When I was in my 20’s, I developed arthritic symptoms and was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was treated with steroids for a year, but when I got pregnant I had to stop them for the sake of the unborn child. Thankfully my arthritis went into remission during pregnancy and has not returned since.
Recently, I was diagnosed with Uveitis (an inflammation in the eye associated with autoimmune disease) and I had to use steroid drops. It was painful but resolved relatively quickly and has not returned.
As you probably know, an autoimmune disease is basically your body fighting against itself when antibodies essentially attack normal cells. I never bothered to look any further into what I could do to help myself with this disease, until now.
About a year ago I was at home when my sciatica (another chronic pain problem I have that isn’t autoimmune related) decided to become so inflamed I could not move. I lay on the floor not being able to get comfortable. This turned into days of pain until I slowly regained some mobility. But I always have some discomfort and pain so I went to a pain management specialist for consultation. I certainly did not want to use opioids for pain control, so I underwent an epidural shot which helped for about a year. But then I could feel the discomfort slowly returning. I was frightened I would be in excruciating pain again. I wanted to go back for another shot but my new insurance was not going to cover as much as it had the first time so I tried to manage it with massage and not lifting heavy things. I also had anti-inflammatory pills I could take which did help, but the side effects were pretty severe. I would only take them if extremely necessary.
In the meantime, I was in touch with a girlfriend who had been suffering from Sciatica as well. She already had several shots but they no longer worked. So had more traditional back surgery. Unfortunately for her she later herniated the same disk, which is apparently common after such surgery. She was in terrible pain. She was about to cancel her trip overseas with her family since she knew it would not be enjoyable with the pain she was in.
She called me to let me know that she went on the Keto diet to try and lose some of her weight. This diet is a no carb or sugar diet. Well after 4-5 weeks of this diet she noticed she no longer had pain from her Sciatica!
After learning this I analyzed my diet and discovered I was ingesting a very large amount of sugar. (Like most of us, my diet was typical “Western”, i.e., high in processed foods, carbohydrates, and fats.) I started to pay particular attention to how much sugar I was getting starting with my morning dietary routine. I was having two cups of coffee a day using artificial creamer. When I looked at the label I saw I was getting 40 grams of sugar in the two cups. (The recommended dosage for my age and gender is 25 grams a day if I was healthy.) I was way over the recommended dose by drinking just the coffee. Crazy, right? So I went on a mission to see if I could help my Sciatica and autoimmune disease by cutting back on sugar. Below was my old, morning routine.
Now I thought I was addicted to the coffee itself, but after changing my creamer I realized my body was craving the 40 grams of sugar instead. I added whipping cream or half and half with some Stevia instead of the old creamer. Of course, I really missed my creamer but I wanted to see if my symptoms would improve.
Before this, I was not hungry in the mornings, so I would skip breakfast even though I knew it was an important meal. After cutting out the creamer, I now eat 2-3 scrambled eggs and 2 pieces of sugar-free bread every morning.
In the past, I was also eating a lot of candy during the day, and many other foods high in sugar at lunch and supper (like white bread, salad dressings, white rice, and potatoes). I have since stopped nearly all of it – which is not an easy task for a sugar freak – because I really wanted to see if reducing the sugar and carbohydrate intake might help with my sciatica pain.
It was 2 about two weeks ago, starting January 5th, that I stopped consuming large amounts of sugar and I can honestly say my most uncomfortable times (lying in bed and sitting in a car) are 90% better. Now, I have only taken baby steps to modify my diet and will be educating myself more to implement healthy changes like reducing sugars and carbohydrates (and other modifications) to eating better.
For example, gluten is related to certain autoimmune diseases partly due to enhancing what’s called a “leaky gut”, which allows larger particles past the intestinal barrier and into the bloodstream where they are inflammatory. There is some evidence that sugars can also contribute to general inflammation as well, through a similar mechanism. So I will be researching what foods I can use in place of the ones with gluten. (For instance, I have replaced white flour with Almond flour.) Although some of the data in the literature need further research, there is a growing consensus on a clear relationship between a typically Western diet and increasing incidence of autoimmune-related diseases.
I hope this blog will encourage you to know that you too can change your diet to make your body healthier and happier. I am only 51, and if I had continued down the path I was on there would likely have been a lot more medical issues in my future.
It takes discipline: but the end result is definitely worth it, not only for those of us with an autoimmune disease but for all of us.
(I am grateful for my husband’s contribution to this Blog. He is an MD and helped with the research.)