This is Part 3 of a three-part article series in which I have attempted to demystify the autoimmune disorder lupus. Part 1 provided a background on our conventional understanding of lupus: what it is, who gets it, common symptoms, and how it’s diagnosed. In Part 2, I reviewed our current understanding of what causes lupus and autoimmune diseases in general. In this final article, I will discuss how the Paleo diet can help to put and keep lupus and other autoimmune diseases in remission.
Can the Paleo Diet help with lupus? In short, YES.
I have experienced first-hand the frustrations and difficulties of being diagnosed with lupus, as I myself was diagnosed with SLE by two different rheumatologists (doctors that specialize in autoimmune diseases), and with rheumatoid arthritis by two additional doctors. Because many of the symptoms and diagnostic tests are similar among the various autoimmune diseases, it can be very difficult to come up with a definitive diagnosis. One of my rheumatologists told me that it didn’t really matter what autoimmune disease I had, because they are all rooted in an overactive immune system that is producing too much inflammation, thus the treatments are very similar. Indeed, most autoimmune diseases are treated with immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory drugs, which act to inhibit the body’s natural immune system responses.
But what is causing all this inflammation in the first place? As discussed in Part 2 of this series, Dr. Allesio Fasano and other researchers have now repeatedly demonstrated that intestinal hyperpermeability (AKA leaky gut) likely underlies all autoimmune diseases, including lupus. A leaky gut causes inflammation which can become chronic (long-term) and systemic (affecting the whole body) if left unchecked. The Paleo diet may help to reverse the symptoms of lupus by facilitating the closure (healing) of a leaky gut, and thus halting the body’s chronic inflammatory response. As mentioned previously, gluten, gliadin, lectins and other chemicals found in whole grains and legumes are well known contributors to a leaky gut. The Paleo diet eliminates all grains and legumes, which are known to contain inflammatory chemicals called anti-nutrients.
The Paleo diet may also facilitate intestinal health via the reduction of processed carbohydrates, which can contribute to gut microbial imbalances. Overgrowth of any one type of microorganism in the gut is termed “dysbiosis”, which can independently contribute to a leaky gut. Some people (including myself) may have to take things a step further to heal their leaky gut by temporarily (or permanently) following the Autoimmune Protocol of the Paleo diet, and/or by reinstating orthobiosis (a healthy gut microbiota). It should also be emphasized that lifestyle plays a crucial role in the expression of autoimmune diseases. Thus regular sleep and exercise, as well as reducing stress everywhere possible are also critical in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
I will probably never know for sure if I have lupus or if it’s rheumatoid arthritis. But what I do know is that by healing my leaky gut, I have been able to put and keep my symptoms of autoimmunity in remission. My ANA blood test is now negative, my other blood markers of inflammation and autoimmunity are gone, my urine tests are normal, my severe joint pain has left the building, I am no longer losing my hair (alopecia areata), the rashes and hives are gone, I don’t feel depressed anymore (I actually feel happy!), I think more clearly (goodbye brain fog), I’m off all of the medications prescribed by my rheumatologists (consult your doctor before quitting your meds please), and I feel better than I ever have…just by changing my diet! I’ve adhered to the Paleo diet strictly for the past five years, because if I don’t, I experience a return of my symptoms, which simply isn’t worth eating any food that I may occasionally crave. And I’m not alone. There are a lot of testimonials out there from others who have also used the Paleo diet to overcome their autoimmune diseases.
I completely understand how painful, scary, and frustrating it is to be diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease. It is life- and mind-altering on multiple levels. However, I strongly urge you to maintain hope that while there may not be a ‘cure’ for lupus, there is a very good chance that you will be able to significantly modify the course of your disease, simply by making some dietary and lifestyle changes. I realize that a lot of people are going to find this hard to believe, and to those of you who remain unconvinced, all I can say is that the proof is in the Paleo pudding. As mentioned, it may require additional measures beyond ‘going Paleo’ to achieve total remission. But Paleo is a GREAT place to start, and most folks will know within a few months (if you don’t cheat) whether their diet is playing a role in their autoimmune disease.
Please keep in mind that it may take several months (or even years) to heal your leaky gut completely, although I was able to get off all of my medications and put my symptoms into remission in less than a year. While many people choose to eat Paleo on a part-time basis, it will likely require eating strict Paleo 100% of the time for the rest of your life to put and keep your lupus in remission. I realize that this may seem completely overwhelming and confusing, if not impossible. That is exactly why here at Paleo Plan, we’ve created some seriously fantastic meal plans that make it very easy (and even exciting!) to follow the Paleo diet without breaking the bank. We also have additional resources if your situation requires you to go above and beyond eating strict Paleo. Most importantly, if you’ve been diagnosed with lupus (or any other autoimmune disease for that matter), please understand that you are NOT alone! There are countless numbers of individuals who have successfully overcome their health challenges, including lupus and other autoimmune diseases, simply by using food as their medicine. So please, don’t give up hope! As always, our team at Paleo Plan is ready and eager to help you on your journey to recovery…one bite at a time.
I truly wish you all the best,
Kinsey Jackson, MS, CN
- Fasano A. Zonulin, Regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2012;1258:25-33. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384703/
- Fasano A. Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. Physiol Rev 2011;91:151-75. Retrieved from: http://physrev.physiology.org/content/91/1/151.long
- Sonier B, Patrick C, Ajjikuttira P, et al. Intestinal immune regulation as a potential diet-modifiable feature of gut inflammation and autoimmunity. Int Rev Immunol 2009;28:414-45. Retrieved from: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/full/10.3109/08830180903208329