Autoimmune diseases and Paleo

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Autoimmune diseases and Paleo

As anyone who suffers from it can tell you, one of the worst things that can happen to your everyday life is an autoimmune disease. Fatigue, fever,

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As anyone who suffers from it can tell you, one of the worst things that can happen to your everyday life is an autoimmune disease.

Fatigue, fever, general malaise, joint pain and rash are just a few of the symptoms involved. The term “autoimmune diseases” covers a wide range of disorders. Here is a long, but by no means exhaustive, list:

  • alopecia areata (patchy baldness)
  • autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • dermatomyositis
  • diabetes (type 1)
  • some types of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (childhood rheumatism)
  • glomerulonephritis
  • Graves’ disease
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • immune thrombopenia (ITP)
  • myasthenia gravis
  • some forms of myocarditis
  • multiple sclerosis
  • blister diseases such as pemphigus and bullous pemphigoid
  • pernicious anemia
  • polymyositis
  • primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
  • psoriasis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • local / systemic scleroderma
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • some types of thyroiditis (thyroiditis)
  • some types of uveitis
  • vitiligo
  • granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) (Wegener’s disease / Wegener’s granulomatosis)

There are many inspiring stories, such as that of Dr. Terry Wahls, of people who overcome an autoimmune disease simply by adjusting their way of life. About fifty million Americans have autoimmune diseases and traditionally there is no cure for them. The emotional toll that such a diagnosis takes on many is heartbreaking. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body attacks healthy cells instead of antigens.

Antigens can appear as bacteria, toxins, viruses, cancer cells or any other form. Your body produces antibodies that help fight these antigens. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, your immune system cannot distinguish between healthy cells and antigens, destroying healthy cells. This can occur in all types of body tissue.

Not only is there traditionally no cure, autoimmune diseases do not have a generally accepted cause. There are a few theories that attempt to explain the cause of these diseases. One theory is that microorganisms or medicines could cause changes that disrupt the immune system. This could be caused by genetic factors.

The science

Genetic factors can certainly play a role in autoimmune diseases. Foxp3 is a gene that appears to play a central role in the regulation of the immune response to the body’s own antigens, allergens and other microbiota. If there is more knowledge about this gene, there may also be hope for a better understanding of autoimmune diseases.

In a recent study with mice, the researchers actually managed to stop an autoimmune disease. The experiment cut both diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The hope is that one day this research can be translated into people. There are many mechanisms that mediate autoimmunity. This can take place in molecules or in cells.

There are a number of other elements that may also be related to autoimmunity. An element is formed by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Researchers have demonstrated the potential therapeutic effect on autoimmune diseases by blocking the action of TNF-alpha. The bottom line, however, is the fact that there is no accepted cure or cause for autoimmune diseases. And it is at this point that dietary changes can be potentially beneficial.

Foods you can eat

While the scientific perspective may seem hopeless, there are many great stories of people who have brought these diseases to a halt through nothing but changes in their diet and way of life. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend that you watch the amazing story of Dr. Terry Wahls and the vast improvement in her multiple sclerosis. If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, the standard Paleo diet is a good place to start. This means that you eat the following foods:

  • meat vegetables and fruits
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • healthy fats

It also means leaving out other foods:

  • dairy
  • cereals
  • legumes
  • processed foods

Foods that you better leave alone

While you mainly eat the above foods, which are the main components of a Paleo diet, if you are dealing with an autoimmune disease, it is best to limit the use of the following products for at least 30 days:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • nightshades
  • Eggs
  • peppers
  • herbs

Why should you avoid these products better? Although you do not immediately find this in the literature, these are foods with inflammatory or otherwise disruptive components. An example of this could be this study into the glycoalkaloids in potatoes (a nightshade).

Eggplant is another food that belongs to the nightshade family. It is striking that eggplants contain nicotine. After tobacco, eggplant has the highest nicotine concentration. However, the concentration in eggplant is much lower.

With regard to eggs, lysozymes in relation to autoimmunity seem to pose the most problems. The protein in particular can be problematic. This study outlines the molecular mimicking process that could be at work here. Dr. Cordain, one of the authors of this study, goes one step further by outlining that any protein that could potentially cause or promote an autoimmune disease should do the following:

  • survive human digestion;
  • pass the boundary of the intestines intact;
  • interact with the immune system in a manner believed to cause autoimmune disease.

As he states, there are a number of egg proteins that meet these requirements. This is why it is advisable to avoid eggs within an autoimmune protocol.

It is somewhat more difficult to justify the omission of nuts based on scientific evidence. As Dr. Ballantyne explains excellently, there is no scientific evidence that the lectin in nuts and seeds crosses the gut boundary intact or affects the immune system.

Looking at the argument of phytic acid, it may at most make sense to limit the consumption of nuts, but not to stop them altogether. In fact, both Dr. Wahls and Dr. Cordain do not particularly recommend avoiding nuts in an autoimmune disease. However, they also do not support its consumption.

Nuts could be the last food you can try to cut out when dealing with an autoimmune disease. They can still lead to digestive problems, allergies or food sensitivities. People with an autoimmune disease are more likely to have a food allergy.

Peppers contain capsaicin, which can irritate the gut. It can be difficult to determine which other herbs can be a problem. Some are part of the nightshade family, so at least they could be an issue. The herbs that are best avoided are:

  • Red pepper
  • chili flakes
  • Curry
  • Bell pepper
  • cayenne

Seeds can also be a problem, largely for the same reasons as the peppers. Seeds to avoid include:

  • Sesame seed
  • celery seed
  • nutmeg
  • coriander seed
  • cumin seed
  • dill seed
  • fennel seed
  • mustard seed
  • poppy seeds

Finally, some sources recommend consuming no more than 20 grams of fructose per day if you have an autoimmune condition. There doesn’t seem to be much documentation in this area, but I agree that this is a good general health rule. The global obsession with fructose is slowly getting out of hand.


While there are by no means supplements that can claim a degree of reliability when it comes to treating autoimmune diseases, there are many interesting studies that optimistic patients can try. It goes without saying that diet and lifestyle are much more important than supplements.

Still, supplements can be the last 10% that can help. Dr. Terry Wahls even stated that she couldn’t even get out of bed without her supplements. It is of course important to ensure that studies of supplements have been properly conducted. Ideally, they should be performed “in vivo,” that is, they should be performed with living entities; this in contrast to “in vitro”.

The first study that may be of some interest concerns omega-3 fatty acids. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is the best form of omega-3 since it is a conversion of EPA. Docosahexaenoic acid has anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore be useful in dealing with autoimmune diseases.

The second interesting study concerns L-carnitine. The researchers demonstrated here that L-carnitine was able to prevent regulated cell death in damaged cells. This is startling information that shows how supplements can contribute to the delay and possibly even to reverse autoimmune symptoms.

The following study concerns the coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, as often described in autoimmune protocols. Another study reports similar benefits. Defensively misinterpreted as a supplement (some argue it should be a vitamin), CoQ10 is necessary for the proper functioning of many organs, as well as a multitude of chemical body processes.


While there is no accepted cause, or cure, for autoimmune diseases, I hope I’ve highlighted some possible methods that can help with the symptoms. There is no reason why someone with an autoimmune disease could not have a better quality of life. I believe that every method should be tried that could be a potential remedy or at least improve symptoms.

Are you or do you know someone who has an autoimmune disease? If so, did he or she try any of the above methods to help relieve some of the symptoms? Let us know in the comments.

Autoimmune diseases and Paleo