A patient recently asked me why I hadn’t recommended he stop eating dairy products. He said all of his symptoms disappeared when he stopped eating dairy products and drastically decreased his grain intake. He was sleeping well, had no joint pain and all his stomach issues had resolved. Concerned that I had neglected making an obvious suggestion, I checked his records and found that at each of his past 2 annual exams, I did suggest he eat dairy free and also explore consuming less grain. We had talked about it, but it fell on deaf ears. I’m good with him finding a resource that finally got him to try giving up dairy because he’s now a believer. Another patient decided to try a vegan diet for 90 days with his wife. He discovered a complete reversal of gastric reflux. Giving up dairy foods was the answer and he shook his head as he said he wished he had embraced my suggestion sooner. No longer in need of acid reducing medication he took for over 10 years, he also lost the last few pounds he had struggled to lose. It’s not uncommon for patients to feel like avoiding a certain food is too extreme, or conversely too simple of a fix to be the answer. But in the context of a lifetime, what is 2-3 weeks without a particular food? The best outcome is you will feel better; at the worst you paid more attention to nutrition for a few weeks. There really isn’t any downside.
In medicine we are seeing more and more people being diagnosed with autoimmune disease or with symptoms that suggest autoimmune disease. To traditional healthcare, many of these symptoms are vague and often get passed off as something other than autoimmune dysfunction: restlessness, upset stomach, diarrhea, aches, pain, reflux, constipation, fatigue, headache. But if you experience symptoms that last more that a few weeks, it could be suggestive of the body not happy with itself. Autoimmune disease occurs when the body fails to recognize it’s own cells and instead begins to attack itself. Subtle symptoms almost always appear, often years before, more devastating symptoms manifest. Below is a short list of common autoimmune disorders and symptoms:
▪ Lichen planus
▪ Myasthenia gravis
▪ Multiple sclerosis
▪ Chronic fatigue
While we believe several things can precipitate these diseases, we certainly don’t know the exact mechanism. Stress, infections, and even medications have been blamed. Being a first degree relative of someone with celiac disease increases your risk of of non-celiac autoimmune disorders, as does simply being the spouse of an autoimmune sufferer. While the first degree relative risk may be due to shared genetics, in the case of the spouse we must consider a factor that can be shared. One thing we believe all autoimmune disorders have as their origin is compromised intestinal health. The intestines are host to the microbiome, a diverse community of bacteria with specific immune functions. This microbiome is shared among same household family members and so may affect disease resistance for the whole family. The microbiome and autoimmune disease are huge topics, but one step you can take now toward improving your health is to clean up your diet. Ditching added sugars, white flour, preservatives and excess sodium can go a long way toward better gut health. Adding more fiber and fermented foods to your diet can help nuture the protective good bacteria and drinking more water helps too. A healthy diet is the best defense with autoimmune disorders. But if you’ve done all this and symptoms persist, you may need to delve further. My patients above had issues with dairy foods, but not so everyone. By discovering the foods that may be causing your symptoms, you can set the stage to prevent, reverse or control an autoimmune disorder. Even if you don’t test positive for autoimmune disease, you may very well benefit from some diet manipulation to control your symptoms.
Consider that every food we ingest gets broken down into smaller molecules. Each of these molecules acts as a signaling molecule telling the body how to behave. By removing certain signaling molecules we can change how the body responds and reduce or eliminate symptoms. A great example is celiac disease, where a complete reversal is accomplished by eliminating gluten. With a thorough diet and lifestyle history, I can usually help patients narrow the field of usual dietary suspects. Addition of food sensitivity testing can speed the process and help ensure we are identifying the correct foods, additives, colorants, or even herbs you are taking on a regular basis. I’ve seen patients challenged by aloe, inulin, and other seemingly healthy ingredients. Most importantly, don’t be overwhelmed and continue to ignore symptoms. A step by step approach can make this all manageable and there are many resources.
‘I would rather have migraines or diarrhea’ said no one ever. If you have or suspect you have an autoimmune disorder, I highly suggest viewing the Betrayal series. It explains how traditional medicine has failed many and why your diet is the best place to start. It’s free to view this weekend, or can be purchased for a nominal fee to view at your leisure. Don’t hesitate to take steps to better health. There are many great websites with information, recipes and lifestyle suggestions. Below are a few more to get you started.
- University of Maryland Autoimmune Disorders
For more information on food sensitivity testing, click here. I’ve helped hundreds of people get tested to understand their food sensitivities, and would be happy to help you feel better too!