“There are actually 140 autoimmune diseases that we’ve identified, and the only scientifically agreed-upon cause for autoimmune conditions is gluten sensitivity. Gluten tends to be the central core hub that’s always present.”
– Peter Osborne, PhD, expert in orthomolecular and functional medicine
Environmental factors — that is, anything you put in or on your body or absorb from your environment — account for about 90-95% of the autoimmune equation. Your genes only contribute maybe 5-10% of the risk!1CDC Exposome and Exposomics; https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/ Turns out the food you eat everyday has a profound influence on your risk for autoimmune conditions.
To prevent or heal from an autoimmune disorder, you’ll need to identify your personal triggers so you can eliminate them or minimize your exposure. I categorize the top 6 major autoimmune trigger categories as F.I.G.H.T.S.™ for:
Top 6 Autoimmune Triggers: Food
When it comes to healing from an autoimmune disorder, food and dietary components (e.g., food additives, preservatives, and chemicals), offer the biggest bang for your buck. Just removing your trigger foods can go a long way to help you reverse and/or prevent autoimmune conditions.
The Before-and-After Stories are Powerful:
- I completely eliminated gluten and dairy in 2010 after discovering I had non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and a sensitivity to casein–an inflammatory protein found in animal dairy, especially dairy from “A1 cows” like Holstein.2Comparative evaluation of cow β-casein variants (A1/A2) consumption on Th2-mediated inflammatory response in mouse gut. Ul Haq MR, et. al., Eur J Nutr. 2014 Jun;53(4):1039-49. doi: 10.1007/s00394-013-0606-7. Epub 2013 Oct 29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24166511 I have never had another Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptom since.
- Michelle Corey, functional medicine practitioner and author of The Thyroid Cure, eliminated her food triggers: gluten, grains and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, white potatoes, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and goji berries), all of her Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and lupus symptoms vanished. As a bonus, she finally lost those “last 10 pounds.”
- One of the most compelling “food as medicine” stories is that of Terry Wahls, MD, a clinical professor of medicine and scientist who reversed her progressive MS by removing gluten, dairy and eggs and adding copious amounts of nourishing foods. Her triumphant wheelchair to bicycle story has been seen by 3 million viewers in her 2011 TEDx talk.
It can be daunting to contemplate the dietary changes that are usually needed in order to reverse your autoimmune condition(s). But, many have done it with astonishing results. Once you experience freedom from symptoms by removing your food triggers you may never look back!
Autoimmune Trigger Foods
The top 10 trigger foods cause lots of immune system problems and occasional digestive distress. Not surprising, since 75% of our immune system resides in the lining of our guts! Problems with the top 10 autoimmune trigger foods include gut inflammation, imbalances in gut flora (dysbiosis), tears in the one-cell-thin lining of the intestines (“leaky gut”), nutrient deficiencies, and immune system impairment. Beyond the gut, these inflammatory foods are directly linked to mood disorders, migraines, joint pain, fatigue, skin issues and even dementia.
You don’t absorb foods well if your gut is leaky. And, if you’re over 40, chances are good that you don’t create enough stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down the food you eat. Consider taking 500 mg HCL (hydrochloric acid) with pepsin and digestive enzymes with meals. If you have the genetic predisposition for autoimmune disease, a leaky gut puts you on the fast track to autoimmunity.
Often these foods do damage without causing obvious digestive distress or immediate symptoms, which makes them stealthy triggers. Unfortunately, the biggest culprits are often the foods we eat the most – even if those foods are not normally “toxic” — like tomatoes, nuts and eggs.
Remove the Top 10 Autoimmune Trigger Foods
What You Can Do: Detect, Remove, Repair
Aristo Vojdani, PhD autoimmunologist is one of the world’s leading authorities on environmental toxins and autoimmune disease. He recommends three steps to heal from food-immune reactions: 1. Detect, 2. Remove, 3. Repair.
Here are two good options to figure out what if any foods or dietary components are causing you harm:
a. Do an Elimination Diet. Many holistic and functional docs say this is the “gold standard” when it comes to discovering which foods are causing your immune system to overreact. In my book I call it a 30-Day Food Vacation, because eliminating things sounds so negative; and during this time you can explore and experiment with many new foods. Studies show elimination diets are extremely effective in reducing or completely eliminating symptoms. 14Time to symptom improvement using elimination diets in non-IgE-mediated gastrointestinal food allergies.Lozinsky AC, et. al., Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2015 Aug;26(5):403-8. doi: 10.1111/pai.12404.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25963794 Remove gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, eggs, legumes (soy, lentils, beans and peanuts), nuts & seeds, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and goji berries), alcohol and coffee for at least 30 days, or until your symptoms disappear. Go slow with reintroducing foods, one at a time, and at least 48 hours apart. Pay close attention to how you feel. Do you have headaches, brain fog, a tummy ache, gas, etc.? Your body will talk to you; you just need to listen.
b. Get Tested.
To heal, you must eliminate the foods triggers you identified in the Detect phase. For those with gluten sensitivities and any autoimmune concerns – not just celiac disease — gluten needs go for good.
After the elimination diet you can reintroduce other suspect foods one at a time and slowly to see if you react. Remove reactive foods for 6 months. This will give your immune system a chance to settle down and time for you to heal and seal your gut.
a. Heal and seal your leaky gut by sipping bone broth and taking targeted supplements that repair the gut lining. Gut healing supplements include: vitamin A, l-glutamine, colostrum, quercetin, zinc and gamma linoleic acid (GLA).
b. Tend to the balance of your gut bacteria with probiotics (beneficial bacteria), prebiotics (fiber that feed the probiotics), fermented foods, and a variety of colorful vegetables.
c. Nourish your body with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods, emphasizing above-ground vegetables. Choose organic whenever possible. Concerned about cost? Visit The Environmental Working Group (EWG) to see which fruits and vegetables made the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists.
The Science of Nourishing Foods & Supplements
Follow these three powerful steps: Detect, Remove and Repair and you’ll be well on your way to reversing and preventing autoimmune conditions.
Have you made the connection between food and autoimmune symptoms? If you haven’t yet figured out your food triggers, I’m excited for you to try the elimination diet. Give yourself 30 days and commit to doing it 100%.
Take very good care!
p.s. The biggest question I get is What should I eat to beat an autoimmune condition?! I created Your Optimal Food Guide, a free e-book to help you find YOUR best foods.