Is The Paleo Diet Beneficial For Autoimmune Diseases?

9:10 AM Posted by jo

Many of you know that a diet high in refined grains and sugar, and processed foods promotes inflammation and increases the acidity in the body. This kind of diet eventually leads to disease. We often hear about how people change their diets and increase their well-being. I can personally testify to better health since I changed my diet, and I meet people who say the same thing. Eliminating grains from my diet is the latest step in my journey to optimal health. My husband and I recently went back on the Paleo Diet, which makes us feel extremely well.

According to the book, The Paleo Diet: Lose weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Meant to Eat by Loren Cordain PhD, when we start eating the diet we are genetically designed to eat, chronic illnesses and diseases improve or completely disappear. The question is, how would the Paleo Diet be beneficial for people with autoimmune diseases?

Autoimmune diseases affects many
Autoimmune disorders are affecting between 14.7 to 23.5 million people in the United States and it has become the third most common class of illnesses. Unfortunately modern doctors don't know much about nutrition, or at least they don't share with their patients, so many of these people never find out that there are ways to improve their conditions.

What is an autoimmune disease?
Unfortunately the body's own immune system can't tell the difference between foreign invaders and itself, so it starts attacking healthy tissues and organs instead. More than a hundred disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, lupus, Crohn's disease, diabetes - type 1, and Grave's disease are considered autoimmune diseases. Experts say that 70% of the risk of developing these diseases are due to environmental elements.

Leaky gut- increased intestinal permeability
Dr. Alessio Fasano, a doctor of the Maryland Center for Celiac Research and other scientists around the world have presented work that shows that "leaky gut", or increased intestinal permeability, plays an important role in triggering some, or if not all autoimmune disorders.

Did you have any wheat today? Not surprisingly when you think about it, but wheat is a grain consumed by almost everyone around the world. Unfortunately for the wheat lover, it has been found to be the main culprit behind leaky gut, and it doesn't just affect the autoimmune patients, but it also affect healthy people.

 Why is wheat the bad guy?
So, why is wheat bad for you? Wheat contains a protein called gliadin. Gliadin sets of a bunch of hormonal events by reacting with gut receptors, and these events allow the food and bacteria in the intestines to interact with the immune system. It has been proven that withdrawal of wheat from Celiac patients cures the disease symptoms, and scientific evidence shows that removing wheat may work for other autoimmune diseases as well.

How are these findings relevant to the Paleo Diet since wheat  is not part of the diet in the first place? 
Cordain says that since the discovery that leaky gut most likely is the first step in the development of autoimmunity, it is clear to him and his colleagues that they need to look into other dietary elements capable of increasing intestinal permeability.

They came up with the following list of items that in addition to wheat, also promote a leaky gut:
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Alcohol
  • Capsaicin-containing chili peppers
  • Antiacids containing aluminum hydroxide
  • Certain lectin-containing foods
  • Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen
Lectins are found in almost all grains and legumes, and most of them increase intestinal permeability. Experts are now beginning to see the therapeutic and curative powers of the grain-free and legume-free Paleo Diet for patients with autoimmune diseases. The absence of grains and legumes means a diet free from lectins that are known to increase intestinal permeability.

Saponins are found in beans and soy products and even a small amount may cause leaky gut. Loren Cordain PhD says since these foods are not found in the Paleo Diet is the reason why the Paleo Diet is such a good medicine for autoimmune patients.

Good therapy
According to Cordain, not only do Paleo Diets exclude lectin-containing grains, lectin- and saponin containing legumes, and saponin- and lectin containing potatoes, they also exclude milk and dairy products. Therefore,  the Paleo Diets are good therapy for autoimmune patients. Experimental studies have also shown that certain milk proteins can cause the animal equivalent of multiple sclerosis in rats. Some saponins also agitate the immune system in a way that it makes it more likely to cause autoimmune diseases. Immunologists have used saponins to boost the effectiveness of vaccines as well. Cordain suggests that if you have an autoimmune disease, then you should avoid saponins.

Other things that contain saponins that may cause leaky gut
Quinoa, green tomatoes, amaranth, alfalfa sprouts, and soft drinks containing the additive quillaja.

Give it a try
As you can see there are several good reasons to try the Paleo Diet if you suffer from autoimmune diseases. If you suffer from leaky gut then you also want to consider that you may also suffer from yeast overgrowth. The Paleo Diet itself is wonderful if suffering from yeast overgrowth, but try to purchase grass feed meat without added hormones or other chemicals. We have been feeding our dog a raw diet high in protein and low glycemic carbohydrates since we discovered that she had leaky gut and yeast overgrowth. However, we also added certain supplements such as L-glutamine, slippery elm, Pau d'Arco, coconut oil, probiotics and some more. My post, Leaky Gut Syndrome, shares more detailed information about leaky gut and how deal with it using natural remedies in addition to dietary changes.

 It is not as complicated as it seems to be on the Paleo Diet, and I previously wrote some tips on How To Get Started on the Paleo Diet.  I purchased the The Paleo Diet Cookbook: More than 150 recipes for Paleo Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Snacks, and Beverages a while back and it has some wonderful recipes. The beginning of the book covers the basics of the Paleo Diet as well.

Thanks for visiting!  Please stop by my new blog, The Paleo Lifestyle, where I am adding new information about grain,dairy, legume, and sugar free diet.


Johanna is an aromatherapist and she is passionate about educating people about health, essential oils, real food, natural remedies, and nutrition so they make healthier choices in their lives.  
Follow Johanna on twitter and facebook for more health tips and information.

This post is linked to:
Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop 
 WFMW hosted by We Are That Family. 
Fat Tuesday 
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