Tackling Chronic Illness and Autoimmune Disease with Nutrition in 4 Complicated and Heavily Involved Steps

30 Apr

…(I told you it wasn’t easy!)

Ok, now that we’ve covered the who, what, where, when, and why, it’s time to cover the “H” word … HOW! How do you go about working towards health and giving your body what it needs to heal? How do you work on repairing damage to the GI tract that may have accumulated over years and years? And more importantly, how much is this going to cost?! Let me preface the following list of steps by saying that I will explore each one more thoroughly as time goes on, but tackling this problem is a huge commitment and requires patience and dedication. You’re worth it. Your health is worth it. You can do it!

1)      Reduce the inflammation in the body by identifying and eliminating the foods or substances causing it

This means going on what has been coined an “Elimination Diet” for a period of time, and I hate to break it to you, but pretty much everything you’re eating right now…yeah. The 8 most common allergens need to be avoided, along with artificial colors, flavorings, additives, coffee (yes, kiss your cuppa goodbye – at least for now) and anything else you suspect might be giving you problems. The issue with delayed reactions, or IgG reactions, is that symptoms may not develop for up to 72 hours making it nearly impossible for you to figure out if the sandwich you just ate for lunch or the pork ribs you had last night for dinner are causing the problem. My suggestion is start with one of the largest offenders – gluten. Gluten is in everything. Literally. It will take some time for your body to detox and you might feel a bit crappy for a bit, but if gluten is contributing to your symptoms, you should notice them starting to subside in a couple of weeks. Some other foods to eliminate at first include, but are not limited to:

  • corn
  • soy
  • dairy
  • nuts
  • peanut
  • egg
  • shellfish
  • pork
  • ground meats
  • yeast

But…what will I EAT?! If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, “But, what do you EAT?” I would be so rich right now…Vegetables! Fruits! Fish! Turkey! Chicken! Lamb! See, there are choices. Your best bet is to stick with whole, fresh foods. This link will help you find a local Farmers’ Market or CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) to help you stock up affordably. And because everyone is curious about whether or not it’s possible to avoid a lengthy list of foods, here is the list of foods that I must currently avoid:

  • beef
  • corn
  • dairy
  • egg
  • eggplant
  • gluten
  • grains (all)
  • ground meats (any)
  • nuts
  • peach
  • pear
  • peppers
  • pork
  • rice
  • soy
  • sugar (all forms of sweetener including: honey, agave, cane, and molasses)
  • sweet potato
  • tomato

2)      Rotate the foods that are left in the diet

Boy do I wish someone had shared this gem of wisdom with me when I went gluten free! The Rotary Diversified Diet, or Rotation Diet, was first described by a physician in 1946. The concept has been around for quite some time, but surprisingly, it’s not well known. When people eliminate one thing (*cough* gluten *cough*) from their diet, they tend to replace that gluten with corn, rice, and various other starches.

This is an example of the Rotation Diet I designed for myself in the earlier stages of my plan. As you can see, everything from oils, to seeds, to sweeteners is rotated. Within each day, the foods that are highlighted in the same color belong to the same family, meaning they are botanically related. Often, an intolerance to one food in the family will lead to an intolerance to others in the family due to the similarity of the proteins. Feel free to contact me if you would like help making your own Rotation Diet.

Remember, the reason for the intolerance had to do with over-exposure, so now we’ve just switched foods, but not limited exposure. See where I’m headed with this? On a Rotation Diet, you group the remaining foods into their botanical families. For example, lettuce, artichoke, and endive are all closely related, and then you eat from certain food families every day on a 4-day rotation. This prevents antibody complexes from re-accumulating in the body and wards off new intolerances. It will also help you to definitively pinpoint additional intolerances.

3)      Heal the gastrointestinal tract

Remember the little Pop Tart looking guy from last time? He needs some TLC! Healing the GI tract is a multi-faceted approach. You need to address all possible culprits: candida, parasites, bad bacteria, sensitivities, allergies, medications, and stress (to name a few). You need to start setting aside time for relaxation (yoga is my activity of choice, and there are some great FREE videos on YouTube), and do everything in your power to avoid exposing your GI tract to the things that tend to cause the most irritation: aspirin, NSAIDs, steroids, prescription medications, and antibiotics. The GI tract has an impressive cellular repair rate, but if you continue to expose it to stress and the things that wear it down, all of the energy is going to be spent trying to maintain instead of repair.

What are some things that help the GI tract heal?

  • Digestive enzymes. If the GI tract is already compromised, why give it more to do? Take the load off with a high quality broad spectrum enzyme. I prefer Similase GFCF, but this website is chock full of invaluable information about how enzymes work and how to choose one.
  • L-Glutamine. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps the cells in the GI tract to function properly and to repair themselves. It is a ‘must-have’ on your list of supplements for GI health.
  • Zinc. Many people with multiple dietary sensitivities and GI distress are actually deficient in zinc. In fact, new research has suggested that those with a history of disordered eating (anorexia, bulimia, etc) have low amounts of zinc in their red blood cells. A zinc supplement is recommended.
  • Magnesium. Magnesium is prescribed for all sorts of things these days, and its ability to help turn over and repair the GI tract is just the tip of the iceberg. Some doctors have pointed out that patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia have low levels of magnesium in their red blood cells and would benefit from magnesium supplementation. High doses can cause some GI upset, so be sure to start small.

4)      Repopulate beneficial bacteria

A high quality probiotic (preferably one that requires refrigeration) is essential. There are LOTS of things living in your gastrointestinal tract: bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. Most of the time everything is kept in check and homeostasis is never far off, but we live in a world surrounding by artificial additives, toxins, prescription medications, and antibiotics. ONE round of antibiotics is enough to send your system into disharmony, and if your nutritional intake is poor (read: Standard American Diet), your body won’t fully bounce back. There are several different probiotics on the market that you can try. Be sure you call the companies and do your research to avoid inadvertently ingesting something that you should be avoiding. If you have never taken a probiotic before, you’ll want to start small and work your way up. A powder is helpful to allow for dose titration. Sometimes people experience side effects from the probiotic in the form of rashes or GI upset (occasionally other side effects too). Usually these are temporary and not a cause for alarm, but you should make sure that you double check the additives on the label. Once in a while, the flora balance in the GI tract is so off that adding in the good guys causes a “die-off” reaction of the bad guys. I recently started a 60 billion organism probiotic only to develop a rash about a week later. Too many little critters at once! Dropping the dose way down and working up slowly will help ward off discomfort.

Overwhelmed yet? I was too at first, so don’t worry. I’ll spend some time covering more of the things I am doing as I go along and share some of the brands of supplements and appliances I’ve found to make everything a bit easier.

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One Response to “Tackling Chronic Illness and Autoimmune Disease with Nutrition in 4 Complicated and Heavily Involved Steps”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Supplementing Healing « The Progressive Patient - July 11, 2012

    […] If you’re following a rotation diet, cook up a few different stocks to fit into your rotation. Snapper heads work great for fish stock. […]

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