Today we are inspired by the story and the knowledge of Caroline Lamont, functional medicine Health Coach from Great In Great Out.
Unfortunately Caroline experienced two autoimmune diseases. Medication is often needed for these, but it's is not always the only way. In this blog post, Caroline explains how lifestyle changes and nutrition helped her reverse the symptoms by applying 'The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)'.
While autoimmune diseases are thought to be a result of someone's body attacking its healthy cells, I like to think that the immune system is having a normal reaction to abnormal conditions. The immune system will be weakened by years of ‘abuse’. In other words, the symptoms are a result of the fact that the body is 'confused and dysregulated' by many different factors. And identifying and addressing these root causes is precisely what protocols such as AIP aim to do.
There is currently no cure for autoimmune diseases. However, proponents of lifestyle interventions, such as:
- Dr Sarah Ballantyne, from Autoimmune Paleo protocol,
- Dr. Wahls (The Wahls Protocol),
- Dr. Amy Myers (The Autoimmune Solution),
- and many others,
believe that autoimmunity can be put into clinical remission with specific solutions.
Considering I am in remission from Rheumatoid Arthritis and have experienced this firsthand, I believe this to be true.
AIP and other healing protocols
These protocols focus on four objectives:
- Healing the gut.
- Reducing inflammation.
- Promoting optimal nutrient intake.
- And regulating hormones.
In order to achieve these aims, all protocols have two main pillars, which are nutrition and lifestyle or self-care.
Nutrition in AIP and other healing protocols
When it comes to nutrition, AIP and other healing protocols focus on a combination of two key elements:
- an elimination diet,
- and a focus on adding a lot of micronutrients.
The purpose of the elimination phase is three-fold.
1. The immune system is fired up by food one is sensitive. And the immune system is responding with chronic inflammation (a normal and – normally – beneficial process).
2. It eliminates foods that are detrimental to our gut microbiome and cause dysbiosis. It is key to a healthy immune system, making sure it can properly respond to a threat or, on the other hand, not respond to something normal (such as food).
3. Healing the gut. You may have heard of the term ‘leaky gut’ - or intestinal permeability. Many factors can lead to leaky gut, including consuming gluten and an unbalanced microbiome.
Specialists of autoimmunity now believe that non-celiac gluten sensitivity and leaky gut are pre-requisite for people to develop an auto immune disease. Dr Alessio Fasano has published this research in 2013 and here is a more accessible article.
Focus on micronutrients
The focus on micronutrients guarantees that we consume more of the nutrients that our immune system needs in order to work properly. These include (but are not limited to) vitamin A, zinc, magnesium, B12, etc. Our standard western diets are notoriously low in these nutrients - we're used to calorie-rich and nutrient-poor diets.
Lifestyle and self-care in AIP and other healing protocols
The most impactful areas in terms of helping people with autoimmune diseases go into remission are:
- Stress reduction or stress management.
- Exercise and movement.
- Social connections and nature.
Getting enough sleep is essential for immune system regulation. And sleep also has a considerable impact on detoxification, energy conservation, and physical and mental well being.
If you feel you're consistently not sleeping enough, you probably are! And you should consider making sleep a priority.
The fight-and-flight state of the body is a normal response to ad-hoc and potentially dangerous situations. Unsurprisingly, during a stress response, the body shuts down all non-essential systems (including the immune, reproductive,and digestive systems).
And this is great if you're avoiding traffic. Or even participating in a sports competition or going through an important work presentation. But it's only beneficial when this response is triggered for a short period of time. The problem is that in our modern lifestyle we rarely get out of fight or flight and into rest and digest state.
And our bodies don't know the difference between running away from a tiger and being late for work. Physiologically, the body reacts in exactly the same way.
The effect of chronic stress
We remain stressed for long periods of time with some of our key systems in shutdown mode. Stress becomes chronic and starts to affect our gut health too. And that's how we enter a dangerous vicious cycle. Because our gut health is compromised, we cannot digest and absorb nutrients.
This,in turn, makes it harder for our bodies to come out of fight or flight state, so it's important that we learn how to manage stress. Reducing stressors (i.e. anything that triggers our stress response) and improving our resistance to stress should become priorities in our lives.
Exercise and movement
Movement is as important as actual exercise. And more is not always best as too much exercise can be as detrimental as too little exercise can be.
There is now a significant amount of research that demonstrates not only the benefits but actually the importance of exercise in the management of chronic autoimmune conditions. This abstract from Science Direct refers specifically to physical activity and autoimmune diseases.
Find what works for you. This makes it much easier for you to enjoy the activity and integrate it into your life by turning it into a regular practice. Low impact activity is particularly great.
Connections and nature
Regular social interactions and time in nature have been demonstrated to be beneficial to our health and this is why this is a part of the Paleo/AIP protocol to improve one’s health outcome.
What if medications are working really for me? What is the benefit of following a protocol such as AIP?
Auto immune diseases are a disease of the immune system and not of the affected system or organ. Controlling symptoms of one disease through medication doesn’t necessarily mean that the immune system is better. It sadly means that people with one autoimmune disease are 6 times more likely to develop a second immune system in their lifetime.
And this is why I highly recommend anyone with an autoimmune diagnosis (or family history) to try AIP as a way to improve their disease management and outcome.
I’m Caroline Lamont, a functional medicine Health Coach. After 20 years in the corporate world, my health took a turn for the worst when I was diagnosed with not one but two autoimmune diseases. Where medication failed to successfully manage and reverse my symptoms, nutrition and lifestyle helped. I’m now in remission and passionate about empowering others in finding their own paths to wellbeing.