Autoimmune support and the Paleo Blog I love!

Posted by on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 in General

A very good friend of mine has a brilliant blog dedicated to the Paleo diet called ThePaleoMom.  She has amazing recipes (many of which are suitable for families following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for Autism support) and tips for great whole foods and healthy cooking.  She asked if I’d do a guest post about how I treat Autoimmune conditions.  I thought I’d link to her Autoimmune diet info and the following is my autoimmune thoughts from my guest post.
So let’s start with the basics of how an autoimmune process does its thing.  Basically, the immune system is triggered (sometimes by a virus, sometimes by bacteria or foods in the gut) and that starts things going.  This pathway triggers inflammation and causes the immune system to be on high alert to the original trigger.  Unfortunately, in an autoimmune process the immune system confuses (cross-reacts) our own body tissues with the original trigger.  So when these immune cells come in contact with those normal tissues it attacks and reinitiates the inflammation turning it into a bit of a runaway train.  Conventional treatment is to suppress the immune system trying to tamp down the reaction.  This is usually effective but just manages the symptoms.  The Naturopathic approach is to find and eliminate the original trigger and help the body to restore appropriate control of the immune system.  Sometimes both approaches are needed, especially initially if the system is pretty aggravated, but in the long run people tend to get much better success with addressing the underlying issue rather than just suppressing  symptoms.
In Sarah’s post about the Autoimmune protocol, she talks about the importance of addressing the gut.  While it may sound so strange to address the belly when we’re talking about eczema or rheumatoid arthritis, the gut plays an enormous role in managing the immune system.   There are huge patches of immune cells lining the gut protecting us from bacteria or parasites in our foods.  The healthy bacteria (or probiotics) living within the gut act as schooling grounds, training our body to be less allergic by triggering for different chemicals to be released.  You can imagine that if there are any food sensitivities or unhealthy bacteria or fungi present, then all that immune tissue is going to react and cause inflammation and lots of potential for cross reactions.   If you don’t have enough good healthy bacteria (normal flora), then they won’t be able to help the immune system to regulate itself.  If the gut becomes damaged enough (because of ongoing food sensitivities or some medications) then it allows undigested proteins to get into the body whole, which increases the potential for food sensitivities and cross reactions to occur. 
As I mentioned above, the first step to modulating the immune system is to find and address the gut immune triggers, whether they are food sensitivities or abnormal flora.  Sarah’s asked me to do another post later to discuss food sensitivity testing so check back later for that.  Once they are identified, we can limit or avoid those foods to allow the immune system to settle down.  Occasionally, we need to look at testing to identify if there are any harmful bacteria or fungi present and we can address those with diet (Paleo and SCD are ideal) and often with herbal or prescription antibacterials/antifungals.  Probiotics serve double duty by preventing harmful bacteria and fungi from taking up residence in the gut  and also by stimulating normal immune regulation by releasing regulatory chemicals called cytokines.   It’s always wise to research probiotics or consult a Naturopathic Physician first as there are lots available over the counter but purity, potency and freshness are significant issues.
Even once the triggers have been identified and eliminated, many people need to heal their gut in order to prevent new food sensitivities from developing.  There are lots of protocols for doing this and the SCD or Specific Carbohydrate Diet was specifically designed to do this.  I often do a multistep process with probiotics, digestive enzymes, fiber, omega 3 fatty acids and a product for intestinal healing.  This can be accomplished with diet rather than supplementation by increasing bone broths, coconut oils, cabbage and fiber, lots of fish and nuts and seeds.  But I have occasionally found that the gut is too compromised at the outset to be able to properly digest these foods without supplemental support.
The last step is to directly affect the immune system.  A word of caution:  This is a too tricky to do without discussing with a qualified practitioner (I’d recommend a licensed Naturopathic physician) that is knowledgeable about herbal medicine and their interactions with medications.  There are many herbs that modulate the immune system, that is to say help boost it when its underfunctional and help to control it if its too active, but obviously there is lots to consider before starting any of these.   Some include: Echinacea species, Rehmannia, Albezia, Nettles and Quercitin.   Do not add any of these herbs (no not even Echinacea!) if you have an active autoimmune process without first discussing it with a licensed Naturopathic Physician.
I hope this has been a helpful primer on autoimmune support and keep an eye out here for more information on food sensitivity testing. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email or post via my blog, where you can also find more tips about current news topics, allergies, Autism and other Naturopathic topics.
~ Dr Kellie Ferguson
Naturopathic Physician

4 Responses to “Autoimmune support and the Paleo Blog I love!”

  1. Paulette says:

    I have Raynaud's phenomenom and also a lot of food sensitivities. I have tried to research to see if Raynaud's is an autoimmune condition but I keep coming up with different answers. I was thinking of doing an autoimmune protocol to see if it would help me to feel better. Do you think the Raynaud's has anything to do with the food sensitivities?

  2. Hi Paulette,
    What an excellent question! I would consider food sensitivities as a likely aggravating factor for Raynaud's Phenomenon. There is good research that shows a connection between Raynaud's and Celiac disease, so that might be something to have ruled out.

    You may want to chat about this with your Naturopathic Physician. If you are looking for one, check for a listing of licensed Canadian NDs or for a listing in the US.


  3. Hi Kellie – Did you spend some time in Port Townsend, Washington? You look very familiar. I visit there often but live in Dallas.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on a few questions I am about to fill a Rx of Armour and really need an ND's perspective.

    A little about me. I am now 51. I have been diagnosed with Hoshimoto's. My TPO = 125, TSH=3.2 and all other Thyroid markers are in normal range. My Dr has prescribed Armour Thyroid 15 mg/day. i will start with 1/2 dose to ensure I don't have side affects.

    I am now 51 and take BioIdentical HRT in the form of soy-based Progesterone cream 400 mg 1/4 cc day 1-14 of my cycle and Estradiol cream 6 mg 1/8 cc day 1-30 of my cycle. I started with Progesterone in 2012 due to breakthru bleeding (150g/day for 20 days).

    I eliminated gluten on 7/9 and am starting on the AutoImmune Protocol Elimination diet today 7/20. I really dislike Rx and don't take anything other than the BHRT above. I am wondering the following:

    1-Should I try the AI Protocol for a while before starting Armour?
    2-Does one with Hoshi's have to take T3/t4 thyroid?
    3-Do you recommend other testing to determine root cause of Hoshi's? If so, what tests would you recommend?
    4-My Dr has said there is no reason to re-test TPO as once the anti-bodies are present they are always present. That seems counter-intuitive to me. I'd like to keep track of the data points to measure what's working/not. What do you recommend?

    I do intend to look for a ND here in the Dallas area, if I can find one that specializes in this area. I looked a long time to find BHRT doc's and even in an area the size of dallas, it's very difficult to find a doc that specializes in these certain areas.

    I appreciate any help you can provide! BTW I love the picture of your little bandit. He is precious!

    Ann in Dallas

  4. Hi Ann,
    I did spend a very short time in Port Townsend doing a practicum so perhaps we crossed paths.

    The AI protocol and other autoimmune support work might be very helpful for Hashimoto's thyroiditis, however I'd strongly suggest you have the support of a naturopathic physician while you do that. A licensed ND should be able to help you with bHRT and thyroid management. And they will be able to get more information from you to answer your specific questions. Some have more of a focus on endocrinology and autoimmune health than others, but it is something that I would expect most to have good experience with. I'd suggest you check the American Association of Naturopathic physicians at for a listing of local licensed ND's.

    I hope that helps,

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