hope for the best, first, take a deep dive into what you’re eating and how that might be contributing to joint pain.

One of the growing reasons why we might experience joint pain is not always as straightforward as muscular overuse.

Autoimmune diseases are now surprisingly common, affecting more than 23.5 million Americans. They are a leading cause of death and disability. Some autoimmune diseases are rare, while others, such as Hashimoto’s disease, affect many people (1). Joint pain is just one of many side effects that can occur with certain iterations of AI.

While certainly there are many other reasons why one might experience this uncomfortable sensation, why not take the proactive approach that will prove to be a necessary part of the healing protocol, no matter what the actual diagnosis might end up being?

That’s right, I’m talking food.

What do you have to lose by taking a good hard look at what you’re eating, weeding through those items which might be particularly inflammatory, removing them for a period of time and seeing  how you improve?

From my experience, there’s no downside.  It’s completely an information gathering process, one which will leave you all the better with a wealth of feedback provided by the absolute most trusted resource: your own body, of what you should and should not be eating.

More and more people are experiencing varying degrees of autoimmune conditions, from seemingly mild to quite pronounced, including but not limited to MS, Lupus, RA, Eczema, Rosacea, Graves Disease, Celiac, Hashimoto’s, Psoriasis and Scleroderma. 

We can see even amongst our own personal circles of friends, family and colleagues, simply by comparing how many we know now who are dealing with any of the above to how common it would be to hear mention of the conditions a mere ten or certainly twenty years ago.

What’s to blame?

In large part, the inflammatory result on the body of the recommendations of the Standard American Diet.

In essence, what happens is:

  • We ingest food which is no longer truly food in that it has been so highly refined and processed, it’s lacking in nutrient density, but rich in preservatives, stabilizers, synthetic fats and sweeteners and therefore… no longer something we’d honestly be able to say is a food, a “nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth” (2).
  • Over time, we begin to cause a condition, leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is the result.  The intestinal lining gets damaged, making it less able to protect the internal environment as well as to filter needed nutrients and other biological substances. As a consequence, some bacteria and their toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats, and waste not normally absorbed may “leak” out of the intestines into the blood stream. This triggers an autoimmune reaction, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity (3)
  • Inflammation begins in the gut and although we might not feel anything right away (it can take months or years in some cases) damage to our gut and subsequently our ability to digest food and assimilate its nutrients is significantly compromised
  • Autoimmune conditions are but one of the avenues that inflammation in the gut can take us down and sadly, many specialist are not trained to ask patients what their diets look like when assessing, diagnosing and ultimately prescribing their course of action.  In effect, bandaids are given out without first determined what caused the wound in the first place, thereby allowing the wound to grow larger and fester.

Fortunately, the end result does not have to be an unfavorable outcome.

With a comprehensive plan, starting first and foremost with food, the body is capable of healing from incredible traumas, infection and dis ease.

So what’s the plan?

Remove the inflammatory culprits and replace them with gut healing, nourishing foods.

Skip the grains, beans, dairy and sugar.   In addition, in keeping with the AIP (auto immune protocol), omit nightshade plants, nuts and seeds and eggs (4).

Keep it local, in season and organic and focus largely on plants (mostly veggies), an array of natural fats and moderate amounts of mindfully sourced proteins.

These real foods, when eaten in proper macronutrient balance have a net alkaline and anti inflammatory and therefore healing effect on the body.

Equally as important are those foods as well as potential supplements, namely a high quality probiotic, which will help to repair the lining of the gut and reverse the damage caused by the inflammatory foods.

Bone broth is a rich source of l-glutamine, another amino acid those with autoimmune diseases are often deficient in. L-glutamine is necessary for gut health, to prevent and heal digestion and leaky gut often seen in those with lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

Fermented Vegetables contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics to support the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are excellent sources.

All coconut products are especially good for your gut. The medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut are easier to digest than other fats so they work well for leaky gut. Also, coconut kefir contains probiotics that support your digestive system (5).

Last but not least, if you’re reading this and thinking it’s going to be too hard, or what food choices will be left, flip that mindset effective immediately.

Take it from someone (yours truly) who was quite ill for quite some time and trust when I share that when you discover the handful of foods that you can opt not to put in your own mouth because you know they’ll leave you feeling ill and simultaneously embrace the endless possibilities of flavors, tastes and textures you can create with real food and feel fantastic, it becomes so easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t start the process sooner.

I read a quote the other day from Dr. Hyman (6) which was, “Food isn’t like medicine, it is medicine”, after all. 

If we return to eating real, human food, we can heal our guts and create health, even when starting from the more dire situation.