"All diseases begin in the gut." ~Hippocrates, 460 - 370 B.C.
When I was first diagnosed with autoimmune disease, my time and attention was consumed by "how" to treat and eliminate the symptoms, including using traditional food principles through the SCD/GAPS diet and Paleo. After my symptoms were under control and I was feeling much better, my focus shifted to "why" these dietary approaches work to treat autoimmune disease. As I became more involved in the Paleo community, I began to realize that as many people as there are that can testify to the healing power of real foods, there are just as many that remain skeptical. I have encountered some people with autoimmune disease that become upset and even angry when presented with the suggestion that a major dietary change, such as Paleo, could help to alleviate symptoms and even put their disease into remission. They may feel as though this suggestion of a simple dietary change somehow trivializes what they go through on a daily basis.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth; I would never intentionally diminish anyone's experience with their own disease. Since finding the Paleo diet and experiencing tremendous healing first-hand, my goal is to reach out to others and help them to discover this lifestyle and the many health benefits. It's hard to stay silent when you see others suffering as those with autoimmune disease do and you feel that you've stumbled upon something that can help! As a society, we have been conditioned by the pharmaceutical industry and the conventional "sick" care system to believe that natural treatments, including the consumption of a real food diet, are not to be trusted or taken seriously. When diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, we are told by (well-intentioned, but mis-educated) physicians and other health care professionals that diet will not make a signficant difference. After all, when you need serious, heavy-duty medications, that come with potentially deadly side effects like lymphoma and cancers, to treat serious diseases that can cause disability or eventually lead to death, what good could simple food choices, like avoiding grains and dairy, possibly do?
Being a scientifically minded person and an educated nurse, I've been scouring the medical and scientific literature for answers to how autoimmune disease could be linked to nutrition and why certain dietary changes could alleviate and even reverse symptoms of autoimmune disease. What I've discovered is that there is a small, but growing body of evidence that supports the link between nutrition, the gut, and disease. So, why hasn't your doctor told you about this? The process of science is complex and it can take many years to pull overarching conclusions together and accept it as fact. Although Hippocrates clearly had the right idea over 2400 years ago, modern science is just starting to explore the role of the gut microbiome in health and disease. In addition, there are many things that we still don't understand about autoimmune disease or nutrition at the basic science level. With the exception of celiac disease, there is no known cause of autoimmune disease that has been scientifically "proven". Conducting translational (real-world) research on a particular diet or way of eating is difficult because there are so many variables at play that can skew the results of a study (i.e. study subjects may "cheat", they may not have access to the same quality foods, they may make different food choices within the diet parameters, they may have varying baseline health status, etc.). All of these factors mean that some things have to be hypothesized about when it comes to understanding the role of nutrition in autoimmune disease. It could be decades before and if the truth about the importance of real food nutrition in autoimmune disease ever becomes mainstream and practiced by the conventional health care community. It is a sad, but unfortunate fact that science is heavily influenced by politics and there are strong political forces at play through the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries that may wish to suppress the benefits of a real food diet. Personally, I'm not going to wait for the conventional health care community to catch up! I'd rather make the changes now and reap the benefits, even if all of the reasons why it works still can't be explained.
But I do think that it is important to be able to discuss the basic premises behind why the Paleo diet works to alleviate autoimmune disease symptoms. It is one way that those of us who have benefited from real food nutrition can clearly communicate the benefits in a logical way to those who are skeptical. I'm going to introduce a series of posts that will focus on explaining the current science behind the Paleo diet and why real food nutrition may help to prevent and relieve symptoms of autoimmune disease. Because I've been personally affected by inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, I'll be attempting to address those conditions in particular, although the conversation may go more general because all autoimmune diseases share similar characteristics. The first post in the series will discuss the gut microbiome and its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Stay tuned...