Diet and Autoimmune Conditions - can you heal your body through diet?

How many of you have either done research or experienced yourself if a healthy diet can dramatically make your autoimmune conditions better or worse? I have leukocytoclastic vasculitis and Sjogren's Syndrome, and have been trying to eat both vegan and gluten free as much as possible. I find that when I drink alcohol, it makes my vasculitis ten times worse, so I have stayed away from that -- especially since starting medication (Plaquenil) for the vasculitis inflammation. Please share your experiences. Thank you!

21 Replies

  • Medical research has shown that a strict vegan diet can help joint pain in about half of patients with rheumatoid arthritis - but not all. As soon as any dairy or animal protein was reintroduced the effect was lost - but the diet was so extreme that most trialists were unable to maintain it for more than about a year because of cost and effort considerations (they also found the shopping and preparation hard work).

    I haven't found any reputable publications about gluten-free though it is said to be very beneficial for professional athletes - but it would be interesting to know if it is gluten per se or wheat that is the culprit when people claim improvements in their conditions. For example, I can't eat anything made of modern highly cultivated wheat without reacting - but can eat rye, spelt and kamut with no problem. It isn't the gluten - in the UK many gluten-free products were made with a washed wheat starch and I reacted to that.

    A lot of people I know with inflammatory arthritises do find that a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods helps with several forms of pain. Some claim the "nightshades" should be avoided - tomatoes, peppers, potatoes etc - but I found it made no difference except to restrict my diet. I do find that restricting carbs in general helps a lot, especially with the weight gain associated with pred.

  • Thanks for your response. Question about removing gluten from your diet - how long did it take for you to realize that you DID have a gluten sensitivity (once you started eliminating it from your diet, that is)? And what were the negative symptoms that made you realize you definitely DID have a sensitivity to it?

  • No, not gluten, something else specifically wheat. For several years I had a horrendous exzema type rash that itched terribly before turning into weeping blisters (sorry, but you asked!). It matched the description of dermatitis herpetiformis, a form of coeliac disease, but the blood test was negative. I've always struggled with my weight and I tried an Atkins style diet - removed a lot of carbs from my diet when at home. Then I realised that the rash went away only to return when we were on holiday in Italy - when obviously I ate pasta and the occasional pizza. So I experimented - and every time I ate something containing wheat I itched, even when I'd carefully asked what was in the meal and thought it was OK, when I asked again they would admit there probably was a tiny bit of wheat. In England they haven't a clue and even salad dressings have wheat in them. But I can eat other grains - rye, spelt, kamut - which have gluten in them. It is definitely wheat. Now I can eat small amounts and in France I seem to be able to eat bread - because they use a different type of wheat to make French bakery products.

  • Oh - your situation is very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  • Gluten Free changed my life 3 years ago... will not go back and do not cheat on it.

  • Me too.

  • Slightly different 'track', on this, I am now enjoying lots of foods that, until I had a kidney transplant-last July-I couldn't have. Some of these foods were 'good' for you and some were not; the 'good' one included sprouts, green vegetables and beans- the 'bad' ones include chocolate, sugar/syrup, in various forms and preserves ( the kind I couldn't have before). Actually I feel fine- well as well as I ever do!- just being nagged at, in all quarters, for being/getting overweight/just plain fat!

    I think variety IS the key here- I actually enjoy sprouts as much, possibly more even, than chocolate- the size of my stomach might make this hard to believe mind. Truth be known I don't mind being 'big', in fact I quite like it, at least I'm not starving! This doesn't quite answer your question, I know, but I just thought that I'd add it to the 'melting pot', so to speak.

    Hope you keep well Alan


  • Congratulations on your successful kidney transplant!! Curious if that was related to your vasculitis? Thanks.

  • A friend has a daughter with a rare genetic condition and from birth ate very little, she had to be tube fed. She had a kidney transplant from her mother a couple of years ago - and suddenly developed an appetite and eats everything. Except baked beans! And says that before the transplant she couldn't smell the food and it tasted yuk. Now she has a sense of smell - and can eat for Britain! She, too, has put on weight for the first time in her life!

  • The wheat/yeast is the biggest thing i have cut right back on. The sugars i tried and use natural like honey/maple syrup in small quantities. cut back on tea and coffee decaf wherever possible. I do not have a lot of dairy but have rice and oat milk when needed. I take turmeric capsules and eat whole grains gluten free, buckwheat,brown rice and quinoa, spelt on occasion but that is a wheat form. ~It all keeps things steady. I avoid all meats but go through periods of chicken and fish. We have cut out all soya now even organic as it is is so mass produced and over processed it's benefits are minimal. cook in coconut oil and have olive oil cold only. I have not had any steroids for about 7 years and then only in small doses. I am bad at the moment and need to not have milk chocolate but I have a peanut butter ben and jerry's in the freezer that just tastes soooo good !!! and you need to have treats once in awhile x Good luck x

  • Thanks so much for your comment. That diet is pretty on point with what I've been doing. Question about the soy. I've been reading recently that even unprocessed soy, like in the form of tofu, may not be good for inflammation, becuase it contains lectins. But apparently, fermented tofu, like tempeh, etc., doesn't cause the same reaction. Same thing with beans - if they're not sprouted, then they cause inflammation. Having a hard time with this as I try to eat mainly vegan or vegetarian as well, and beans have been one of my favorite sources of protein for years. Have you come across the lectin issue before? I first heard about it reading on the Paleo diet. Thanks!

  • Well I had heard about all the sprouting stuff being great because it contains living enzymes and about certain beans but there will be no sufficient sources of good proteins left for you otherwise. I tend to see what kind or reactions my body has to pulses and beans I only cook 2 types together at the same time. Many lentils i have had for years so I add that to a bean and see if i feel unwell. Red kidney beans give me a really painful belly so I avoid. But if you eat them with any wheat/yeast I think it is always worse. cannot eat raw cabbage, any mushrooms fungi or green chillies, but red ones are fine. also try and drink veggies juices home made organic and cold water with lemon and limes in as this keeps my belly and digestion working, to balance out naughty treats.

    The other thing about living food though is it gets mouldy very quickly and can be very expensive so I am not a big fan and fermented stuff i am not keen on as the chinese diet balances their food with sugars which I avoid where possible. I stick to tablets of pre/pro biotics. you will find what works for you i am sure good luck

  • FYI I cook from scratch most things so I know what is in them and most beans ready made have sugars of some kind or vinegar or other crap stuff which you could be sensitive to.

  • And soya products Duh ;)

  • Alrighty. Thank you for all the information!!

  • Dear Alanowiak,

    Yes the damage, to my kidneys, was caused by the vasculitis- along with heart, and brain damage. Vasculitis IS a killer and it, very very nearly, killed me! I was given hours, if that, to live- thankfully the experts were not right, in my case- I'm rather pleased about that actually!

    Hope you remain 'well', well as well as you can!, very best wishes.


  • good luck andrew, i had kidney failure with the vasculitis and i am presently on dialysis. i read the other day on the internet that there is thinking that a leaky gut could be a possible cause of auto immune diseases, so i have started taking kefir, my brother whom has been very ill with ibs,emphysema, and liver failure. he has been taking 4 antibiotics per day for 4 years. i suggested that he tried this kefir., he has been able to reduce his intake of antibiotics to 1 per day, his joint pain has gone, his stinging in his penis has gone, he feels he has more energy, even his sperm colour has changed to how it was to when he was a younger person. every time he ate anything wtith sugar in ie fruit, he would get thrush and his penis would be stinging even worse. he has seen many consultants by the way and the only thing he is recommended is to take the antibiotics.. this kefir sound like something that people should try and also his bowel is improving, i am thinking of trying to ferment white cabbage as this is beneficial for the gut flora

  • Ajanowiak - Can you tell me what your vasculitis was related to or what caused it? I have been suffering from vasculitis on my legs for 5 years now that only flares up when i drink large amounts of alcohol. Just curious if that is your only del trigger too, or if your doctors have been able to find out more. would love to hear back from you soon, have been looking for answers for years.

  • Hi markshark3187

    I have been suffering from leukocytoclastic vasculitis for the last 5 years. It first presented itself after I had a bad fall and banged my shin and caused very bad swelling

    Which formed a hematoma. I'm not sure if the fall is connected to the vasculitis but a couple of months after it happend a rash would appear on my lower legs after drinking alcohol! It was very frustrating as it took quite a while for me to be diagnosed. At first I thought it was an allergic reaction to alcohol or maybe insect bites as it was summer and I live in Australia. Eventually my GP referred me to a rheumatologist who went on to diagnose me with Sjögren's syndrome. I still wasn't convinced as I don't have any of the classic symptoms of the disease and always thought there was more to my condition. I finally had a biopsy early this year which also detected the vasculitis. I have anti ro and anti la antibodies and am currently 30 weeks pregnant! I was advised to take plaquinil at the begining of my pregnancy as a preventative of the antibodies crossing over to the baby which could potentially cause a heart defect. So far my pregnancy is going well and I have been very carefully monitored. Since becoming pregnant I have had a few flare ups, I guess it's from the extra weight I'm carrying and also the heat as its summer here at the moment. Just thought I should finally share my story now that i know what's going on! It's hard to explain these conditions to people which can make me feel quite alone at times! Looking forward to hearing your stories.

  • I hope that you are doing better. I was diagnosed with the leuc vascular is as well. I was diagnosed in 2006 and my rheumatologist prescribed Zyrtec and it does keep it at bay except occasionally ill have a flare up and need prednisone. I recently started a low carb diet. My diet consists of fish, chicken, veggies and fruit. I have been on it for 8 days and I noticed my vasculitis has cleared up. Thinking about my food consumption I haven't eaten anything with white flour. Before I would eat toast every morning and then bread occasionally with meals throughout the day. I am going to keep working at this diet and am hoping it works. If you know of another blog posting place on vasculitis I would like to read it.

  • Coming from a catering background I am particularly interested in the body's affects with food. I regularly read food science books where lots of auto immune items come into debates

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