Life with Autoimmune Disease

I thought I’d give you some background prior to posting the myriad of recipes I have stored up to share.  They are all pretty much centered around the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet, and you may be wondering why I’m on such a strange sounding diet! 

Well, let me back up to 1994, when at the age of 17 I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA).  Not the diagnosis anyone wishes to receive their senior year of high school.  I was very active in school, busy with friends, classes, band, and competitive horseback riding, and getting ready to head off to college in the fall.  However, I was forced to deal with this new condition that wasn’t really new; I had been experiencing joint pain and swelling for the past several years, which had been diagnosed before as sprains, tennis elbow, and osteoarthritis before blood tests finally pinpointed my symptoms as those of JRA.  So began my journey of multiple medications with various side effects and varying degrees of effectiveness.  My doctor and I eventually settled on daily doses of Naprosyn coupled with Plaquenil, which necessitated frequent trips to the ophthalmologist to keep a close watch on the health of my eyes.  Those medications helped somewhat for a few years, although I still had a frozen elbow and walked with a limp due to chronic swelling of my left knee.  I had a handicapped pass for the college parking garage nearest to my dorm, and wore a knee brace every day.  Not the best way to begin college, but at least I was there.

In 1999, my senior year of college, I began going to a new rheumatologist who conducted a battery of tests and x-rays, determining that in addition to JRA, I also had Sjogren’s syndrome.  This is another autoimmune disease that manifests as joint pain and fatigue, but with Sjogren’s syndrome the body attacks its mucus-producing membranes and sometimes organs as well, which leads to a host of problems.  Patients with Sjogren’s typically have dry eyes and dry mouth, leading to eye issues and recurrent cavities.  I have experienced all of that and more, not to mention the bouts of depression that can result from chronic pain.  The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation is a great resource for others with this condition.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, dear reader, with this history, let me lighten things up a bit.  About 6 months ago, I began doing some reading in order to earn continuing education credits for my registered dietitian license.  I chose a few books on autoimmune conditions and diet, thinking that maybe I could put the information I read to personal use.  Little did I know that this information was about to change my life for the better.  The book that really helped me the most was The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers.  She explains the physiology of the the immune system and its interaction with the gastrointestinal tract, and why the foods we eat fundamentally affect our overall health.  This is especially true for people with autoimmune conditions, who are predisposed to a leaky gut (more on that in another post).  Autoimmunity is fundamentally a problem with the immune system signaling the body to attack its own tissues instead of just outside invaders, so getting the immune system back on track is paramount in regaining one’s health.  Dr. Myers recommended a long list of allergenic foods to avoid, thereby helping the GI tract to heal and the immune system to quiet down and work properly.  After reading her book and beginning to implement the diet she suggested, I did some further research online and discovered the Autoimmune Protocol diet.  This diet takes what Dr. Myers recommends a step further, excluding a few more foods to further encourage healing.  In a nutshell, the AIP includes meats, seafood, and most fruits and vegetables.  All dairy, soy, corn, eggs, gluten, other grains, nuts, seeds, sugar, coffee, chocolate (I know!), food additives, and anything artificial are off the table, so to speak.

I began the diet in May 2019, and started to see tremendous improvements in my overall health, including joint pain and swelling, mood swings, and fatigue after just a few weeks.  While I had been taking four medications for RA and Sjogren’s, after a couple of months on the AIP I was able to eliminate all but one of them.  That alone was worth it!

The goal of the AIP is to eliminate common food allergens from the diet for an initial period of 30-90 days, allowing the gut to begin healing and the immune system to stop reacting to so many things floating around in the gut and bloodstream.  It is not meant as a life-long diet, as it is – obviously! – quite restrictive.  After the first phase, foods can be reintroduced slowly, one at a time.  I have been able to successfully reintroduce coffee, cashews, and seeds.  Almonds and chocolate (unfortunately!) have been a no-go.

So, the journey continues.  I am so thankful that I found this diet and have had excellent results from it so far.  I would love to see my symptoms completely subside and to regain full health without the remaining medication I’m still on.  But one thing that having an autoimmune disease has taught me is to be patient with my body. 

For more information on the AIP diet, check out the following websites:

The Paleo Mom

Autoimmune Wellness

One Comment on “Life with Autoimmune Disease

  1. Pingback: Eating to stay Healthy during the covid-19 pandemic – OHIO COWGIRL

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