In recent years, you may have heard discussions or read articles about “inflammation” in the body and its connection to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis. “Inflammation” is a real issue for many of our patients, especially those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition we see quite frequently where the patient’s overactive immune system is attacking his or her joints, causing pain. Anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing medications can and are often used to treat such conditions. However, a patient’s diet can also play a part in reducing inflammation in the body.

A growing number of nutritional and medical experts suggest that a body’s autoimmunity problems are caused by tiny holes in the gut that allow particles of food, bacteria and other substances from inside the intestines to escape into the rest of the body. This is important because a “leaky gut”, and more specifically, an invasion of foreign substances into the body, can trigger the body to respond by producing inflammation – the same process used to fight any other bacterial infection. Over time, that chronic inflammation can cause tissue damage, resulting in an autoimmune disease such as the ones listed above.

Enter the Paleo autoimmune protocol (a stricter version of the more popular Paleo Diet). The Paleo autoimmune protocol seeks to seal the holes in the gut wall by eliminating the foods thought to cause them, namely:

  • Processed, fried and high fat foods (especially those that contain high amounts of salt, preservatives, additives, or sugar)
  • Alcohol
  • Breads & Grains (including whole and heritage grains)
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Certain spices such as curries, paprika and chili powder
  • Refined sugar

Those who follow this protocol typically eliminate the trigger foods mentioned above for a minimum of 30 days. If participants feel better by the end of that 30 day period, they can continue to follow the same diet, or may slowly reintroduce eliminated foods (one by one) back into their diet to determine which, if any, are triggers for inflammation.

Following the protocol isn’t easy. Once the trigger foods are eliminated what’s left? The short answer is grass fed meats or wild caught seafood, fish containing omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil or avocado oil, and a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables. A typical meal on this protocol might include 4-8 oz. quality meat, fish or shellfish, multiple servings of lightly cooked or raw vegetables, healthy fats, and probiotic foods.

While the main goal of the protocol is to reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation in the body, some participants also experience a gradual reduction of weight, which on its own can significantly reduce pressure on the body’s joints, allowing easier movement with less pain.

Is this diet for everyone? The answer is no. Because other medical conditions or medications may be affected by what you eat, it’s important to consult your primary care doctor before making a drastic dietary change, and to keep your doctor informed as things progress. If you have questions about the link between your diet and your orthopaedic health, please contact our office to schedule an appointment for nutritional counseling.

For Further Reading:

The blogs below offer helpful information about the Paleo autoimmune protocol and how it can be used to fight chronic autoimmune conditions.

Terry Wahls, MD – After being diagnosed with secondary progressive MS, Dr. Wahls developed a protocol combining Functional Medicine and the Wahls Paleo™ diet to heal chronic autoimmune conditions.

The Paleo Mom – Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. is a blogger and New York Times Bestselling author of The Paleo Approach and The Paleo Approach Cookbook. Her website, ThePaleoMom.com offers helpful information about the Paleo autoimmune protocol, the Paleo lifestyle including recipes, meal plans and more.

Against All Grain – Like others, Danielle Walker started following the Paleo lifestyle to treat her ulcerative colitis and malnutrition. Today, a healthier Danielle is the author of two cookbooks and shares Paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free recipes on her blog.