THE CARNIVORE DIET & AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS
The carnivore diet was brought into the spotlight due to its ability to cure or reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease.
Addison’s disease is a condition in which the body’s adrenal system doesn’t create sufficient quantities of the stress hormone, cortisol. While excessive cortisol can be problematic, our bodies need a certain amount to provide us with a level of “get up and go” that causes us to act. That sense of urgency can evaporate if there isn't enough of the hormone in our systems.
Addison’s disease can lead to some unpleasant symptoms, including irritability, depression, low blood pressure, extreme levels of fatigue, and darkening of the skin. It’s a condition that tends to build over several months as the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys slowly lose function, releasing too few essential stress hormones into the bloodstream.
Researchers place the causes of Addison’s disease into two categories. The first called primary adrenal insufficiency is where the cortex (outer surface) of the adrenal gland becomes damaged in some way, usually by an infection like tuberculosis.
The second is called secondary adrenal insufficiency. It's where the pituitary gland in the brain fails to create adequate quantities of signaling hormones that tell the adrenal glands to start producing. The most common cause of this is a tumor on the pituitary.
So, what might the link between Addison’s disease and diet be? When you look at the data on historical rates of tuberculosis, you find something interesting. Cultures with the lowest rates in the past had the highest rates of meat consumption and the lowest use of grain. It’s just a correlation, so not proof, but it does tie in nicely with other research suggesting that vitamin D in meat protects against TB.
Addison’s disease can lead to low energy, so it’s vital the those with Addison’s disease avoid plant foods like flour and sugar that can exacerbate lows.
Most people have a basic understanding of the symptoms of asthma, but what’s going on inside the body exactly? Researchers believe that asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes the airways to become periodically inflamed and narrowed, making it hard to breathe.
While many investigators cite things like air pollution, certain medications, and even stress as causes of asthma, there’s growing evidence that the type of diet people eat may make a difference too.
Sulfites are a common additive used in the industrial food system designed to increase the shelf life of food. There are no health benefits and many disadvantages, including, you might have guessed, a higher risk of autoimmune disorders.
Where are sulfites found in highest abundance? Mostly in the plant foods that people eat every day. The primary culprit is sugar-laden dried fruit products, such as dried apricots. But you can find it practically any potato or wheat-based snack product too.
There also plant food triggers for asthma. These aren’t “causes” in the sense that they set the body up for the disease, but they can rapidly bring on symptoms. Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), wheat, salads, and fresh fruits are among the most significant risk factors in the diet. These foods can contain harmful compounds that lead to anaphylaxis, where the body’s reaction to what it perceives as a threat prevents breathing.
Clinical definitions of anxiety vary, but medical practitioners typically view it as a condition where a person persistently worries about issues in a way that is out of proportion to their impact. For instance, a person may experience the same biological threat response to going to work as a human ancestor might experience while being stalked by a predator on the plains of Africa. People with anxiety also tend to overthink things, ruminating on events in their lives to the degree that it prevents them from enjoying life.
Is there a plant food-anxiety connection?
Perhaps the most significant dietary contributor to today’s anxiety epidemic is excessive refined sugars in the diet. Sugar isn’t something that human biology evolved to handle. Not only does it rot our teeth, but it sends out blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride, spiking and then crashing when our bodies overcompensate.
There’s evidence that consuming sugar can lead to feelings of worry, sadness, and irritability. Munching through a cake might feel great while you’re doing it, but it can have unpleasant psychological ramifications later on.
Non-dairy creamer has also been singled out as potentially problematic. Today, many people want to reduce their use of dairy and so have switched to non-dairy substitutes. These creamers, however, tend to be packed with hydrogenated fats - not something found in large quantities in natural diary foods. Hydrogenated fats not only damage the cardiovascular system, but they also appear to contribute to anxiety and depression. They’re best avoided.
Celiac disease is perhaps the quintessential indication that plant food, especially grains, shouldn’t constitute the basis of the human diet. Celiac disease is a heritable condition in which the body reacts to the gluten in grains like wheat, rye, and oats as if it’s a foreign invader. Over time, this autoimmune reaction damages the lining of the bowel, rendering it inoperable. Celiacs can develop secondary complications, such as anemia, weight loss, and even nerve damage.
What’s interesting about celiac disease is that it’s not just “modern wheat” that’s to blame. While modern wheat is rammed with gluten, celiacs can’t cope with any level of gluten in the diet. Even dust from traditional wheat flour can be a problem. Merely moving to older types of grain, like spelt or farrow, is not an option.
Current medical advice is that celiacs control their disease by switching to grain alternatives, like rice-based pasta products. The problem, of course, is that these refined grain-based foods create issues on their own, even if they deal with the gluten issue.
Celiac disease doesn’t have a cure as yet, but there are things that people with it can do to lower their risk. One is to move more towards the carnivore diet. Whole fresh meat contains zero gluten, making it eminently safe for those who need to avoid certain grains.
The precise definition of depression is elusive. Most medical professionals, including the American Psychiatric Association, describe it as persistent feelings of sadness and lack of interest in the normal activities of life. It affects both the way that a person thinks and how they act.
Many foods we associate with poor health have been related to the development and progression of depression.
Research, for instance, suggests that people who eat more fast food and refined food have worse mental health outcomes than those who do not. Processed carbohydrates may be particularly problematic. While things like chocolate bars and soda can increase blood sugar levels rapidly, they also result in a "low" feeling afterward.
Processed oils are another problematic food because they trigger the body’s inflammatory systems, causing a rush of cytokines to the brain which then causes inflammation of the brain. Corn, sunflower, and olive-derived oils are all equally culpable.
Graves disease is a condition in which the thyroid gland at the base of the neck produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. It is an autoimmune disease because it results from the body attacking its own tissue. The condition occurs when immune cells create antibodies that cause the thyroid to enlarge. As the thyroid gets bigger, it churns out more thyroxine, leading to the typical symptoms we see in hyperthyroidism, including shortness of breath, weight loss, heat intolerance, and irregular menstruation.
While there is insufficient science to link particular foods to the onset of Graves’ disease, there is evidence that certain plant foods can make the condition worse.
Prime among these is seaweed. Seaweed products, like wakame, contain large quantities of iodine. When a person eats it, the iodine it contains gets into the body and provides the thyroid with the raw materials it needs to create more thyroxine. Seaweed, therefore, compounds the original problem.
The other problematic food is gluten. There is a higher incidence of Celiac disease among people with hyperthyroidism, suggesting a common factor. Gluten-containing foods can make Graves disease more difficult to treat by worsening symptoms.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a relatively rare autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks otherwise healthy nerve cells in the hands, feet and elsewhere. Researchers now believe that the disease is the result of prior infection with Campylobacter jejune, a type of diarrheal bacteria found commonly across the US. The bacteria leads to an immune response which then harms the tissue around nerve cells.
The symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome include things like severe lower back pain, muscle weakness, a tickling or prickling sensation in the fingers and toes, and trouble walking steadily.
While no plant foods are directly implicated in the onset of Guillain-Barre syndrome, anything that has the potential to harbor Campylobacter jejune is a risk, including bags of supermarket salad.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an immune condition in which the thyroid is attacked by the body’s immune system directly. Over time, the thyroid can become larger, forming a bump on the neck called a goiter. Those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis tend to have a slower heart rate, higher rates of depression, and increased incidence of panic disorders. Their bodies cannot produce enough of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine, for regular operation.
Some plants are goitrogens. Goitrogens are foods that contain chemicals that naturally disrupt thyroid functioning, further reducing its capacity to create thyroxine. Those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis should where possible, avoid vegetables in the cruciferous family, as these are particularly high in thyroxine-blocking agents. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and arugula.
Studies also implicate gluten. A 2015 study, for instance, found that there was a strong link between Hashimoto’s disease and the likelihood of having a gluten sensitivity. Current advice is that people with the condition reduce their consumption of barley, wheat, and rye - the three grains highest in gluten content.
INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE
Inflammatory bowel disease is a general term for a family of related diseases in which the immune system attacks the lining of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis is a type of bowel inflammation that causes sores and ulcers on the interior walls of the intestine, leading to frequent bleeding. Crohn’s disease is an even more severe autoimmune condition where inflammation spreads deep into the bowel lining. Both can require surgical intervention to remove the affected tissue.
The good news is that by removing certain plant foods from your diet, you may be able to ease the condition. There’s evidence, for instance, that those with ulcerative colitis can reduce symptoms by decreasing the number of sugary sweets in their diet. Patients who cut back on candy, soda and juices tend to have healthier, less watery stools.
Researchers from the University of California recommend that those with Crohn’s disease avoid eating anything that could increase stool output, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Prunes, especially, may be an issue, because of their colossal fiber content.
Lupus is a generalized autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks its tissues. Lupus can affect practically any organ in the body, though it’s most common in the skin, kidney, brain heart and lungs. Researchers believe that certain drugs and infectious conditions can trigger the disease. Currently, there is no cure.
People with lupus stand to benefit significantly from removing certain plant foods from their diet. While it’s no longer common in the average diet, avoiding alfalfa is essential for people living with lupus. Alfalfa appears to trigger lupus flares, leading to symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, and kidneys problems.
Investigators believe that the cause might be due to a type of protein in alfalfa which stimulates the immune system in a way that confuses it and causes it to attack the body’s own cells. Both alfalfa seeds and sprouts contain the protein.
Those with lupus also tend to benefit from choosing a cholesterol-lowering diet. It’s vital, therefore, to avoid commercial baked goods, such as croissants, Danish pastries, and pain-au-chocolat.
Multiple sclerosis is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakes brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerve cells as foreign invaders. It then attacks these cells, destroying the protective myelin sheath around then, causing them to lose function over time.
Are there any plant foods that people living with multiple sclerosis can eliminate from the diet to improve their health and outlook?
While clinicians have recommended a range of diets to help treat MS over the years, many do not have scientific support. One of the most promising, however, is the Paleo diet. The recommendation here is that MS patients avoid any food that would not have featured in the diet of ancient human ancestors. The Paleo diet omits grains, pulses (beans and lentils), potatoes, and all processed food. Like the carnivore diet, it centers on high levels of meat and fish consumption.
Myasthenia Gravis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes muscle weakness and makes it progressively more challenging to move the arms and legs. The name myasthenia gravis comes from the original Greek, meaning serious difficulty moving the muscles of the body.
Myasthenia Gravis has the unfortunate effect of sometimes making swallowing difficult by reducing the strength of the muscles that control the movement of the gullet. Eliminating certain plant foods may, however, make swallowing easier. Those with the condition can benefit from reducing consumption of dry and crumbly foods like crackers, nuts, chips, and cookies.
Eating can be exhausting for people with myasthenia gravis, so patients must eat high-calorie and nutrient-dense foods regularly. Meat meets both of these criteria.
Psoriasis is a chronic, recurring inflammatory disease of the skin. Those with the condition experience red, crusty patches all over the body, often covered in silvery scales.
For the majority of people, psoriasis covers small patches of skin. These inflamed can remain sore for many years after first appearing. Others can experience psoriasis over much larger areas.
The causes of psoriasis are not yet fully understood, but there’s evidence to suggest that it relates to the immune system. Under normal conditions, the body replaces skin cells every three to for weeks. In psoriasis, however, this happens every three to seven days because of an interaction with the immune system. The accumulating buildup of skin cells is what causes the flake, red patches of skin which characterize the condition.
Interestingly, there’s evidence that particular plant foods can lead to psoriasis flare-ups. People who have the condition, therefore, may wish to cut them out of their diets.
Data, for instance, suggest that people with psoriasis have increased sensitivity to the plant protein gluten compared to the rest of the population. Gluten-containing food includes bread, pasta, and many processed foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley.
Evidence also suggests that nightshades may initiate psoriasis flare-ups. Nightshades contain a chemical called solanine which is associated with elevated inflammatory markers in the body. Nightshades include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the joints where the body’s immune system attacks the synovium. The synovium is a thin larger of cells that covers the tissues that make up the joints. The immune system mistakenly believes that it is a dangerous bacteria and begins the process of trying to break it down. In the process, it becomes inflamed, releasing chemicals that then attack the surrounding tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not an age-related condition. It’s a consequence of a misfiring immune system and can affect people of practically any age.
Researchers believe that particular dietary inventions may help to relieve symptoms in some instances. A 2009 study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for example, found evidence that reducing intake of fried and processed foods can have a substantial, positive effect on symptoms. The reason for this, the researchers believe, has to do with how fried foods interact with the body. Eating food cooked in vegetable oils appears to increase the activity of the body’s immune system, leading to more severe arthritic flare-ups.
Food may affect the severity of symptoms through a second mechanism: AGEs. AGE stands for "advanced glycation end products." Certain cooking and refining methods create AGEs in vast quantities. When they get into the body, they can damage proteins and cause cells to lose their youthfulness.
Because AGEs are dangerous, the body produces chemicals called cytokines to break them down. These cytokines, however, cause inflammation, worsening rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Sugary foods and foods high in refined carbohydrates can increase blood levels of AGEs, provoking an immune response that makes the pain from rheumatic arthritis worse.
SIBO stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth. It’s a condition in which the regular healthy bacteria that occupy the gut are replaced with harmful species that out compete them for food. SIBO can lead to nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flatulence. People who have diabetes and lupus tend to be at a higher risk of the condition.
The type of bacteria that live in your gut is directly related to the kinds of food that you eat. Researchers have tracked the change in people’s stomachs when they switch diets and find that those on a vegan diet have very different gut microbiomes than those on a carnivore diet.
It follows, therefore, that the food that you choose to eat has a profound impact on SIBO symptoms.
If you’ve been diagnosed with SIBO, which foods should you avoid?
The most common approach to dealing with SIBO is the FODMAP diet. FODMAP is yet another acronym that uses the first letters of a bunch of plant sugars found in the typical diet. The idea behind the FODMAP diet is to eliminate these sugars and, thereby, avoid feeding harmful bacteria.
FODMAP foods include onions, wheat, asparagus, most fruits, mushrooms, and green beans. Proponents of the FODMAP diet hope that by encouraging people to move towards a more meat-based diet, they can improve the gut dysbiosis.
What’s so interesting about the FODMAP diet is the sheer number of plant foods that it implores people to avoid. It includes members of the allium family, grains, most fruits included pitted varieties, and fungi (which aren’t technically in the plant kingdom).
If you have SIBO following dietary changes can be challenging. The alterations, however, do not need to be permanent if you restore a healthy microbiome.
Vasculitis, as the name implies, is an inflammation of the body’s vascular system, or blood vessels. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly believes that tissues in the blood vessel walls are foreign invaders, here to do it harm. Symptoms include things like joint pain, mouth ulcers, hearing loss and skin lesions.
If you have vasculitis, which plant foods should you avoid?
The current advice from leading charity Vasculitis UK is to cut down on starchy foods, like bread, rice and past, and avoid processed food altogether. The charity recommends that people eat fish, like salmon, mackerel and trout, high in omega 3, as it can be effective at alleviating symptoms of autoimmune disease.