Layman's Autoimmune Disease Interpretation

I’ve been hit by a barrage of Autoimmune Paleo questions in the last 24 hours.  It’s caused the thoughts swirling around my brain on the topic to finally been put in writing.

I’ll start off by saying, I love Robb Wolf.  He’s smart, logical, healthy and changing lives.  There aren’t very many crushes a married woman has… but every once in a while a girl can crush. I’m not only inspired and impressed with Robb himself, I’m always learning and growing the more I’m exposed to his PodCast, book and website – everything (well, almost everything) I’ve got here comes from that exposure.  Here’s Robb’s definition of Autoimmunity on his FAQ.

Autoimmunity is a process in which our bodies own immune system attacks “us.” Normally the immune system protects us from bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. The immune system identifies a foreign invader, attacks it, and ideally clears the infection. A good analogy for autoimmunity is the case of tissue rejection after organ donation. If someone requires a new heart, lung kidney or liver due to disease or injury, a donor organ may be an option. The first step in this process is trying to find a tissue “match”. All of us have molecules in our tissues that our immune system uses to recognize self from non-self. If a donated organ is not close enough to the recipient in tissue type the immune system will attack and destroy the organ. In autoimmunity, a similar process occurs in that an individuals own tissue is confused as something foreign and the immune system attacks this “mislabeled” tissue. Common forms of autoimmunity include Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Vitiligo to name only a tiny fraction of autoimmune diseases. Elements of autoimmunity are likely at play in conditions as seemingly unrelated as Schizophrenia, infertility, and various forms of cancer. Interestingly, all of these seemingly unrelated diseases share a common cause: damage to the intestinal lining which allows large, undigested food particles to make their way into the body. This is called “leaky gut and the autoimmune response”. Here is a 7-part video series by Prof. Loren Cordain describing the etiology of Multiple Sclerosis. Keep in mind, this is the same process which underlies ALL autoimmune disease.

Wikipedia lists autoimmune disease symptoms as the following:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Blood sugar changes
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • Elevated fever and high body temperature
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold in the hands and feet
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility or reduced sex drive (low libido)
  • Inflammation
  • Irritability
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Malaise
  • Weakness and stiffness in muscles and joints
  • Weight Changes

And depending on the type of autoimmune disease:

  • Destruction of an organ or tissue
  • Increase in the size of an organ or tissue

By listening to Robb’s 73 (so far) PodCasts, I’ve learned a lot about autoimmunity and what role lectins and phytic acid can play as gut irritants wreaking havoc on your body (permeability of intestinal lining, to be specific).  90% of all the cells in your body are in your gut.  NINETY PERCENT. When you’re putting anti-nutrients and toxic food (see references in links above) into your intestines, making them more permeable to absorbing the pathogens, it will give you all of the symptoms above.  It makes it impossible for your body to run healthy and clean; you’re unable to absorb nutrients from the healthy foods properly  Ultimately, we now fortify our milk, our orange juice and tons of processed foods with the nutrients we could be naturally eating, absorbing and self-regulating through natural consumption if our bodies weren’t in a state of toxic shock from the grains and legumes prescribed by almost every doctor, nutritionist and even (incredibly deep into a conflict of interest through their investments into grains) the Government.

Alright… so, now that I’ve linked you to the other side of the internet and back, let’s get to the questions which sparked this diatribe.

Question #1: Which Autoimmune diseases are known to do better under Paleo?
Robb has noted that in particular Celiac, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, Schizophrenia, Hashimoto’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Ulcerative Colitis, thyroid dysfunction, Scleroderma, Sarcoidosis, Crohns, Cushing’s, Lupus, eczema, acne, Rheumatoid and junior arthritis, chronic lymes, Endometriosis, Fibromyalgia and even cancer have all been documented as improved or put into remission with Paleo.  Wikipedia has a huge table of Autoimmune diseases – I would say with enough time to research 100% would be improved.
The answer comes from this: Because Celiac is an autoimmune disorder of the intestines, medical professionals developed a test through tissue transglutaminase where a response is triggered from gut irritation.  Medical professionals are now able to adapt this screening for diagnostics of other autoimmune diseases.  So far (according to Robb, I can’t find journal studies in my quick Google search) every single tested condition has seen remission on an autoimmune version of the Paleo lifestyle (that includes diet, walking and sleeping).

Question #2: My daughter has had an on-going struggle with asthma and pneumonia.  She’s now being diagnosed with autoimmune issues, how could Paleo help?
Because both conditions are caused by inflammation of the airway, and a spiral affect from there, these conditions can both be categorized with the other autoimmune diseases noted.  The Paleo diet IS an anti-inflammatory diet and is noted as the ideal diet for asthmatics and other inflammatory sufferers.  Paleo could offer as good, if not better results, than medication.

Question #3: My son has type 1 diabetes and his AC1 scores aren’t as low as I’d like, can Paleo help?
Obviously Type 2 diabetics will benefit from Paleo, but because Type 1 diabetes can be tied to autoimmune issues Robb’s site shows success stories (1 and 2) for putting it into remission as well.  Paleo offers not only the benefits to diabetes on the autoimmune front, but it also offers a reduction in the glycemic load and offers healthy sources of glucose, reduction in fructose and regulates insulin production.  Again, Paleo could offer amazing results!

I feel like these 3 questions really round out an overall lesson I’ve learned in the last couple months about Paleo: our bodies don’t like the modern diet, we’re just not evolved for it!  If you’re not strictly Paleo, think about it.  I had a TON of those autoimmune symptoms pre-Paleo but it never occurred to me I even had symptoms – it felt like life, but it’s not.  As Angelo Coppola says, we as humans are not broken by default.

Ask yourself: Do you have gas, heartburn or difficulty sleeping?  Do you want to lay in bed “a few more minutes” in the morning?  Do you get creaky joints, aches, pains or need coffee to kick off your day?  Do you get headaches? Are you cranky, irritable, frustrated or fleeting moments of sadness?  I can tell you that for 99% of people, those symptoms would disappear going 100% Paleo.  I didn’t even realize I wasn’t feeling my best – I literally wake up every day with joy and excitement, full of energy, pain-free.  If Paleo can be a rebirth for me, I can only imagine what a difference it could make for someone struggling with autoimmune disorder(s).

I sat at lunch today and listened to a woman describe symptoms I used to experience monthly.  When I explained how and why Paleo would help, and what improvements I’ve seen first hand on my own cycle (which I’ll eventually blog about), the result was another woman at the table recommending Pamprin and then someone else handing her Midol.  I was scoffed at and ignored as a loon.  Our society has become so dependent on the answer being medicine that we can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.  The solution is not always necessarily medicine; medicine masks the symptoms but the underlying cause remains the same: your body is telling you something is wrong.

Please note: I am in no way a medical professional or offering medical advice.  Please make wise choices, as they are your own and I am not liable.  Before stopping any current medication, educate yourself and discuss with a like-minded professional.

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  • Fitdaffy

    Great post! Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks so much! I just found and flagged your sweet potato gnochi for future making. Where did you find the sweet potato flour? What did you serve them with?


  • I have to say that I hear you on the last part of the post.It’s a tough business talking on deaf ears. But as Robb says, don’t waste time on those that won’t listen; there are thousands waiting for this answer.

    For over a year I have not been sick, had a headache, been achy (other than exercise recovery) had heartburn or bad gas. I have definitely felt a cold or two coming on, but within a few hours it goes away. My body is able to fight off the virus’ and bacteria easily as it is not fighting my bad food choices.

    I am so much healthier it staggers me to think about it. As a plus, I have lost over 60 lbs of excess fat.

    You owe it to yourself to at least try this ancestral way of eating, if only for a few weeks. You will be amazed at how you feel!

    Paleo Parents, keep up the good fight with your fantastic blog.

    • I agree, Brock. Part of what keeps us going and getting the word out is on the impact we’ve made on people lives that who were wanting and willing to listen. I’ve seen several friends go Paleo and am now starting to hear about the positive impact we’ve had on families and children – to be called inspiring is enough to get me through the frustrations of not being heard 🙂

      Thank you so much!

  • Shirley @ gfe

    Great post, Stacy! While I’ve been gluten free for years and dairy free and sugar free at different times, I have not completely ever gone Paleo. Robb’s work is very convincing. Thanks so much for sharing it and your interpretations and experiences here!


    • Thanks, Shirley! I’m looking forward to being gluten-free as long as you have. It’s certainly been a journey for us, but now that I’ve seen the light I don’t ever want to look back!

  • Autoimmune is a HUGE topic. I follow Dr. Cordain who was Robb’s teacher on this whole subject of Paleo. I prefer to follow Dr. Cordain’s more stricter approach. Robb enticed me to Paleo but after learning more I went to the source of the continuing science Dr. Cordain continues to churn out. If you want to learn more about how to apply Dr. Cordain’s more strict autoimmune recommendations I started to blog about it. My IBS is gone. IBS is diet related. Fibromyalgia is receding for me. Autoimmuners have to be stricter which is not as popular. But the benefits are well worth it! If you have an autoimmune condition or just suspected condition and want to get stricker come visit me paleoautoimmunerecipes@blogspot.com

    • Janicebacalujan

      I’ve been trying to find your website and can’t. How can I get in touch?

  • Nutrisclerosis

    Hi, I will have a site up soon devoted to the auto immune protocol of paleo. The changes in my life have been so profound, I have made it my business to get the word out to people suffering with AI issues so they can feel better. Thank you so much for this blog post. I truly consider Cordain and Wolf American heroes for the work they have done to legitimize their theories. And anyone who even writes about the potential for this diet to help relieve suffering I consider enlightened. I remain disgusted by the barrage of drugs that were literally thrown into my lap by well meaning Dr.’s from this country’s finest institutions. Not one of them suggested dietary intervention. But only because they can’t since they are obligated to only discuss FDA approved treatments. Thank you again for covering this topic. My web site is http://www.nutrisclerosis.com and until it goes live I post every day on my FB page http://www.facebook.com/nutrisclerosis

  • Janelle Seymour

    I love this post.  Like I said in my email to you, much of my experience with changing diet revolves around allergy/sensitivities to foods and friends going through it.  I already sent this to my friend getting ready to do GAPS (which is basically Paleo with cod liver oil and probiotics ;)).  Just yesterday my grandmother was telling me that maybe I should go on birth control to regulate my period and acne.  I had to remind her that those were two of the symptoms that my endocrinologist and I were using to help determine where I was on thyroid function (in addition to blood test results of course).  She, on the other hand, is on probably a dozen or more medications for various issues and they buy a lot of pre-packaged food.  While she agrees that diet can change everything for you, she still thinks it’s a fad. :/

    • I’ve heard a lot of people have good luck with GAPS, I agree it’s the same kind of elimination try it for 30 days kind of approach as Paleo and probably resets the system for a lot of people.

      Paleo’s done wonders for my hormone regulation.  I used to get terrible migraines and cramps with completely irregular periods.  My mom’s been on birth control pills to manage the issues since she was about my age – and I now have such minimal issues that I completely get caught off guard most months.

      Best thing you can do is focus on you, feel better, look better and people will slowly catch on.  It’s been 15 months and my sisters are both trying Paleo starting this week.  It’s catching, inspiring stuff – people just need to see it to be believe it 🙂

  • Pingback: Stacy's Autoimmune Protocol Results | Paleo Parents()

  • domestickrys

    It’s annoying when people put you down when you suggest changing their diets as a way to improve their health! We can’t medicate our ways out of some of these problems that we are facing! Yes, some conditions require medications (hypothyroidism for example) but changing our diet and lifestyles in conjunction with medications (as needed) are the dream team for improvement! I’m in nursing school right now and it’s crazy to hear in one class how important our nutrition is for preventing disease (especially type 2 diabetes) and then in another the recommendations given for a “healing diet” are terrible. We just have to keep spreading the good food word and sharing our experiences!!!!