Many people accept “their lot” as far as chronic pain and auto-immunity and strong drugs are concerned. This is partly due to the fact that most of the medical treatment is aimed at suppressing the symptoms, particularly in reducing the pain. Once a condition is “controlled” the case is generally considered closed – the patient is simply kept on combinations of various pills, and anti-inflammatory drugs are the norm here. Prolonged dosages of pain-killing drugs and anti-inflammatory preparations are not the solution, simply because their long-term side effects are so severe on the human body. To me it is like not paying the bills and buying everything on credit, “buy now and you pay nothing until 2010”. Have you seen those advertisements on TV? How convenient, but one day you have to face the music. Sorry, I’d rather pay cash or do without, because I’m not into champagne lifestyles on a beer budget! That way I can sleep at night knowing that tomorrow I won’t have the debt collectors at my door. You pay a price for everything in life, including symptom suppression with drugs – no matter how much or little you take. And the more you take the bigger is that price. The stronger your reliance on pain relief (like being in debt) the bigger the mess when one day you “come down” off these drugs. I had a patient once who was considerably overweight with a bad back. But instead of losing weight (sensible eating) and exercising, he has remained on increasingly strong painkillers including morphine. Now he is in a real mess and has become literally hooked on pain relief. Remember when you got your credit card statement and you freaked out because you didn’t think you purchased so much? Call it a reality check, because one day you will have to reduce your dosage of Prednisolone, Paradex or Methotrexate and it doesn’t feel good when the pain increases. I am not suggesting you cut up your credit card right now (or to stop taking your pain killers) but go in with your eyes wide open and be sensible, knowing that you are in control here. Try to learn to control pain and inflammation other ways than just by way of a reliance on drugs. As this magazine is all about your healthy options, you have various options you can read about in terms of controlling the pain and inflammation. Your naturopath or natural health care professional can usually offer you non-pharmaceutical drug ways to decrease inflammation, and show you how natural medicine can be of benefit. Acupuncture has been of benefit to several of our auto-immune patients by way of decreasing inflammation, and I do refer a patient to a skilled acupuncturist is certain cases.
According to Dr. Barry Sears, President of the Inflammation Research Foundation, stored fat is a very active source of “silent” inflammation. Therefore, the first line of defense against inflammation should be the reduction of body fat because it produces an excess of the hormone called insulin. As the glycemic (carb) load of the diet increases, more insulin is secreted. This in turn activates a powerful enzyme (delta 5 desaturase), which produces arachidonic acid (AA). As the level of AA increases in the fat cells, more inflammatory mediators are produced. The end result is an increase in systematic inflammation that started with an increase in “silent” inflammation in the fat tissue. Thus the current NZ obesity epidemic is in reality an epidemic of silent inflammation! This is very relevant information, because New Zealand is now officially the 6th fattest nation on Earth, and our obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. So remember – being fat can cause you pain in more ways than you can imagine!
There never will be a natural treatment (or drug) which can overcome or negate the effects of a poor diet, inadequate nutrition, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy stressful lifestyle. Your diet happens to be one of the most important interventions for autoimmune disease. Other issues that are frequent problems are emotional stresses in your life, and I’ve often seen patients who have had so much stress in their lives culminating in the eventual breakdown of their immune system. Over all, when you are choosing anti-inflammatory foods to help reduce your inflammation and pain, choose fresh foods instead of heavily processed foods. Here are some tips:
- Please avoid all white flour, and best to avoid wheat entirely and reduce gluten as much as possible. Throw out the sugars and refined carbohydrates as usual. This is more difficult than it sounds but very important if you want to start to really heal your digestive system.
- Incorporate more fruit and green, orange and yellow vegetables, and lean meat (fish and chicken) generally into your diet and limit the amount of processed or packaged foods that you consume.
- Diets rich in omega-3 fatty oils – found in many type of nuts, fatty/oily fish, and seeds – are a great way to alleviate some of the inflammation discomfort naturally.
- When following an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to ensure that your body receives an adequate amount of water to keep it hydrated. Hydration will help lubricate joints and reduce some of the pain caused from inflammation.
- Add ginger and turmeric in your cooking, they have good anti-inflammatory actions. Grate fresh ginger and add to salads, stir-fry dishes and even casseroles. Have 1 tsp of turmeric powder daily, mix in a little water to make a paste then add more water. Drink up, it does taste a little “earthy” but the results long term may well be worth it !
- Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products and eggs. While all of these foods are important source of minerals and vitamins, you don’t need all that extra saturated fat. These foods also contain fatty acids called arachidonic acid. While some arachidonic acid is essential for your health, too much arachidonic acid in the diet may make your inflammation worse. Be sure to choose low fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat, which will not promote inflammation. You may recall an article I wrote some time back on multiple sclerosis, and the saturated fats are a real “no go zone” here.
- Another possible source of irritation comes from the nightshade family of plants. Some vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, chili and eggplant may actually make pain from inflammation worse. These vegetables are part of the nightshade family of plants and contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine. Solanine can trigger real pain in some people. While there isn’t any formal research findings that back the claim about nightshade plants, you can avoid them for a few weeks to see if your pain and symptoms of inflammation improve.
- Berries are a great food choice for auto-immunity, especially blueberries and strawberries which are packed with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and anti-oxidants. The pigments in brightly colored fruits, vegetables and berries contain dozens of phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. One example is quercetin, which is found in apple and red onion skins and has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Breakfast could be rolled oats served with fresh berries and walnuts, with a cup of soy milk. Are you still worried about all the constant hype surrounding soy milk? Soy is a much better choice than cow’s milk for auto-immune patients, unless of course you are allergic to soy. Another trick is to alternate soy and rice milk on a regular basis. There are studies which show that soy actually can benefit the auto-immune patient, and has several anti-inflammatory as well as anti-tumor actions.
- Snack on whole fruits, nuts, seeds, rice crackers, and fresh vegetables throughout the day instead of biscuits, muesli bars or sweets.
- Green tea contains plenty of anti oxidants and is a good beverage for those with inflammation.
- Eat a lot more fish and less fatty red meat, and pork. Avoid sausages, yuk!
- Stay away from deep fried foods (pro-inflammatory) and bake or stir fry your meals instead.
- Choose green, orange, and yellow vegetables for your side dishes.
Functional Medicine Testing
What would I do if I had an auto-immune condition? I’m glad you asked, I would have a food allergy test completed (Elisa test) to determine if I have any food allergies, and probably have a low acid and high alkaline diet. I’d certainly avoid all the known allergenic foods (dairy, banana, eggs citrus, soy, peanut, etc) until I knew they were ok for me. Why have your diet work against your immune system?
The auto-immune diagnosis through your GP and specialist rests on accurate history and physical examination, and high index of suspicion surrounds a backdrop of certain abnormalities in routine laboratory tests – for example, elevated C-reactive protein (hsCRP) as well as the auto-immune specific marker such as ANA (see Part 1 of his series). I’d also have a Hair Analysis completed to check for any heavy metal toxicity (common with auto-immunity) and any mineral imbalances. I will be covering a condition called ulcerative colitis in a future article, and in this bowel related auto-immune condition, I would probably recommend a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA). They are quite expensive, but generally worth every cent because complex chronic cases benefit so much from pinpointing where the problem areas are. Much more on this later.
About a hundred years ago, researchers found that most people with auto-immune conditions appeared to have bacterial or viral infections. In fact, many researchers today have found this still to be true. Dr. Leo Galland from New York was one of the first doctors to find that patients with ankylosing spondylitis have a klebsiella (bacterial) infection in their intestine. Your gut is actually a tube going through the body that is open to the outside environment via the mouth. Because of this, over 60% of the body’s immune system (lymphatic tissues/nodes, immune cells, etc.) resides in your small intestine. A healthy gut provides “surveillance” against all types of bugs and functions as a barrier to prevent passage of foreign particles into your body’s interior. However, in the case of auto-immunity, there is often intestinal inflammation that challenges this surveillance and then compromises the barrier function due to improper cell to cell junctions lining the gut wall. These improper cell junctions lead to a condition you most probably have heard of this called “leaky gut”, where undigested and potentially antigenic food particles and/or bugs can be released into the blood stream leading to auto-immune reactions.
Additionally, the bowel flora (vital for GI health) is often out of balance or “dysbiotic” creating further challenges for the immune system.
To assess your GI function, stool analysis (CDSA) can be performed which assesses the presence of beneficial bacteria, pathogens, GI inflammation, digestion function, leaky gut, etc. To restore gut function, various treatments are available including amino acids and proper fats to restore gut tissue, probiotics to restore proper flora, herbs and supplements for a variety of mechanisms. See your naturopath!
Nutritional supplements for auto-immunity
As per usual, see your naturopath or health-care professional when taking any supplement or herb with auto-immune issues. This is particularly so when you also take any pharma drugs, as there may be an interaction. Whilst I have my favourite supplements and herbs in auto-immunity, in chronic complex cases I prefer to advise the patient to seek professional help.
Auto-immune disease is a complex process that poses a challenge for any health care professional. By addressing immediate needs through conventional medicine (only if necessary), and by using natural medicine to uncover the actual causes for the disease process, a truly comprehensive treatment can provided – providing you go in with your eyes open as I mentioned regarding strong pain relief. Don’t despair, always remain positive and you will be pleasantly surprised at how your immune system responds to natural ways.
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