Why Autoimmunity Is Keeping You Sick And How To Reverse It

This article originally appeared on Healevate.

Do you feel fatigued even after you get a full night of sleep? Do you have achy muscles and joints, brain fog, an inability to concentrate, or insomnia? Do you get rashes, eczema, hives, or skin irritation? Do you have a hard time tolerating cold or heat? Do you get diarrhea, bloating, constipation, or stomach pain?

If you answered “yes” to several of these, there’s a good chance you have an autoimmune condition. Many people suffer for years with a vague set of symptoms that look like many other conditions but can’t be clearly defined or put in a box. Today we know this previous gray area actually defines the symptoms that precede or are involved in the process of autoimmunity.

This inflammation-based condition is a hot topic receiving lots of press right now in the health world, especially in holistic functional medicine and natural medicine spaces. This is partially because some AI conditions are now easier to diagnose, but much is due to the fact that we now understand the role of the gut and root causes as mediators of autoimmunity, not just a breakdown of immune function. This is a message practitioners, patients, and researchers want to get out, as autoimmune diseases are so prevalent—they affect at least 50 million Americans.1

Until recently, it was standard thinking that AI couldn’t be reversed, but now we know differently. Identifying the root causes and reversing intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut) are at the core of reversing the autoimmune process in the body. Doing this, combined with some diet and lifestyle changes, could have you healing and feeling like an elevated version of yourself.

What Exactly is Autoimmunity?

Autoimmunity, at its core, occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissues that it’s mistaken as a foreign invader.

Previously, science believed that it was purely immune dysfunction or an overactive immune system that caused autoimmune conditions. Knowledge has advanced now, and we know that there are lifestyle triggers that lie at the heart of immune system dysfunction. These triggers, combined with genetics and epigenetics (the environmental influence turning genes on or off) are what regulate the AI process.

There are more than 90 diagnosable autoimmune conditions today.2,6 Some of the more common conditions are ankylosing spondylitis, Addison’s disease, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE), myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Type I diabetes, as well as allergies, asthma, dermatitis, and eczema.

This is only a short list of the conditions that have been described and categorized. In reality, you can have an autoimmune assault on any tissue in your body, and that process may not yet be defined, which can make diagnosis frustrating for you.

Even though there are many different types of AI conditions that are on a vast spectrum, they share one thing in common—that they’re all inflammatory in nature.

Chronic systemic inflammation sets the stage for an upregulated immune system that causes the body to attack itself.

The good news is that getting to the bottom of the root causes and making lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on the course of the autoimmune process, meaning that an AI disease doesn’t necessarily have to be defined to start reversing the process and healing.

How Does Autoimmunity Occur?

Dr. Amy Myers, MD, explains, “Autoimmune diseases are born when your body is working hard to defend itself against something potentially dangerous, such as an allergen, a toxin, an infection, or even a food, and it fails to differentiate between the intruder and parts of your own body. Mistaking certain types of tissues for harmful substances, your body turns these antibodies against itself, wreaking havoc on your organs.”1

The origin of autoimmune conditions is multifactorial and additive, in that it takes a genetically predisposed person in the right environmental circumstances with a leaky gut to develop an improper immune response. Family history accounts for one-third of the risk for developing an AI condition, as certain genes have been identified that directly affect the immune system and play a role in its hyperreactivity.14

Dr. Alessio Fasano, MD, the director of the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, has spent decades researching autoimmunity and how the immune system malfunctions, which led him to deduce that every autoimmune disease has three basic ingredients: a genetic predisposition, an environmental trigger, and a leaky gut.8,14

He explains that identifying the first two components was easy, since science has long known that AI conditions tend to run in families and that they can be triggered by infections, but the leaky gut component wasn’t identified until 2000, when he and his research team isolated the protein responsible for regulating gut barrier function, zonulin.14

Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, arises when gut barrier function is compromised, allowing large particles that don’t normally enter the bloodstream to pass through. These particles are then triggers, causing the immune system to respond.

The environmental triggers are food sensitivities, allergens, toxins, and stress, which turn on the genes that initiate the AI process. This also generates chronic inflammation that perpetuates leaky gut and immune system activation.

Once the environmental triggers have entered the bloodstream, the immune system becomes primed and ready to defend, launching a biochemical war.

This war creates inflammation that activates certain genes, sustaining the immune response and allowing it to continue. As the war rages on and the immune system is on high alert, some confusion may arise, and the body may begin to attack itself.

One of the mechanisms believed to fool the immune system into thinking your body’s cells are pathogens is molecular mimicry. Molecular mimicry arises because there are specific protein sequences, or antigens, on the surface of certain microbial cells or foods that are similar to certain body cells such as the thyroid, intestinal cells, or nerves, essentially tricking the immune system. It loses its ability to clearly discern between self and non-self.

According to the ‘Thyroid Pharmacist’ Dr. Izabella Wentz, “This inadvertently causes a cross-reaction with our ‘self’ antigens, i.e., our own cells. This case of mistaken identity is thought to trigger the start of autoimmunity.”4

Similarly, another mechanism of autoimmunity occurs when toxins alter DNA and cause gene mutations. These mutations change the structure of tissues, causing the immune system to identify them as foreign and producing an assault on your body.

Triggers of Autoimmunity

The triggers that produce autoimmunity often occur together with the immune system responding to multiple ‘insults’ at the same time, since chronic inflammation mediates this process. Identifying the triggers and eliminating them is the key to reversing inflammation, calming the immune system, and shutting down the AI process. Common triggers of autoimmunity are:

  • Leaky gut
  • Dysbiosis and infection
  • Food sensitivity
  • Toxins
  • Stress

Trigger of Autoimmunity: Leaky Gut

Intestinal hyperpermeability, or leaky gut, starts when a trigger such as toxins, dysbiosis, stress, or food sensitivity creates inflammation, causing a dysfunction in zonulin, which regulates gut barrier function.

Fasano states, “Zonulin works like the traffic cop of our bodies’ tissues. It opens the spaces between cells, allowing some substances to pass through while keeping harmful substances out.” 6,8

Intestinal hyperpermeability occurs when there’s a breakdown in the function of zonulin, allowing larger particles such as bacteria, toxins, and partially-digested food particles through the intestinal walls to the bloodstream, where the immune system generates a reaction to clear them out. In genetically-susceptible individuals, these substances can eventually elicit an exaggerated or erroneous response, and the body can begin to assault its own tissue.

Leaky gut provides an easy access gateway to the immune system, when normally these particles would be kept out of the bloodstream. Under normal circumstances, when you encounter a typical foreign invader, such as a virus, bacteria, parasite, fungus (mold and yeast), or toxin, your immune system should answer by generating a response to anything it perceives to be a threat to your survival. In the case of autoimmunity, these large particles that have entered the bloodstream through a leaky gut cause an immune response that produces antibodies to the particles themselves and to the tissues of your body.

The causes of leaky gut must be eliminated and intestinal barrier function properly restored in order to reverse autoimmunity.

Trigger of Autoimmunity: Dysbiosis and Infection

Dysbiosis is the product of an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful organisms in your body, especially the gut. Healthy individuals have lots of the good guys within the GI tract that assist with digesting food, producing nutrients, and protecting from harmful organisms and inflammation.

When there’s a general imbalance between the good and bad flora, or when there’s an infection present, such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), Candida (yeast), parasites, or mold, dysbiosis will arise. This imbalance allows for leaky gut to occur, since chronic inflammation develops as a byproduct, and it contributes to the deterioration of the intestinal barrier.

Native (commensal) and infectious organisms, like large particles leaked from the gut, can also trigger autoimmunity through molecular mimicry. Your body mounts an immune response, which is great when it zeroes in on a cold virus that shouldn’t be there, but it’s a problem when it mistakenly assaults your thyroid while it’s attacking H. pylori.4

There are many organisms implicated in the molecular mimicry process of autoimmunity, such as H. pylori (causes stomach ulcers and GI infections), Yersinia enterocolitica (causes GI infections), and Borrelia burgdorferi (causes Lyme disease), which may trigger Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.4

When the immune system sees Klebsiella pneumoniae, Shigella, Chlamydia trachomatis, and several other gram-negative bacteria, it ‘recognizes’ the self protein HLA B27 and attacks, inducing spondyloarthropathies, which are inflammatory conditions that include ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and reactive arthritis (Reiter’s Syndrome).5 Viruses can also be triggers, as with multiple sclerosis and lupus, as well as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).5

Many other AI conditions can have a molecular mimicry component as well.

If you have an AI condition, it’s worth investigating to see if you have dysbiosis or an infection that may be perpetuating the process.

Trigger of Autoimmunity: Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities are very common in those with autoimmunity. The usual suspects are gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and corn, although you can have a reaction to any food you eat, especially those you consume frequently. Lectins, which are proteins found in legumes and grains, also activate the immune system and are implicated in autoimmunity.

These sensitivities generally arise when the partially-digested food particles enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut. Additionally, under the right circumstances, a cross-reactive process may ensue as well.

In another case of mistaken identity, foods produce a cross-reactive response through the same antigen-antibody-mediated process that the microorganisms produce.

According to PhD scientist Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom, “For those 20% of us with Celiac disease or gluten-intolerance/sensitivity (whether diagnosed or not), it’s critical to understand the concept of gluten cross-reactivity. Essentially, when your body creates antibodies against gluten, those same antibodies also recognize proteins in other foods. When you eat those foods, even though they don’t contain gluten, your body reacts as though they do. You can do a fantastic job of remaining completely gluten-free but still suffer all of the symptoms of gluten consumption—because your body still thinks you’re eating gluten.”7

Gluten is one of the most sensitizing substances we consume, and eating the cross-reactive foods can be just as bad, since they elicit the same response. Common cross-reactive foods are rye, barley, spelt, Polish wheat, oats, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, corn, rice, potato, hemp, soy, teff, milk, chocolate, yeast, coffee, sesame, tapioca, and eggs.7

When you have an autoimmune condition, you’re best served by eliminating gluten completely and any cross-reactives that are triggers for you. There’s no middle ground here—it’s all or nothing, because even one little bite will provoke a potentially hazardous flare-up.

Trigger of Autoimmunity: Toxins

When it comes to autoimmunity, you need to be concerned with the toxins inside and outside the body.

Toxins are all around us in the air, water, soil, and our food supply. We’re exposed to astounding amounts of pollution. Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety.9

Dr. Donna Nakazawa, MD and author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, calls these environmental toxins “autogens,” since they create a reaction against the self.9

The toxins we take in can alter our DNA, producing gene mutations that change tissues. The immune system can attack these tissues since they’re not identical to your healthy tissues. Furthermore, the toxins can alter gene expression by turning on genes that promote inflammation, which can then produce autoimmunity and leaky gut. These are some of the more common toxins:

Heavy metals: Mercury, lead, cadmium, bismuth, arsenic, tin, and aluminum

Plastics: BPA, BPS, BPF, and phthalates

Food: Pesticides, herbicides, BT toxin (from GMOs), preservatives, additives, colorings, Teflon (non-stick cookware), and aflatoxins on peanuts and grains

Environmental chemicals: Chlorine, fluoride, bromine, xylene, dioxin, toluene, and PCBs

The organisms that normally reside within us, as well as the pathogenic invaders, can also produce toxins. Mold produces mycotoxins. Bacteria have two toxic mechanisms—the excretion of toxins called exotoxins and the endotoxins on the cell membrane of gram-negative bacteria. These toxins activate the immune system and produce inflammation.

Trigger of Autoimmunity: Stress

Chronic stress has many negative impacts on health, especially with regard to autoimmunity.

Chronic stress produces constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, constant cortisol elevation leads to cortisol resistance, where the body has to produce more and more to achieve the same response. When this happens for prolonged periods of time, cortisol levels become chronically low, and adrenal fatigue develops. Cortisol is the primary anti-inflammatory hormone in your body, and when levels are chronically low, low-grade inflammation rages, paving the way for autoimmunity.

Additionally, chronic stress alters immune function over time, causing some aspects to be amplified and others to be diminished, producing dysregulation.

A 2009 study on autoimmunity revealed that “most interestingly, the release of endogenous glucocorticoids [cortisol] is critical in regulating the severity of disease activity in patients with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Blocking of cortisol production results in a flare-up in disease activity in RA patients, while surgical removal of the adrenals in patients with Cushing’s disease has been reported to exacerbate autoimmune disease.” This clearly illustrates cortisol’s critical role in immune function and inflammation.10

Chronic stress produces physiological changes such as decreased blood flow, oxygenation, motility, enzyme output, and nutrient absorption that directly impact the intestinal flora and gut function.11 Since 70-80% of the immune system is within the gut, this means decreased gut and immune function, which can impact autoimmunity. Further, stress diminishes immunity by depleting the antibody secretory IgA (sIgA) as well as essential hormones, and it promotes inflammation, which can all result in a leaky gut.12

Symptoms of Autoimmunity

Autoimmune conditions are characterized by a myriad of symptoms that can be vague and varied, waxing and waning, making diagnosis difficult. Inflammation, being central in the AI process, is the root of many of these symptoms.

Immune: Allergies, asthma, chronic or recurrent infections that won’t resolve, or yeast infections

Skin/hair/nails: Dermatitis, eczema, acne, rashes, scaly skin patches, hives, photosensitivity (sun sensitivity), hair loss, nail pitting, or dry eyes, skin, and mouth

Gastrointestinal: Food sensitivities, food allergies, stomach pain, GERD (acid reflux), IBS, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying)

Brain and mood: Headaches, brain fog, inability to focus or concentrate, double vision, blurred vision, poor memory, depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, lethargy, dementia, or insomnia

Nerves: Tingling, pins and needles, numbness, or paresthesia

Hormones: Poor blood sugar regulation (high or low blood sugar), weight gain or loss, cold intolerance, imbalanced female and male hormone systems, poor sleep quality, thyroid imbalances, adrenal imbalances, or multiple miscarriages

Cardiovascular: Palpitations, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, anemia, or blood clots

Musculoskeletal: Joint and muscle pain, muscle weakness, or fibromyalgia

Liver: Poor detoxification, elevated liver enzymes, or chemical sensitivity

Lab Testing for Autoimmunity

Lab testing for autoimmunity can be exhausting and broad, since there are so many options. It’s best to start with the basics first and consider general blood tests.

General AI Tests:

ANA (anti-nuclear antibody)
ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate)
CBC (complete blood count)
CRP (C-reactive protein)
APA (antiphospholipid antibodies)
RF (rheumatoid factor)

GI Infections:

Stool analysis (general)
CDSA (comprehensive digestive stool analysis—looks at organisms, inflammation, and leaky gut)

Food Sensitivities/Allergies:

IgE test for allergies
IgG or IgA test for sensitivities/intolerance
Mediator release testing

Once you’ve pursued these avenues, testing for specific conditions may be in order, such as TPA (thyroperoxidase antibody) and TGA (thyroglobulin antibody) for Hashimoto’s. Cyrex labs has several tests specifically designed for autoimmunity, food intolerances, and intestinal permeability. The Array 5: Multiple Autoimmune Reactivity Screen tests twenty-four different tissues for AI activity.13

Treatment of Autoimmunity

Treating autoimmunity can be easier than you think. Many people get some level of resolution with lifestyle changes and even further resolution when specific lab testing uncovers hidden infections, toxicity, or low cortisol levels that can be treated.

The easiest way to work your way through treatment is to take a systematic approach so you can more easily see what’s working and what isn’t.

Diet: This is the best place to start, since you’ll need some time to identify which foods you should be avoiding; making permanent dietary changes can yield massive benefits when it comes to autoimmunity.

The first step is to begin a 30-day elimination diet. You can make this basic and eliminate the usual suspects that trigger reactions like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and nuts, but you’d be better off eliminating known AI triggers as well. These include seeds, eggs, legumes and grains (because of the lectins), and nightshades (all varieties of peppers, potatoes, eggplants, etc). You may even choose to stop eating gluten cross-reactive foods as well if you know you have issues with gluten. After 30 days, you can begin the re-introduction phase to see if you have any reaction to each food.

If you want to jump right into a diet change, Paleo can be a good place to start, since it naturally eliminates many of the AI triggers. The first study ever completed on autoimmunity and the Paleo diet was published in 2014 by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD and author of The Wahls Protocol. Although it was a small study, it illustrated the beneficial effects of adopting a Paleo diet in relation to AI disease—especially a reduction in fatigue.3,15

The Autoimmune Paleo diet takes it one step further and eliminates all food triggers of AI. Dr. Ballantyne has the Paleo Approach, and Dr. Datis Kharrazian both have versions of this that are great resources. Dr. Kharrazian’s AI diet focuses on gut healing and is a simple version that includes many meats, vegetables, fermented foods, coconut, certain herbs and spices, low glycemic fruit, and some condiments.16

With all of the diet information out there, knowing what to eat can be very confusing, but with some work you can do it. As with any diet, you need to tailor it to your own specific biochemical needs. This means that some of the foods on the “avoid” list might be okay for you, and some acceptable foods may not be.

You need to figure this out to optimize your diet and health. Find your “you” diet.

Nutrients and Supplements: There are so many different nutrients necessary for treating autoimmunity and inflammation. The following are some examples of anti-inflammatory and gut-healing nutrients you can start with:

Magnesium, vitamin D, and EPA/DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) are recommended by Sarah Ballantyne for their important anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects.3,17

Vitamins C and E, zinc, and selenium function as antioxidants and protect against oxidative stress.17

Glutathione is a critical nutrient, as it’s the master antioxidant in the body, and there’s a significant breakdown with its function in AI. Taking supplemental glutathione (or its precursor, NAC (n-acetyl cysteine)) with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and glutamine will help recycle glutathione efficiently. ALA also functions as an antioxidant and supports healthy mitochondrial function. Glutamine is an essential nutrient for intestinal cells and helps repair leaky gut (along with glutathione).18

Probiotics (“good bacteria”) increase the levels of healthy bacteria in your gut, which reduces inflammation and combats leaky gut.17

Digestive enzymes and betaine HCL are often necessary, since nutrient malabsorption plays a role in leaky gut and AI.17

Clean up your life: Eat organic foods, avoid GMOs, and choose more natural cleaning and personal care products to reduce the toxic burden on your body.

Reduce your stress levels: Stress is one of the main contributors to inflammation and poor immune function. Identify and manage your stressors. Reduce stress by creating boundaries, honoring your feelings, and organizing your life.

Relax: Take time-outs during the day to unplug and rest. Schedule downtime to give your body a rest by journaling, yoga, or meditation. Do what speaks to you.

Get into nature: Nature has significant healing benefits, so try to get out and enjoy it at least once per week.

Sleep: Getting adequate sleep is essential to healing. Avoid blue light stimulation from TVs, phones, and tablets for at least 2 hours before bed. Aim for a minimum of 8 to 9 hours per night, and try to get to bed by 10 PM. Sleep in a dark, cool, and quiet room for the most restful results.

Exercise: Moving your body is important to maintaining health and the healing process, but know your limits. Pushing too hard or too fast can delay your recovery. Give yourself adequate rest time, and only do what your body is telling you it can handle. In general, long-duration endurance exercises deplete cortisol and promote inflammation, so it may be best to avoid this and opt for walking, hiking, yoga, pilates, or weight lifting.

Empower yourself: Knowledge is power, so educating yourself on your condition makes you your best advocate. This knowledge will equip you with the best opportunity to manage your AI condition to give you the best quality of life.

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Is Your Favorite Morning Beverage Causing Eczema

(Spoiler: There’s a healing swap-out suggestion with an Eczema Healing Tea recipe included)

Does Caffeine Cause Eczema

Who doesn’t love their morning cup of caffeine? Coffee and tea consumption have become a significant part of American society. The cafe culture is a multi-billion dollar industry. This isn’t anything new…many civilizations for centuries have worshiped them too. But do these beloved brews contribute to eczema?

This is a question I’ve had to tackle for years in my practice with patients and for myself. Like any issues related to food or root causes of eczema- it’s a matter of individuality and how it’s affecting the inflammatory process in your body.

Personally, I love both tea and coffee for different reasons- I’ve been a lifelong tea drinker (thanks Grandma), but in my early 30’s I discovered coffee. I’d always loved the smell, but didn’t care for the taste. But as I began changing my diet to be cleaner and gravitated to Paleo/Primal, my taste buds changed.

Suddenly, I really liked coffee. I enjoyed the slight bitterness, dark chocolate, and fruity notes, much like a good wine. I hear this from patients too- they report liking bitter things such as coffee and really dark chocolate as they lose the taste for sugar.

I can drink it black, but I really love a warm cup of joe with grassfed butter and coconut oil in the morning. That’s heavenly for me!

So when the question of caffeine consumption and elimination arises, the reaction is similar for most of my patients- complete horror (even for a short duration). I’m often met with comments like: “there’s no way I can do that!” Or else, “you want me to do what!! And, for how long???”

I get it. The thought of giving up my tasty, warm beverages (especially considering that I live in Minnesota) gave me slight panic too.

Caffeine is America’s number one drug of choice. Some of us like it for the taste, mental boost, or the purely for the energy surge. But sadly, your favorite pick-me-up can be counterproductive if you have a condition like eczema that has roots in inflammation.

I don’t ask patients to drop the mug to torture them (although some may strongly disagree). I do it because I understand the many ways caffeine alters the immune and inflammatory response.

How do Coffee and Tea Cause Eczema

At first thought it may seem crazy to consider coffee and tea as causes of eczema, but they can alter the inflammatory response in ways that play a role in the process of developing eczema. Once you have eczema, they can contribute to the vicious cycle of exposures (foods, infections, toxins, etc.) that perpetuate the condition until they’re removed.

Here are the most significant ways that coffee and tea promote eczema:

1. It spikes adrenal hormones just as stress does. I generally suggest stopping if someone has HPA axis dysfunction (also know as adrenal fatigue) because of caffeine’s effects on the inflammatory process. Caffeine sends a signal to the brain which sends a signal to the adrenal glands to pump out cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine), effectively putting your body in constant fight-or-flight mode. Not good if you have eczema and need your cortisol for its anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Elevated cortisol contributes to Leaky Gut. The chemicals secreted during the stress response are linked to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), inflammation, overgrowth in bad bacteria, and decreased microbial diversity that can alter immune function. These are significant root causes of eczema that need to be addressed to completely heal it.

3. You can react to the mycotoxins found in coffee. Mycotoxins are toxins produced by fungi and the 2 commonly found in coffee are ochratoxin A and aflatoxin B1. These compounds are known to be immunosuppressive, carcinogenic, and brain damaging among other health problems. Chronic, low level exposure can build up in your system causing an immune response that can promote inflammation.

Swap Your Caffeine with a Warm Drink That Will Help Heal Eczema

I hate to tell patients that they must avoid something forever. In some cases this is necessary, like a Celiac sufferer avoiding gluten, but generally, most people can handle some caffeinated beverages once they’ve healed their eczema and gut.

But until that joyous day when you can imbibe again, here’s an alternative that’s equally as tasty and will help heal your eczema and gut.

Eczema Healing Tea

I enjoy this drink because it’s reminiscent of my favorite morning coffee, but it also incorporates the spiciness of ginger and turmeric that I love. It’s also warming and soothing on cold days. Prep is quick and easy too- usually 5 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 inches peeled, fresh turmeric
  • 2 inches peeled, fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove peeled- don’t worry, the other flavors mask the garlic 😉
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 1 serving collagen powder
  • 8-12 ounces hot water

Tip: If you want to have a speedy process, peel and portion out the turmeric, ginger, and garlic for several days. I keep mine in a mini mason jar or glass container in the refrigerator. If you prep too much it can start to dry out, so placing a small damp towel or cloth on top can help prevent that.

Instructions

1. Get your water heating up before you start prepping so that you can pull if off and let it cool if necessary before you pour it into the mixture. I like to use a kettle to warm mine up.
2. Remove the skin from you turmeric, ginger and garlic. You can use a knife or spoon (scraping down the sides) to get rid of the skin. Note: spoon scraping gives a slightly better yield but is more time consuming than using a knife. Place them in the blender.
3. Add in the coconut oil and honey.
4. Pour the water over the mixture. Warning: don’t blend it up if it’s too hot and steaming because the pressure could build up and burn you when the lid is removed.
5. Add the collagen in last (truthfully, it probably doesn’t matter when it’s added, but I try to keep the collagen from clumping or sticking to the sides of the blender cup or carafe).
6. Blend up until all ingredients are fully incorporated. It should take 15-30 seconds for most high speed blenders.
7. Pour into a mug and enjoy!

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be adjusted to taste and needs. Don’t like turmeric- don’t add it. Have a sensitivity to collagen powder? Leave it out. Got Candida or a fungal issue? You may want to adjust or eliminate the raw honey. You can customize this as you wish.

I actually make variations on this recipe often. I’m a ginger lover so I’ll add a huge 3-4 inch piece in sometimes. I’ll bump up the collagen if I feel more stressed. I don’t always have raw turmeric on hand, so I make it without it. If I’m feeling congested or sick from a cold, I’ll decrease the water by 2-4 ounces and add in the juice of one lemon and/or raw apple cider vinegar (ACV). Be careful using this variation if you’re in an eczema flare as the histamines in lemon and ACV can make symptoms worse.

Eczema Healing Tea is a Healing Bomb and Inflammation Buster

The elixir is packed with several anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, antimicrobial, and skin supporting ingredients. Coffee and tea definitely can’t claim that. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits:

1. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family which is why they share similar characteristics. However, the curcuminoids are what give turmeric it’s superior inflammation fighting power. The journal Oncogene published a study that found turmeric to be one of the most potent anti-inflammatories in the world, even beating out NSAIDs. It can also help heal the lining of the intestines which is critical for resolving eczema.

2. Ginger, like turmeric, supports immune and anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. Ginger is a great antimicrobial too, acting against a wide range of bacteria and fungi like Candida. It’s widely supports the gut too- relieving nausea, bloating, constipation, and acid reflux which are symptoms that often accompany eczema root causes like dysbiosis, GI infections, and food sensitivities.

3. Coconut oil is considered to be the “motherlode” of healing foods. One of best features is the broad antimicrobial activity of lauric acid- helpful for addressing bacterial, fungal, and viral infection, but also maintaining daily health. The antioxidants in coconut oil are well documented to combat inflammation. It also has pain relieving (analgesic) capabilities. The same properties that make it amazing for internal use also apply to the skin. Externally it can be used as a cleanser, moisturizer, and as an ingredient in a healing salve or ointment.

4. Garlic in its raw form is a close second to coconut oil in it’s ability to protect against the “bad bugs,” having potent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. The sulfur containing compound allicin is effective against the opportunistic staphylococcus (staph) bacteria which is thought to play a role in eczema for many individuals. Personal note- when I did stool testing on myself during the peak of my symptoms I had a slight overgrowth of staph that had to be treated.

5. Raw honey is an antioxidant powerhouse. It contains several classes of polyphenols and flavonoids that support the immune system. In addition, it contains 22 amino acids, many of the B complex vitamins, and 27 minerals including magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, and phosphorous.

6. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and a critical building block of the skin. Using supplemental collagen powder has been shown to improve skin quality by increasing the barrier function meaning better elasticity, moisture, and texture. Good news if your skin is damaged from eczema! Another reason collagen is great is that it heals leaky gut, which is a primary root cause in eczema. It’s benefits are similar to what’s seen on the skin externally- it “seals and heals” the intestinal barrier breakdown that’s the hallmark of leaky gut.

Doesn’t all this goodness make you want to brew up a batch right now?? You may not ever want to go back to coffee or tea! Maybe….. 🙂

Leave a comment below about your caffeine swaps!

Eczema: The Autoimmune Disease Everyone Seems To Be Overlooking

The No Cause, No Cure Paradigm for Eczema is Wrong

I’ve always been a questioner. This is why I believe eczema can be healed and reversed (and new science backs this). When I was a little kid, I asked lots of questions because I wanted to know how and why things worked. Conversations I’d frequently have with my parents would go something like this:

Me: “Why does my tummy hurt?””

Parent: “Probably because you just swallowed your gum.”

Me: “Why would gum make my tummy hurt?”

Parent: “When you swallow your gum it can stick to your insides.”

Me: “Why would it stick to my insides?”

Parent (frustrated): “Oh, I don’t know, it just does!”

At this point I usually stopped the dialogue because I was clearly annoying my parents and I was frustrated that I didn’t get the answers I desired. Even as little kid I couldn’t understand why gum wouldn’t be digested like the rest of my food?? It also didn’t make sense to me that it would stick to my insides. There is always a reason why (even if not everyone know the answer).

Those same feelings of frustration and disbelief came to the surface for me when I was told I had Eczema. I was instantly transported back to my childhood when I heard the words “there is no known cause or cure.” It was so infuriating and disheartening.

No cause. No cure. Yet, you’re still miserable, with a very real rash that makes you crazy because you want to keep scratching it incessantly and your doctor hasn’t provided you with any help at all. This is exactly how I felt.

The majority of conventional medicine still clings to the old idea that eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is purely a topical rash that makes your skin red and itchy, causes lesions, and is related to allergies.

And if you’ve ever had an eczema breakout you know that this isn’t just something to brush off, or something you should have to live with-  it’s a problem that affects the way you look and feel too.

I’ve never accepted the no cause, no cure paradigm- there’s always a reason why something is happening. Your body just doesn’t start to malfunction- it’s way too smart for that. There are complex physiological processes that occur over time that culminate in conditions like eczema. We’ll get into the details of that later.

Those of us in the functional medicine community, as well as many researchers, are redefining what eczema actually is. In December 2014, this groundbreaking study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology confirmed what many of us suspected all along- that eczema is indeed an autoimmune condition. The study showed that by blocking 2 key proteins involved in the body’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses, the eczema was reversed. In the process of eczema, these proteins mistakenly target the body’s own tissues, causing an autoimmune reaction which can result in the body attacking the skin. That sounds like a cause to me!

But before we get into the details of how eczema develops as as autoimmune (AI) condition, let’s review what eczema is and briefly discuss the types.

What is Eczema?

As an inquisitive and frustrated kid, I’d reach for the encyclopedia when I got one of those “it just is” answers from an adult. Encyclopedias helped, but were still limited in information on many topics.

Now we have an overabundance of information coming at us 24/7 thanks to the internet, but it’s hard to digest and make sense of it all. So, let’s break eczema down.

Eczema is more commonly referred to as Atopic Dermatitis (AD) clinically. That term is very telling since atopy or atopic is Greek for “being out of place” and dermatitis is “inflammation of the skin”. What’s interesting is that in my graduate training (which was conventional medical clinical pathology) we learned that atopy refers to an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity occurring in a part of the body NOT in contact with the allergen. Based on this definition you’d think that conventional medicine would’ve realized the cause of eczema isn’t occurring on the skin level, but that hasn’t been the case.

Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis (AD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. AD is long lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically and then subside.” It’s the most common type of eczema and research suggests that a family history of atopic conditions such as eczema, allergies, asthma, and hay fever is a predisposing factor in developing it. The data compiled from my research analyzing over 7,000 patients shows that 1 in 5 people with a family history of eczema have eczema. 20% is significant.

Eczema: The Autoimmune Disease Everyone Seems To Be Overlooking

Typical symptoms include:

  • Itching, which may be mild to severe, especially at night
  • Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching
  • Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
  • Weeping wounds
  • Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin
  • Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees

Eczema symptoms and appearance differs from person to person. A mild form might look like red, irritated, and slightly speckled skin, to more severe forms where the skin is significantly inflamed, with lesions that are bloody and weeping. Discolorations often occur during the outbreaks and as the skin heals.

7 Types of Eczema (Yes, …there’s actually more than one)

There are many different types of eczema according to various sources. You could go a little crazy researching them all on Dr. Google, so we’ll cover the most common ones here.

Most varieties of eczema are named for where they occur or because they look slightly different than your typical atopic dermatitis. Regardless of where it located or how it looks, it’s still eczema.

  • Contact Dermatitis occurs when an irritant or allergen contacts the skin causing redness, burning, swelling and sometimes blisters. It can be caused by things such as frequent hand washing, solvents, chemicals, foods, metals, animals, pollen, and plants like poison ivy. For the record, I don’t believe contact dermatitis should be classified with these other forms of eczema as the cause is external contact and can happen to anyone regardless of health conditions and family history. It doesn’t appear to be AI in nature.
  • Dishydrotic Eczema occurs on the palm side of fingers, palms of hands, bottom of toes, and soles of feet. It presents as red spots, bumps, or blisters. Scaly patches, flaking, and deep cracks can form from damage to the skin. This type is 2 times more common in women. I can vouch for that since this one type that I had in a very classic presentation which makes it easier to distinguish from some of the other types.
  • Hand Eczema is different from dishydrotic in that it occurs on the back of your hand and fingers, as well as the webbing between fingers. It visually looks more like typical atopic dermatitis.
  • Neurodermatitis, also called Lichen Simplex Chronicus, which is similar to AD in that there’s significant itching but differs in that the surrounding skin is healthy. It occurs in isolated patches that look thick, discolored, dry, scaly or flaky and can be mistaken for psoriasis. There can be underlying dysfunction of the nerves in this area.
  • Nummular Eczema, also known as Discoid Eczema is characterized by coin or circular shaped lesions that can be raised. Inflammatory reactions occurring in the body and dry skin are thought to play roles in developing this type of eczema. It can look like ringworm which is a fungal infection so it’s worth ruling that out.   
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis, Scalp Eczema, or Cradle Cap typically occurs in areas where there are high concentrations of oil producing sweat glands including the scalp, face, neck, upper back, shoulders, and chest. Individuals with immune system dysfunction are at increased risk for seborrheic dermatitis. It can have an oily or greasy appearance, unlike the other types of eczema, with white to yellow flakes.
  • Stasis Eczema/Dermatitis, also called venous stasis dermatitis, is a special type of eczema that occurs in areas where there’s decreased venous blood flow resulting in pressure build up causing fluid leakage from veins. Red, swollen, flaky, itchy skin occurs initially and if not taken care of can progress to ulceration, infection, and/or permanent thickening or scarring of the skin.

What Causes Eczema

If you type in ‘causes of eczema’ in Google, you’ll get a variety of answers like:

  • No true known cause
  • Dry or irritable skin
  • Genetic variant that affects the skin’s barrier function
  • Stress
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Hormone Fluctuations
  • Bacterial or viral infections or imbalances
  • Environmental conditions such as cold, dry weather or humid, hot weather
  • Allergens

Unfortunately, while many of the above are absolutely true, most conventional doctors still treat it like it’s a condition that only occurs on the surface and don’t address most of that list. They’re likely to suggest topical treatments and possibly tell you to avoid a couple of foods, allergens, and hot or cold weather. They neglect the impact of the true root causes beneath the surface.

The worst fact of all is that some doctors are still of the old school thinking that there is no cause or cure for eczema.

Thankfully, research is evolving and know we know otherwise.

Given that eczema is now considered an autoimmune condition, we know the conditions need to be ‘just right’ for one to manifest.

These are the 3 key factors that come together to initiate autoimmunity:

  1. A genetic predisposition/family history
  2. Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  3. Environmental triggers such as stress, infection, gut or skin dysbiosis (imbalance between the good and bad bugs), food sensitivities or allergies, trauma, hormone imbalances, toxins, and nutrient imbalances.

With autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly targets a body tissue and tries to attack it like it’s a foreign invader. If you have eczema, this means that the autoimmune process is attacking your skin. And to get rid of eczema, you need to address each of your root causes, which are covered in numbers 2 and 3 above.

For me, the perfect storm for eczema flares was high stress levels, hormone imbalances, GI infections and dysbiosis, leaky gut, and food sensitivities. Histamine containing foods, exercise, and hot showers made it even worse. This scenario is very similar for most of my clients as well.

A New Paradigm for Eczema

Just like when I was a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with the explanation of what causes eczema, so I developed my own process to explain the cycle of how it occurs.

Stage 1: Flare Up

You know when a flare up is coming because your body send you little signals in the form of tingle, slight itchiness or a burning sensation. On the inside the panic begins to set in and you’re thinking, “Oh no, not again!” These are the subtle hints that you’re body is unhappy and it’s trying to tell you. The flames have been stoked and a fire is beginning to burn inside.

From a physiological standpoint, your immune system is activated from one or more triggers like foods, chemicals, toxins, or microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses) and has begun attacking your body tissues. Having a genetic predisposition toward eczema or autoimmunity, and a leaky gut make this the perfect storm.

At this point, trying to stop or slow the flare is a good idea as it will help begin to reverse the inflammatory process. Start with your diet as many significant triggers for eczema are food related. At a minimum go gluten and dairy free, but likely you’ll find other foods that need to be avoided while you heal.

Getting stress under control right now is key as it’s often what pushes you over the edge into a flare. It’s hard to eliminate it, but try to manage stressors by maintaining boundaries, saying no, or asking for help. If you can completely eliminate a stressor (like avoiding a toxic person or situation) even better! Also, finding an outlet like journaling, deep breathing, meditation, or walks in nature can profoundly reduce the stress response.

Stage 2: Outbreak

Your flare up transitions to a full blown outbreak when the tingle, burn or minor itch escalates to constant itching causing red, inflamed skin with welts, wounds, and/or blisters. At this point it can appear to be treatment resistant since all of the root causes likely haven’t been addressed.

The outbreak occurs when the inflammatory process mediated by the immune system goes unchecked. The inflammatory chemicals have kicked up and are peaking resulting in your extreme discomfort and many symptoms. During this phase eczema can interfere with life, making social gatherings, work, sleep, and sanity difficult due to the incessant itching. There’s a full blown inflammatory fire raging inside.

Getting to the bottom of all of your triggers and root causes is essential now so you can heal.  Addressing diet and stress may do the trick for some, but others may require deeper digging or testing which is easiest with assistance of a trained professional. Even though I do this for a living, I call upon my friends and colleagues to make sure I’m not missing anything. We can all use some help now and then!

If you haven’t begun dialing in your diet- there isn’t a better time. You need to focus on taming the fire burning within. Anti-inflammatory supplements and foods are super important now. This blog article I wrote provides a recipe, as well as 6 healing foods and supplements to help put out the flames.

Topically, some people may benefit simply from coconut oil, but I personally didn’t and many of my patients echo that sentiment. The same can be said of shea butter. However, by combining these an easy and wonderful healing salve can be made.

Eczema Healing Salve Recipe

  • ½ cup unrefined, organic coconut oil
  • ½ cup unrefined, organic shea butter
  • 10 drops calendula essential oil
  • 10 drops yarrow essential oil
  • 10 drops rosemary essential oil
  • 5-10 drops frankincense essential oil

Mix these together in a bowl by hand or with a mixer. It will be hard and clumpy at first, but eventually will soften and everything will come together. Note: you can play with the essential oils as some people respond better to certain ones than others. If you can’t some of these, that’s fine too. These all have healing, calming or anti-inflammatory properties.

The most important thing to remember in the outbreak phase is the root causes. If you don’t identify and address them all, your eczema is likely to return at some point.

Stage 3: Healing

Relief is in sight!  This is when you start to feel better and symptoms are less severe, but still present. You may or may not be itchy. Your skin still shows signs of irritation, but no open wounds and blisters. It may also appear thick, leathery, scaly, dark, or ashy now. The fire within is now just smoldering embers.

Your immune system is now ramping down and under control, but in physiological time things go slow which is why there are still visible signs (think of how long it takes to completely heal a cut or broken bone).

Steering clear of dietary triggers or any other triggers you’ve identified through self investigation or testing is still a must to maintain healing. Continue use of natural topicals to protect the skin and help rebuild integrity. Nutrients like vitamins A,C, D, and E, biotin, zinc, selenium, and collagen support healing and skin structure.

Stage 4: Clear Skin

Hooray!! When you’re suffering through an eczema flare you often don’t think this day will come, but it is possible to completely reverse eczema and have clear skin again. You’re skin is fully healed and looks great again. No more hiding in long sleeves or gloves!

Think of this stage as maintenance or dormancy. You immune system is finally calmed down and balanced so the attack on skin is over. The fire is out completely!

Maintaining a healthy diet, stress levels, and getting adequate sleep will help keep you here in your happy place.

Common Treatments for Eczema

Again, if you look eczema treatments up in Google, you’ll get a list that looks like this:

  • Over-the-counter medications such cortisone cream, Benadryl cream, or antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, and Allegra)
  • Prescription medications topical corticosteroids, oral steroids, and oral antihistamines.  
  • Moisturizers that contain petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or synthetic emollients like lanolin or glycerin
  • Special baths with bleach, salt (sea salt or table salt), baking soda, epsoms salts, oatmeal, or apple cider vinegar.  
  • UV Light/Phototherapy
  • Wet Dressings
  • Stress Reduction

While the medications may be helpful at first for managing symptoms, they don’t address the root causes and the eczema returns. Long term, the topical creams can damage the integrity of the skin and the topical steroids and oral medications shut off the body’s natural inflammatory response which is counterproductive to healing the body.

The moisturizers typically suggested sometimes work and other times cause more irritation due to the ingredients. Unfortunately, if they do work it’s only addressing issues at the skin level and not what’s beneath the surface.

Special baths can definitely be helpful in managing symptoms, but some need to be use with caution. I am personally not a fan of the bleach baths, ever. Sea salt, table salt and apple cider vinegar can be great, however should be tested first since they could irritate open wounds. Oatmeal baths are also very soothing as long as you know you don’t have Celiac or it’s skin variant called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. If you do, you should probably avoid oatmeal completely as it’s often contaminated with gluten.

Phototherapy from the sun is my preferred use. While using phototherapy lamps that emit UV light definitely have benefit, there are a few more risks associated with them due to broader spectrum of the light rays, such a burning, blistering, accelerated aging/breakdown of the skin, and skin cancer. More recently narrow band UVB therapy, which uses a smaller spectrum and thus less radiation, is a better option for artificial light therapy.

Wet dressings can be very helpful in healing eczema when used with natural moisturizers. However, topical corticosteroids are often used and I believe they’re a bad long term strategy for the reasons given above.

My Methodology for Healing Eczema

While some of the commonly used treatments listed above can be helpful at soothing or even resolving some symptoms, they’re all missing the most important factor: addressing the ROOT CAUSES.

Even if you’re in remission and asymptomatic, you’re still at risk for a flare up because you haven’t addressed the important factors lingering beneath the surface. You’re trigger might be work, family, or financial stress, a stomach virus or infection, passing of a loved one or pet, a divorce or separation, moving to a new town or job, or even injuring yourself exercising.

My major trigger was always work related stress (or not addressing it) as it is for so many that suffer from eczema.

The good news is that I healed my eczema and we, together, can heal yours too.

My process starts with a detailed history, from birth until now, that identifies all of the contributing factors to your eczema and what potential root causes need to be investigated.

Next we order the appropriate tests to identify your specific and individual underlying causes.

From there, I design a comprehensive program based on your results and history that addresses all of your root causes in a systematic way. We don’t throw the kitchen sink at you all at once and hope it works. Instead, the plan is outlined in a step-by-step manner that makes it easy for you to follow and allows your body to heal.

If you’re tired of living in the eczema cycle of remissions and flare ups, or have an active, raging outbreak that itches so bad and looks so horrible it’s affecting every aspect of your life and you don’t think it will ever end, I invite you to work with me and my team to heal your eczema for good.

We’ll work together to put the pieces of your health puzzle in place. We’ll guide you at every step with a plan of action to get your body healing and skin happy again.

If you’d like 1-on-1 support troubleshooting which root causes are contributing to your Eczema, and get a specific plan to reverse it, the first step is to book a 1-hour “Eczema Root Cause Troubleshooting Session”.

 

 

 

Strict Elimination Diets are Possible- Part 4 of 4 (High Points, Personalization, & The Next Phase)

My 28 day Autoimmune Paleo Rotation diet is complete! This was a great learning experience for me since I haven’t done an elimination this long in 2 years, and even more, never one this strict.  This diet was more stringent than a typical rotation diet since it didn’t give any variability within each day as you’d normally get in a rotation. This makes it easier to plan and execute, in my opinion. You don’t have to think too much, kind of like wearing a uniform to school or work!

I feel great! I estimate my symptom reduction in the ballpark of 90-95%.

Itchy red bumps on my skin, random itching all over my body, light acne (associated with hormone fluctuations), and occasional headaches were my primary symptoms. I also tend to get ringing in my ears and a sore tongue or cankers with certain foods. The skin and tongue issues had been getting progressively worse, and if you recall from the beginning of my journey, I actually got a true hive. That was what I was afraid of all along! As often is the case in the healing process, sometimes things get worse before get better which I expected.

Now I only get the occasional itchy spot, not even every day. There’s no redness associated with it either. I haven’t had a headache (other than the virus) during the entire process.  My tongue is much less reactive, and I realized might be my canary in the coal mine. It seems to be one of the first symptoms to show up when I have a reaction to a food. Similarly, my soft palate may also burn. Any symptoms related to hormones have significantly reduced too. I have more energy and better sleep too. I’d say this was a successful experiment!!

The High Points

New Baseline Established. This is a really important point. Now that I’ve had a significant reduction in symptoms, I have established a new baseline. When I reintroduce new foods and observe for symptoms, I’ll use this as my new set point to gauge any reactions.

The big take-away here is that your baseline can and will fluctuate with therapeutic interventions. At the beginning of the rotation, I’d say mine was a 7 (with 10 begin horrible symptoms), and now it’s a 1.5. It’s always important to have an idea where you’re at so you and any practitioner you work with can measure progress.

Simple Food Tastes Really Good. I’ve always been a fan of bold flavors, but I realized that eating food prepared in a simple manner can be amazing too. A “hash” of ground buffalo, kale, and sweet potatoes with a little sea salt and oregano is really tasty, as are many other combinations. Eating this way gives the opportunity for high quality ingredients to sing.     

I Never Felt Deprived. This was probably the biggest revelation of all for me. I thought I’d miss having elaborately seasoned dishes with lots of ingredients, but even more, I thought I’d be starving. Neither were the case. I was surprisingly satiated the entire time. I made adjusts for increased physical demands on workout days, but I was never, ever starving. Nor did I ever feel like I was missing out by not being able to eat certain foods.

Symptoms Can be Confusing to Navigate Even for a Trained Professional. When you have lots of symptoms that fluctuate on a daily basis, especially at the beginning, it can be difficult to figure out what’s causing them. During those times, I relied heavily on my diary to track what I thought the likely culprits were. When I ate those foods again I knew to look out for reactions. I also knew not to combine them with the other suspect foods. I still don’t know with 100% certainty about a few foods. I’ll consider testing for them when I’m through the entire process if I think they’re still a possible issue.

The Healing Capacity of the Body is Amazing. I’d been experiencing my symptoms on and off for almost a year and a half. I’d take a couple foods out of my diet or try certain supplements, but nothing seemed to make them completely go away because I wasn’t doing the right things. I knew the first step was to do an elimination diet to get the food situation under control.

I’m shocked at how rapidly my symptoms declined. At the 2.5-3 week mark I largely felt as good as I do now. That’s pretty darn fast.

The Process Really Wasn’t Difficult.  One of the biggest ways we tend to psych ourselves out is to think that doing something different will be hard, which often delays or prevents us from starting new things.

Once I wrapped my brain around what I needed to do and got into the groove, I was set. The first 2-3 days were a little rough, but I made it through and then it became my new routine. I plan on maintaining these new routines as they are since it was so easy to follow.

The Hard Truth…You Are The Only Thing Standing in Your Way. We are in control of ourselves- period. We often sabotage our goals with negative self-talk or excuses. We can come up with all sorts of reasons why it isn’t a good time to do an elimination diet, lose weight, or quit sugar, gluten, or smoking, but they are purely justifications to make ourselves feel better about not doing what we know we need to do.

We all have lives. There will always be work, events, holidays, finances, stress, etc.- that won’t change. What can change is how we think about things. That is what will allow you to achieve any goal you have.

During my month long elimination I had St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and my birthday, as well as everyday life and a day long road trip. I decided not to let that stop me. I planned so that I could successfully make it through the process.

The Next Phase

Since I’m feeling so good I’m staying on the rotation in an expanded way for 2 more months. My plan is to add more foods back in systematically. I’ll test them on day one, and won’t add anything else new in for 2-3 more days. If I react to a food, I’ll keep it out of my diet for 3-6 months. If I don’t react, it will become part of my rotation.

In general, when adding foods back in, I usually start with things I like that I don’t seem to react to. I usually save possible problem foods for later.

I’m starting with eggs because I don’t think I react to them and REALLY miss them. So far, so good. No immediate reactions, so I’ll eat them again today two more times. I’ll watch for delayed responses to the eggs over the next 2-3 days. After that I’ll probably test walnuts, then pumpkin seeds. I’m not sure after that?? I’ll also continue to record everything.

I know in the past I may have had some type of reaction to tomatoes- usually cooked in combination with a high protein meal. That will probably be one of the last things I test since I know I’ve had issues in the past. I will also test raw tomatoes in a salad and see if I handle those in a different way since the preparation can be a factor as to if you’re going to have a reaction as well. For certain foods, it’s a good idea to test raw and cooked variations.

It’s never a good idea to jump back into your old habits or patterns that you had when you weren’t feeling well. Some people are just “dying” for certain foods and an alcoholic beverage. If that’s the case, you really need to check in with yourself and figure out where you’re feeling deprived or unfulfilled in your life because there’s a good chance you’re filling a void. No, you don’t need bread or cheese or ice cream, or beer, or whatever…. you want them. There’s a big difference.

Personalization

I believe another key to success and enjoying a diet of any kind, but especially a rotation diet, is to eat foods you like that are allowed on the program. There is always room for personalizing the menus to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid to try new things either. I realized I liked lamb and collard greens, but don’t like dandelion greens.

Adjusting quantities to meet your caloric demands is also important. A 125 pound woman that does yoga and walks will need substantially less than a 125 pound woman that lifts heavy weights or trains for triathlons, or 225 pound guy that competes in strongman competitions.

Supplementation is another opportunity for personalizing. As discussed in the previous post, digestive enzymes and betaine HCL are good support supplements for a program like this, but many other types of supplements would work well here to support healing.

Once you’ve gone through the process of a 30 or 60 day elimination and still have some symptoms, testing may be the next logical step. GI infections are often the root cause of leaky gut and food intolerances, so identifying and treating them will often provide the last piece of the puzzle you need to heal and feel amazing.

I previously worked on Candida and some dysbiosis, so I’m focusing on rebuilding and supporting my flora as an ongoing part of my program.

Final Thoughts

This was an awesome experience that was long overdue because of my own procrastination. Once I get through the next month or two of the expanded rotation and testing foods, I’ll take what I’ve learned and apply it to my normal diet. I’ll keep the rotation feature in because I think it’s a bad idea to get into the habit of eating the same food daily. I’ll also expand my diet as wide as possible since I believe in varied nutrition- somewhere in the realm of Paleo-AIP plus. I add the “plus” because I know I handle certain foods well that aren’t considered Paleo or AIP. For example, I tolerate certain legumes and quinoa when prepared properly. While I don’t think it’s a great idea for me to eat them daily, I will eat them on rare occasion with no issues.

The take home message is to tune into your body and listen to what it tells you. Make adjustments as you need to. There’s a whole lot of wisdom and guidance at your fingertips every single day- you just need to be open to hearing it.

 

Strict Elimination Diets are Possible- Part 2 of 4 (Working Out and Adjusting Your Program)

Week number two is in the books! There was definitely less drama on the skin side (no hives or red bumps= win), but there were definite peaks and valleys. Overall I’m feeling great for the most part.

Diet Observations

Monday was Day 8 and I felt amazing 90% of the time. I had lots of energy and significantly less itching than Saturday and Sunday. My workout was great and my brain was firing on all cylinders. The only bump in the road on this day was a little gas with my acorn squash at dinner. I plan on testing that again soon to see if it was random, or if I have issues with acorn squash.

I added in progesterone (only cycle days 15-28), DHEA, licorice root extract, an adaptogenic herb blend, and vitamin C to help support my hormones and adrenals again. Curious to see if it makes a significant difference in my symptoms.  I’ve been recovering from adrenal fatigue and major hormone depletion since the birth of my son 3 years ago. It’s considerably better, but far from 100%.

Days 9 and 10 were positive as well, with high energy all day, however, the itchy skin and runny nose seemed to be making a bit of a comeback. By the evening on Day 10, I considered the itching moderate. It’s strange too since there’s a completely random distribution- palm of hand, scalp, belly, or arm- really anywhere. There aren’t any red spots or welts of anymore, just itchy skin that isn’t even pink or red most of the time. I’m still trying to make the connection between certain foods and the itching flares, but there’s no obvious link yet. I have a few other theories on my itching too, but I’d like to see if I can eliminate the GI causes first.

Another Day 10 observation was that I have a harder time breaking down shredded beef than ground beef. I felt as if it was sitting in my stomach for a long time despite having taken my usual amounts of HCl and digestive enzymes. Seems odd, however, the ground beef is already in smaller pieces and easier to chew. I noticed by the end of the day my jaw hurt from so much chewing. I suspect I got a little lazy and wasn’t chewing enough by the end of the day which contributed to the poor digestion.

Day 11 was similar to the previous 2 days, except that I had a little more fatigue in the morning that I suspect was from a killer workout the day before. I knew I’d need to take it easy and do light recovery movements so I wouldn’t over stress my adrenals and nervous system. A positive was that my skin was looking clear and radiant. No sign of any acne or redness. Win!

Anyone that’s done an elimination diet knows eating out can be traumatic, so I was excited and nervous for Day 12. I went out to lunch with my sister which meant extra planning. Luckily, we are blessed to have some local, truly Paleo restaurants here which made my day much easier. Agra Culture Kitchen and Press is an amazing choice if you want healthy food in the Twin Cities. They cater to many diet variations- Paleo, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, fresh pressed juices and Bulletproof coffee (which I really miss). They made my meal out of the house very easy and stress free. Anyhow…this day was short of miraculous. I was symptom free 90% of the day! No itching (my worst symptom), no runny nose, no NOTHING!!

My nirvana didn’t last on Day 13, sadly.  The itching resumed at a low level in the morning, but after breakfast it was gone again. The main issue today was that I was hangry (hungry and angry). This is usually a result of low blood sugar. I set myself up for disaster since I ate breakfast 2 hours late, which lead to a day of grouchiness (my husband didn’t appreciate it… sorry dear). Clearly my adrenals and blood sugar are still not 100% which I already assumed.

Meal timing and content are important when you have adrenal fatigue. If your calories or carbs are too low, you will feel fatigued and sluggish mentally. Eating at least every 4 hours is a good idea to keep blood sugar and energy levels even throughout the day. That’ll keep the people around you happier too!

Days 13 and 14 also brought perfect, Bristol #4 bowel movements. That’s another big win in my book.

Day 14 was similar to the previous day in that I started out itchy, but it went away fairly early in the day.

Week two was definitely better than week one with several wins and a decrease in symptoms. So far, so good.

Adjusting Your Program on the Fly

I never operate in a “set in stone” manner, nor do I expect my clients to either. Humans have a complex physiology with a seemingly infinite number of variables (many of which we don’t know much about yet). We need to pay attention and tune in to what is happening when we change the inputs (diet, supplements, exercise, stress, sleep, etc.) and adjust accordingly to our own individual needs.

Here are some of the modifications I’m making:

  1. Sticking to lower histamine foods given my reactions in week 1. The histamine issue may be worse than I thought, so I’m trying not to eat leftovers either (which sucks a bit since I’d mostly been making my meals for the day in the morning). Freshly cooked is best with histamine. I’ve also axed fish and shellfish for now which saddens me because I love them. I also realized I may need to test methylation, Candida, and my gut microflora as those can be causes of histamine issues.
  2. Adding in supplements when necessary. I realized I need to use more HCl and enzymes with certain proteins that I don’t seem to breakdown as efficiently. I add in one extra cap of each. I also added in a DAO enzyme supplement to help clear histamine when necessary.
  3. In order to maintain my energy and facilitate recovery post-workouts I added in an amino acid powder with no additives immediately after my workout, plus an extra meal later that day.

There will probably be more to come. The point is that you need to be alert to what your body is telling you and listen.

Hard Workouts are Possible on a Strict Elimination Diet

One of my biggest fears, and why I put this elimination off for so long, was that I thought it would kill my workouts and recovery. You can’t use protein powders like whey, beef or pea, and many supplements you’d replace those with are off the table as well.

This elimination is about as strict as they come, however, it doesn’t limit quantity which is helpful. I also wasn’t used to eating so many purely whole food meals in a day. I have a shake for breakfast half the time and always have one after workouts.

Surprisingly, my experience has been exactly the opposite of what I expected. I generally have more energy and feel more satiated during the day.

My workouts are 80% weight lifting and 20% metabolic conditioning. Certain days are definitely more taxing than others.  I do this 3 times per week and fill in the other days with hiking, sprinting, mobility work, or riding my mountain bike. As a rule though, I always have rest days and listen to my body. If I’m feeling really fatigued I don’t push as hard or I skip a day. I’ve suffered severe adrenal fatigue and really don’t want to go there again.

I eat my breakfast 60 minutes before my workouts to give enough time to digest. I adjust the portion down sometimes if I feel I won’t be digested enough. I’m also taking vitamins and supplements that support energy metabolism (which I also did before).

The second workout during week one was when I noticed a little more fatigue which could’ve just been part of the adjustment period, but I made some changes to be safe. As soon as my workout is done, I have my straight amino acid powder and try to eat within 30-45 minutes to replenish my muscles and prevent excessive soreness. To further aid in recovery, I often add in a fourth meal if I’m feeling a little hungrier.

Strength and endurance haven’t decreased 2 weeks in which I’m ecstatic about. I’m hoping I can maintain this throughout the duration.  So far, lots of energy and normal levels of post-workout soreness and fatigue.

Next week I’ll discuss supplementation and keys to success, as well as my progress update!

10 Tips to Minimize Healing Frustrations and Time

The truth about healing is that it’s hard and often very frustrating for those going through it. I get questions from my patients on a daily basis about the progress of their healing journey. I refer to it as a journey and not a process because it truly is something that dramatically impacts your life and becomes a part of who you are.  It encompasses serious self-analysis, lifestyle and habit changes, and often therapeutic interventions to change physiology and gene expression. People don’t understand why a certain protocol, lifestyle or dietary change is making them feel worse or isn’t working. That’s when I launch into the discussion about individuality, as well as the difficult truth: healing is hard.

There are a few things that many practitioners don’t like to talk about and a big one is the difficulty of the healing journey. This does patients a disservice because they need to understand that healing takes time, effort, and often a good amount of detective work because finding the root causes can be challenging when they’re buried under years of symptoms and physiological adaptations that have occurred as your body works hard to right the ship to keep it afloat. The body often does a good job of this unbeknownst to you since there are many built in back up processes always aiming to keep you alive and as healthy as possible. However, when the insults become too numerous, changes start to happen. It generally isn’t until the boat has “sprung a leak” that you feel bad enough to do something about it. This process can take years or even decades to develop, so reversing it is hard and often takes years as well. Don’t worry though, healing can and will take place- it just takes time, effort, and perseverance.

There are ways to make the journey easier, saving time, energy, and money. Some of the work regarding diet and lifestyle can be started on your own, but if you have a complex or chronic case, working with someone else will likely save you lots of frustration.

  1. Work with a trained practitioner that understands your case. There is abundant information available on the internet that allows you to research who is the right fit for you, which is very important. Additionally, if the practitioners you’re looking at do free consults or Q&A sessions to see if you’re a good match, take advantage of that.
  2. Doing a complete functional medicine assessment illuminates the journey for the practitioner and the patient. Going back in time starting with pre-birth and pertinent parental history, then walking through birth, childhood, and adulthood in detail allows a timeline to develop that shows major illnesses, exposures, traumas, habits and life events that eventually snowballed into how you feel today. Always tell your practitioner the entire story and truth so you have a complete timeline and don’t need to waste time backtracking once you’re on your healing journey. What may seem insignificant to you, may be of massive importance to your practitioner in uncovering potential causes.
  3. Complete necessary testing to avoid frustration and guessing. Many well intentioned practitioners treat without testing. This isn’t a good idea in chronic cases where the symptoms of conditions are very similar. A good example is with digestive symptoms- diarrhea, gas, and bloating can be cause by many things including SIBO, yeast, parasites, food allergies or intolerances, exposures to toxins, altered microbiome, autoimmunity, etc. Often several of these are occurring simultaneously. Testing allows you to have a more targeted therapeutic plan.
  4. Develop a game plan that works for you and your practitioner. If you don’t think you can handle certain aspects of the treatment plan, let your practitioner know. Most will accommodate your wishes whenever possible- but be honest with yourself. Do you want to alter treatment because you don’t want to do it (such as eliminate foods from your diet) or truly can’t. These are some of the hard truths we have to face when healing. Eliminating foods from your diet and changing your stress response, exercise, and sleeping habits may be challenging at first, but eventually they’ll become habit… it does get easier.
  5. Stick to your guns when temptation strikes. When other people try to sway you away from your healing path, don’t let them. You probably look much better on the outside than you feel on the inside, and they just won’t understand because they’ve never been through it. Sometimes people just flat out ignore what you tell them. Don’t let them ruin what you’ve worked hard for.
  6. Develop strategies for social situations. Hopefully your family understands your journey, but outside the home can be more difficult. If you are going to a social event, preplan and research as much as possible to avoid speedbumps that slow healing. For example, offer to bring some appetizers to the Super Bowl party you’ll be attending so you have something you know is safe for your diet. Additionally, you can make the host aware of your situation and he/she will likely consider you when planning.
  7. Avoid doctor Google. While the internet is an amazing tool for research and empowering yourself, too often people compare themselves to others that were “miraculously cured” by taking a supplement or going on a special protocol. This occurs much less often than you think, and some of these people are leaving out serious details or just plain lying. The truth is that you and every single other person on this planet on genetically and epigenetically different which means you won’t have the same response to supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes. Eliminate your frustration by not comparing yourself to them since you don’t know the details of their history. Also important to note is that on certain sites some of these seemingly honest testimonials come from people that are paid by companies with motives and agendas. The key to healing is doing what is best for YOU (the insert-your-name-here protocol).
  8. Be honest with your practitioner when they ask if you’ve followed the treatment plan. Avoiding the truth will make it more difficult for you and your practitioner to figure out what isn’t working when problems arise (and they will).
  9. Understand that there will be bumps in the road along the path to healing. There is a reason the terms “healing arts” and “practicing medicine” exist- there is no magic pill or protocol that will fix you so as practitioners we must analyze the information and make our best effort to design a treatment plan for you. Since everyone is a unique individual and there’s still so much we don’t know about the human body, it may take some time and effort to find and address all root causes. Additionally, it takes time to change physiology which is imperative to healing. There is often pushback in the form of reactions and additional or increased symptoms while the body adjusts. This is normal and expected, so unfortunately you have to push through it most of the time. If the symptoms last for an extended period or are severe then treatment should be adjusted.
  10. Be kind to yourself during the journey. We are often our worst critics. Don’t beat yourself up over missing a dose of supplements or not getting to bed on time one night. Life happens! Acknowledge the mishap, forgive yourself, forget it and get back on your plan. Stressing will only make the situation worse and prolong your healing.

Following the above can help make your healing journey smoother and also give you an understanding that healing doesn’t occur overnight. The analogy I often use is the healing is a marathon and not a sprint. There are hills and valleys, but in time the road becomes smooth, you hit your stride and things get easier. Eventually you round a corner where you feel good more often than not, which is a good sign that the finish line is near. For some it takes months, but for others it can take years. There is no way to predict how long, but if you’ve felt poorly for years, it may take years to heal. But take heart in knowing that it’s possible since so many before you have.