Autoimmune problems that arise when your immune system attacks your own organs now afflict more than 24 million Americans. But following the paleo diet can bring a measure of relief and offer protection against this widespread health issue.
Dr. Mark Hyman, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and the author of The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, explains that autoimmune diseases, which include celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, psoriasis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can be maddeningly hard to deal with.
Misbehavior leads to inflammation
As Hyman notes, when your immune system misbehaves, even if the immune alteration doesn’t result in full-blown disease, it can still lead to “weird, hard-to-classify syndromes like inflammation, pain, swelling, and general misery.”
Now, while Hyman isn’t a direct advocate of the paleo lifestyle and diet, he has come up with 10 tips for dealing with autoimmune issues that fit into a paleo way of living.
He says these tips grow out of his philosophy of following functional medicine: “An approach (that) is a fundamentally different way of solving medical problems, one that allows us to decipher the origins of illness and identify the disturbances in biology that lead to symptoms.”
Lifestyle strategies to blast inflammation
The strategies Hyman advocates:
- Eat real foods, not packaged, processed, nutrient-deprived products. Hyman recommends wild-caught fish, plenty of berries, leafy vegetables, nuts and sweet potatoes. He further recommends consuming herbs that fight inflammation like rosemary, ginger and turmeric. Avoid refined, processed cooking oils like soy, corn, cottonseed and safflower oil. Those oils lead to extra inflammation in the body.
- Have your body examined, preferably by a health practitioner who believes in functional medicine, for infection. Have tests for Lyme disease, viral disease, bacterial infections and yeast.
- Be checked for food allergies. Hyman recommends having what’s called IgG food testing.
- Get tested for celiac disease, the autoimmune reaction to the gluten contained in wheat, barley and rye.
- Get tested for heavy metals in your body. These metals, which include mercury, can lead to autoimmune difficulties.
- Make sure your digestive tract is functioning properly. Hyman explains: “About 60 percent of your immune system lies right under the single-cell-layer lining of your gut. If this surface breaks down, your immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins, and bugs in your gut.” Keeping your gut healthy should include eating fermented foods rich in friendly, beneficial probiotic bacteria – items like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles. You should also eat real, whole foods and avoid processed foods. The dietary fiber in fruits and vegetables help feed the good bacteria in your intestines.
- Take supplements that fight inflammation. Hyman recommends vitamins C and D, fish oil and probiotics. He also says you should consider nutrients like grape seed extract, rutin (a plant pigment) and quercetin (also a plant pigment).
- Get frequent exercise. He explains that exercise reduces inflammation. You don’t have to go to a gym or use exercise equipment to stay in shape. Just make sure you don’t sit too long every day, go for plenty of walks and just generally stay active. Gardening is good exercise, as is general yard work. Find yourself a physical activity you enjoy — whatever it is — and keep doing it day after day.
- Keep yourself relaxed by controlling stress. Hyman says that stress plays havoc with the immune system and can lead to uncontrolled inflammation. He advocates doing yoga, deep breathing exercises, massage and/or biofeedback.
- Get eight hours of sleep every night. Missing out on sleep distorts your metabolism, throwing off your appetite and making you more prone to binge eating. When you overeat sugary processed foods (that also often contain damaged fats) your risk of immune problems escalates.
Big health changes
My health took a dramatic turn for the better when I went on the paleo diet and ate foods similar to the ones Hyman recommends. The condition of my skin, which tended to frequently develop strange rashes, improved immensely. Even my tendency to suffer dramatic inflammation in reaction to insect bites calmed down significantly.
Eating the paleo diet and following recommendations like Hyman’s 10 anti-inflammation tips are essential for keeping your immune system on track. And it’s vital for staying healthy: A poorly functioning immune system not only makes you more vulnerable to infection, the system itself can become a problem when it begins to grow too prone to inflammation.
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