Navigating the internet in search of remedies (or just answers!) can be like dodging your way through a mine-field. Much of the information out there is useless, unaccredited, misinterpreted or downright dangerous. With every ailment I’ve experienced I have found myself trawling through hundreds of pages of contradictory advice – everything from rubbing onion juice on your scalp to steroid injections for Alopecia Areata through to zero-fibre diets for Crohn’s Disease. The advice for Crohn’s is what really gets me riled. The medical industry suggests pumping you with anti-inflammatory drugs and that you follow a high carb, stodgy diet with minimal fibre to help alleviate diarrhea. At the opposite end of the scale the nutritional therapists will advise that you cut out all of that beige food and LOAD UP on your veggies. After 2 months of following such a diet I can assure you that the nutritional therapists have got it right.
Since posting my latest youtube video which reveals new hair growth following extensive alopecia areata, so many of you have enquired about the diet I’m following. Where possible I have tried to direct everyone to the expert behind it – Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, author of ‘The Paleo Approach’ book and thepaleomom.com blog, as well as wonderful therapists such a Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt (Autoimmune-Paleo.com) but I understand that the wealth of information they provide can seem a little overwhelming at a glance. I assure you that reading every word they write is 110% worth your time. I have devoured all of it and I’m now well on the road to recovery. In an attempt to encourage you to read more about the Autoimmune Protocol I am going to summarise it as much as possible here, giving you a gist of the plan. But please, I am no expert on this matter so I urge you to follow up with some solid reading into the ‘what, why and hows’ of this lifestyle choice. The science behind it will blow you away. I only wish I could afford to go back to university to study it!
What diet am I following to treat Crohn’s Disease and Alopecia Areata?
Sarah Ballantyne’s Autoimmune Protocol (aka AIP or Autoimmune Paleo). This diet is founded upon Paleo principles with extended limitations during the ‘elimination phase’ (the first few months while you heal). The Paleo diet is simple: no grains, no dairy, no potatoes, no legumes, no refined sugar, no processed foods, no modern vegetable oils. If early (palaeolithic) humans didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.
The Autoimmune Protocol takes this a step further:
No eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades (i.e tomatoes, aubergines), alcohol or NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and fructose consumption should be kept to a maximum of 20g a day.
“What the hell can I eat?!” I hear you squeal.
LOTS. Lots and lots of vegetables and my favourite – MEAT. Fish and shellfish, organ meat and offal, quality fats (from meat, fish, avocado, coconut, olives), fruit, probiotic foods (kombucha, coconut kefir or coconut yoghurt, fermented fruit and vegetables), glycine-rich foods (joints, skins, bone broth) are all essential too.
To make this simple to follow Mickey Trescott of Autoimmune-Paleo.com has put together some wonderful guides that show exactly what is and is not included on the AIP.
You can also purchase her wonderful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook
Of course her list of possible fruit and vegetables is far more extensive than those stated here and for that reason I urge you to take a look at Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. It is my bible.
How and why does the AIP work at tackling these diseases?
While the types of autoimmune disease are so varied – crohn’s, hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac, psoriasis and alopecia areata to mention just a few, their cause is the same. The symptoms have simply manifested differently.
Autoimmunity is considered to be the result of your body’s inability to differentiate between nasties such as bacteria and your own natural cells. This causes your immune system to attack you rather than the foreign invader. While it is true that lifestyle and genetics factor in your predisposition to autoimmune disease, the key player is diet. In order to heal it is necessary to remove foods that contribute to inflammation and what is known as a leaky gut and gut dysbiosis (the wrong gut flora) – both of which are believed to be involved in all autoimmune diseases.
A leaky gut is a necessary prerequisite of autoimmune disease and by treating it you can reverse your disease. But what is a leaky gut? Exactly as it sounds. The small intestine has become damaged by foods such as gluten, grains, dairy, etc. causing holes to form in the gut lining that allow its contents to leak out into the bloodstream. There it is met by our immune cells… and you guessed it, they attack the food, pathogens and bacteria from the gut as foreign invaders. Inflammation levels in the body rise and immune system wreaks havoc. This inflammation is general and not limited to the gut; it is without a target and any cell in the body can fall victim to it – your hair, your skin, your joints. Say hello to your new autoimmune disease!
What the AIP does is provide a nutrient dense diet to restore your gut health. Bone broth, fats and joint tissue repair the lining of the gut, beneficial bacteria regulates the immune system, heaps of vitamins from vegetables, meat, fish and offal support healing and the removal of nightshades, sugar, grains, dairy etc. keeps you free of inflammatory triggers.
As I said, this is a super condensed version of the story but I wanted to give you a taste of what it’s all about. Importantly, Sarah Ballantyne stresses that this is not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice. Your day to day habits – exercise, sleep, stress levels, all need to change and play a vital role in your healing.
Have a further read about the AIP here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol and maybe that will convince you to buy the book and embark on your journey to recovery.
I’ll be back soon with another video to show the progress of my hair growth and I’ll explain a little more about what I eat from day to day (I often post meals on instagram), as well as the probiotics I take and other healthy habits conducive to healing.
*If you find this blog helpful and you like to see more content from me, please consider a donation. The funds will help pay my tuition fees at the College of Naturopathic Medicine so that I can become a Nutritional Therapist and thus be better able to help you.*