It looks like following a gluten-free diet isn’t just for those of us with Celiac disease, but also for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that up to 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease (but likely more because NIH only classifies some diseases as autoimmune). Of those sufferers, 75% of them are comprised of women. Researchers have identified 80-100 different autoimmune diseases and suspect at least 40 additional diseases of having an autoimmune basis.
The thing about autoimmune disease as that people don’t really know that they have one. Their doctor may have told them they have Hashimoto’s disease, alopecia areata, crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, IBS, lyme disease, psoriasis or fibromyalgia, but what many don’t realize is that all of those diseases, and slew of others, are bona fide autoimmune diseases. The diseases have different names, but they all have a common thread where something is triggering the immune response to attack healthy cells from within. You can view a complete list of autoimmune diseases here – chances are your doctor has told you that you have one of these “issues” but never told you that it was autoimmune related, right?
I have learned that one of the common holistic treatments for autoimmune disease is a strict gluten-free diet – and even a completely grain-free, paleo diet in many cases. Why? Because gluten is thought to be one (of many) triggers – and perhaps even a cause – of autoimmune disease. While the science is still evolving, the protein gluten is hard to digest. Because it’s hard to digest, large pieces of the protein can get into the bloodstream (ever heard of leaky gut?), sending a message to your immune system to attack the invader or foreign object. When the antibodies come to the rescue and attack the gluten, they also attack healthy tissues, mistakenly thinking of it as a foreign invader too!
In addition to the science, which as I mentioned is evolving, the anecdotal evidence is undeniable. There are countless stories of people curing or relieving symptoms of various autoimmune conditions by going gluten-free. For me as a Celiac sufferer, the only way to stay healthy is by following a strict gluten-free diet; and I can personally say that I feel so much better doing so. Dr. Susan Blum, who wrote The Immune System Recovery Plan (affiliate link), talks about how she healed herself from Hashimoto’s disease by going gluten-free and following a nutrient-dense diet. Andrea Beaman, a holistic health expert, healed herself from thyroid disease through a gluten-free and nutrient-dense diet. I also recently learned about Dr. Terry Wahls, who like many physicians, once focused on treating her patients’ ailments with drugs and surgical procedures. That changed when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and modern medicine did not help her. Her disease debilitated her so much so that she was relegated to a tilt-recline wheelchair and thought she’d never walk about. She adopted a nutrient-rich paleo diet and reversed her symptoms so much so that she was not only able to walk again, but also found the strength to take an 18-mile bike ride. She talks about her recovery in her bestselling book, The Wahls Protocol (affiliate link).
If you are one of the millions of people suffering from an autoimmune condition, don’t immediately turn to your doctor for a magic pill. Rather, look at yourself and your diet. Take out the gluten (and maybe all grains too). Add nutrient-dense foods like greens and berries. Work hard to eat right so you nurture your body. What you find may surprise you! Your symptoms may ease or even disappear. You may reverse crippling ailments (like Dr. Wahls did). You may even put your disease in remission for good (like me)!
Remember, it takes time to heal and you may not get instant results upon going gluten-free. Just as disease takes years to manifest itself in your body, it can take years to reverse the damage. Focus on eating right, healing your body, and living life to the fullest. Cheers to good health my GF and autoimmune friends!