Most of us know someone with one form or another of an autoimmune disease. Conditions like Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s disease, sarcoidosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis are just a handful of examples and all are at increasingly high incidence rates, here in the US and globally.
Autoimmune conditions have at least one similar etiology: our immune system misreads our body’s cellular surface proteins as those of a pathogen. The result of this miscommunication is the attack on, and often death of, healthy tissue. The resulting pathology is compromised organ health and sometimes, in severe cases, failure.
How this error by the immune system occurs is dependent upon the unique biochemistry of the individual and the complexity of their body’s interaction with specific antigens, either from environmental exposure or possibly by infection. While some risk factors, such as Lyme’s Disease for instance, might seem beyond our control, there are an array of high risk factors that are becoming well established players in the development of at least one autoimmune disease, sometimes more.
Chronic mold exposure and the mycotoxins produced by mold, for instance, have been implicated in some autoimmune diseases. Gluten exposure, even in the absence of classic celiac disease, is also a well-established risk factor for Hashimoto’s Disease of the thyroid. These are just two examples and there are numerous other factors that may come together to create the "perfect storm" for our immune system’s confusion.
What I recommend for almost all autoimmune diseases, not as a cure but as a highly supportive, anti-inflammatory, adjunct therapy, is a modified elimination diet coupled with unique, nutrient dense foods. This combination can allow the hyperactive immune system to calm down and can provide relief by reducing the pain and discomfort caused by the associated fires resulting from inflammation.
The most likely culprits in generating excessive autoimmune-burden are gliadin (the type of gluten found in wheat and spelt) and A1 casein (the type of casein produced by most cows, but not goats or sheep). These are the most important proteins to avoid. Others that may warrant at least a temporary elimination trial would include soy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. Additionally, eliminating mold or mycotoxin-rich foods such as Balsamic vinegar, wine, and certain cheeses may also be of benefit.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables combined with healthy fats and grass-fed or wild protein sources is the foundation. Some individuals will do well with legumes, others may benefit more from their exclusion and a greater reliance on animal protein. In the case of Hashimoto’s and Crohn’s Diseases, abstaining from red meat and most dairy products is highly advised. This is because both conditions are exacerbated by the presence of Neu5GC in meat and milk products. When this unique type of sialic acid is embedded in our tissue, the immune system ratchets up its attack on the cells that contain it.
So while it is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach, ditching the gluten and most cow products (Guernsey milk products may be an exception), as well as all of the soy-laden "health" foods is an excellent first step. Increasing your consumption of dark greens, starchy root vegetables, and the healthiest fats: organic extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and organic flax oil (not to be cooked with however), are the foundation foods that might be combined with anything from wild salmon to thoroughly cooked chick peas or lentils.
Additionally, adding rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, iodine, vitamin K2, and selenium to your diet from foods like sea vegetables, goat or sheep’s milk soft cheeses or yogurts, grass-fed butter, and small, wild, oily fish is a very beneficial component to this dietary support.
Ultimately, the best approach is to reduce what burdens you can and add those nutrient dense foods with the best potential to support or guide the immune system’s activity. Check with your physician when monitoring your response by following your body’s Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) or C reactive protein (CRP) levels. If these numbers are falling and you have made these interventions, then you are onto something!