Autoimmune DiseaseHealingInflammation

Healing Autoimmune Diseases With Plant Based Diet

Dear Healing With Plants,

I’m interested in the plant based diet. I have this bad autoimmune disease at the moment. It’s called Ankylosing Spondylitis. Right now they can only treat the end result with tnf alpha blockers. I am interested if there’s a way to stop these cells overproducing in the first place so they don’t attack healthy joints and surrounding tissue. Sincerely, Ready to Heal

Dear Ready to Heal,

My heart goes out to you. Every day our bodies protect us from foreign invadors including bacteria and viruses. But for some people, their bodies develop a condition where the immune system begins to work against the body – attacking healthy cells making the body more sick. Such ailments are collectively referred to as the autoimmune diseases. Ankylosing Spondylitis is one autoimmune disease along with rheumatoid arthritis, multiples sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and dozens more given different names.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?

The medical establishment promotes a narrative that these conditions are largely of mysterious origins. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Website:

“No one is sure what causes autoimmune diseases. They do tend to run in families. Women – particularly African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native-American women – have a higher risk for some autoimmune diseases.”

I find this statement interesting since it seems to accompany almost all major diseases. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other ailments also affect these segments of the populations more. Still, it is assumed by the medicine community and reinforced by the media that mysterious genetics is the driver behind many of these conditions. This assumption implies that these diseases are out of our control and we are victims of our own genetics. The conclusion of these false assumptions leaves us mentally powerless to heal ourselves.

Rarely do any of these discussions about disease rates in specific groups of people include a discussion of how the same groups of people are also disproportionately living in poverty or with low incomes. It is a fact that in the United States lower-income groups tend to have less access to fresh whole foods and consume diets higher in fast food and prepacked processed foods that contain little to no nutritional benefit. If you are not feeding your body the proper nutrition it needs to rebuild and care for itself, should it be a surprise or a mystery that imbalance and sickness develops?

Confusion by 80 Names

Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder can be scary and confusing for many. To help confuse regular people even more, the medical establishment has created dozens of names for what is essentially the same imbalance manifesting in different parts of the body. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Website goes on to say:

“There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and some have similar symptoms. This makes it hard for your health care provider to know if you really have one of these diseases, and if so, which one. Getting a diagnosis can be frustrating and stressful. Often, the first symptoms are fatigue, muscle aches and a low fever. The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain and swelling.”

So here they acknowledge that the symptoms are similar. But, because they have divided the imbalance into so many different diseases, they admit it is “frustrating and stressful” to those seeking a diagnosis. What is even more frustrating looking from the outside, is that the typical prescription for those suffering these conditions is pharmaceuticals that suppress the bodies immune system making it vulnerable to more sickness and infection.

The Dangers of Immune-Suppressing Drugs

When Juliea Baker was just fifteen she began to develop an autoimmune disease that a year later would be diagnosed as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). She describes waking every morning barely able to get out of bed. Sh­­e couldn’t wear a shoe because her foot was so swollen and she walked with a limp.

“I felt like I was living in a 60-year-old’s body. I became even more depressed when at my next doctor’s appointment they told me they were going to put me on methotrexate (a drug given to cancer patients) in a low dose to suppress my immune system in order to keep the arthritis from permanently damaging my joints.”

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the tissues around the joints – typically in the hands and feet but it can also affect blood vessels, the heart, eyes, lungs, and skin.

The drug Juliea was prescribed, Methotrexate, is an immune system suppressant and is commonly used to treat cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It’s common side effects include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, drowsiness, dizziness, and temporary hair loss. More extreme side effects include bacterial infections, stomach and intestinal bleeding, severe canker sores, holes in the intestine, and severe inflammation of the mouth and gums. On this drug has 530 reviews. As I scrolled through I found a few that proclaimed the drug to work great, a number that said it worked but with awful side effects, and at least an equal number who reported the side effects intolerable and in some cases worse than dealing with the pain.

What Real Patients Say About the Autoimmune and Cancer Drug Methotrexate
“My mum began with 7.5mg/week. After a few days, she hardly eat, her hand shaking most of the time, extremly tired. Three days after the second dose, she had to go hospital in emergency status.” – Nguyet (35-44 Female on Treatment for less than 1 month)
“Although I really felt a difference in the month that I took this med (w/plaquenil) the HAIR loss was too much for me!”- gacie3006 (45-54 Female on Treatment for 1 to 6 months)
“I’ve been taking methotrexate for about 10 years now and it does help my RA, but it makes me feel awful. I used to throw up because how bad it tasted(after awhile you will start to) and I still have to deal with horrible stomach aches, making me feel fatigued or like I’m going to throw up, and etc.” – Keri (13-18 Female on Treatment for 10 years or more)
“Changes in my gait causing calluses on the sides and bottom of my feet, shedding of my skin on my legs, feet,face and hands; knodules, knots and bumps on my nailbeds, bottom of my feet, sores on my tongue (4-5) days after dosage, chills, fever sneezing, coughing,diarrhea, unexpected and lengthly urination, area around nailbeds on all fingers appear to become numb and peel, ring fingers on both hands continue to split with a black vertical line, right side of fingernails disappear and the fleshly part of the finger become hard as nails and have to be filed with emery boards to foster circulation back into the area for feeling to return and real nail growth begins,; diarrhea, fever, sneezing, coughing, chills lasts 4-5 days after dosage.” – Pegg9 (75 or over on Treatment for 1 to less than 2 years)
“Had been on it for about 4 years started to get side effects so stopped taking it for a year and a half felt better but Dr wanted me back on got side effects after 3 injections headaches bruises, weight gain ( lost 50 lbs after I stopped taking it) gained back 4 lbs after 3 injections decided I was not taking it any more will live with the pain for as long as possible am trying other natural ways instead no more poison in my body.” – Shecat (55-64 Female on Treatment for 2 to less than 5 years) 
“When I take this medicine in tablets or injection, I experienced nausea, vomiting etc. I am not interested to use it but it is necessary for me to take injection of 25 mg once a week as advised by the doctor.” – Prakas (35-44 on Treatment for 2 to less than 5 years)

Quest for a Natural Cure – Who To Trust?

When Juliea researched the side effects of Methotrexate she was so frightened she begged her mom to not put her on it. Her mom agreed and together they began to research natural treatments and discovered a vegan diet and Dr. McDougall. Dr. McDougall guided her transition to a vegan diet and within a month Juliea says she felt 90% better! She still had occasional swelling and when she investigated her diet she found one product she thought was vegan has eggs in it and once she eliminated this she began to get “totally well.” She learned that dairy and eggs are a trigger and says,

“If I accidentally eat anything with eggs or dairy in it, the very next day my hands are stiff and sore.”

If even one success story like Juliea exists, why do more doctors not discuss diet with their patients? Why are so many still suffering in pain and consuming drugs that make them even sicker? Dr. John McDougal points the finger at misguided “experts” who promote meat and dairy as healthy foods.

“[These children] can become crippled, hospitalized, and sometimes they die because experts teach us that cow’s milk and other animal foods are good for us. The excuse often given by general doctors, pediatricians, dietitians, and other experts for not standing up to protect the children is ignorance. Many are simply afraid to step out of line and risk criticism from colleagues, and even more fearsome is the possibility of legal action from offended businesses.”

Who to Trust? This fear and ignorance has left those suffering confused on which of the myriad of opinions to trust. While researching for this article I searched YouTube for testimonies for those suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis. I found a few people promoting healing “without diet.” The message of these videos was more mind-over sickness. One man made a video of how he believed his restrictive diet held him back from healing by forcing him to continuously reinforce his sickness in his mind every time he ate. He claims his healing began when he let go of the diet restrictions and began to focus mentally on being healthy. It is commonly recognized that mental attitude can play at least a strong role in whether someone heals a disease or allows it to consume them so I’m not doubting his testimony. Another video I watched was of a woman promoting physical therapy for healing. Another video promised to share the diet which cured Akylosing Spondylitis in one man. I listened intently for several minutes from him to reveal his secret. He says:

“The most important thing I did was changing my diet. If you understand…. You can put the condition in remission. That’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve taken this diet and lived it every day for 3 years…. I’m in remission… it doesn’t affect my life at all… It’s possible to get your life back.”

But the secret diet cure is never revealed. Instead this video turns out to be a sales pitch for a book he reportedly spent eight months writing. He refers to it as the “biggest project” of his life. I scroll through the comment section below where others are just as annoyed as I am being duped into wasting our time on an infomercial.

Diet’s Role in Autoimmune Disorders

Thankfully numerous researchers have taken up the question of how diet influences autoimmunity and how diet can help cure these conditions. A paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition examined the role of meat in the expression of rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers examined prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in females from fifteen countries and compared the disease rates to national dietary supply. They found that nations that consumed the most meat also had the highest prevalence of females with RA. According to the researchers:

“Fat from meat and offal for the period 2 years before the prevalence data was found to have the highest statistical association with the prevalence of RA… Similar correlations were found for temporal changes in indices of effects of RA in several European countries between 1968 and 1978 as more meat was added to the national diets, although the correlations were higher for meat than for fat. It is hypothesized that meat and offal may be a major factor contributing to the inflammation in RA.”

Research studies and the testimonials of dozens of real patients have demonstrated that consuming meat, eggs, and dairy can contribute to developing an autoimmune disorder. On the flip side, eliminating these foods has successfully cured at least dozens of people who have shared their stories.

Dr. Michael Greger, nutrition researcher and expert, has done a thorough review of the scientific literature on the subject and says that the above-mentioned study is far from alone in its conclusion. Numerous studies have shown the ability of diet to heal this condition. According to Dr. Greger:

“Nearly every single study on the matter has shown that vegetarian diets can indeed be used to successfully treat the disease. Some tested vegan diets some tested gluten free vegan diets. The one thing that they all shared in common was that they were all vegetarian and they all worked.”

This research backs up all the stories I have been reading from people who have used diet to heal their autoimmune condition. While is easy for people to criticize a single story as “anecdotal evidence,” when many stories are viewed together with a mountain of scientific research on top, it is hard to deny the connections between diet and disease. Many people who have healed themselves with diet report if they eat the wrong food the disease comes back immediately. Certain foods appear to turn the inflammation and accompanying symptoms on and off like a light switch.

Dr. McDougall has spent his lifetime researching the links between diet and disease and has helped cure numerous patients of various ailments with a plant based diet. Dr. McDougall goes against the grain of the medical establishment teaching that arthritis an other inflammatory conditions are not the result of genetics, but of diet. Determined to spread the good news he published the book, Diet: The Only Hope for Arthritis, where he says:

“Arthritis is not a genetic disease, nor is it an inevitable part of growing older–there are causes for these joint afflictions, and they lie in our environment–our closest contact with our environment is our food. Some researchers believe rheumatoid arthritis did not exist anywhere in the world before 1800 (Arthritis Rheum 34:248, 1991). It is well documented that these forms of arthritis were once rare to nonexistent in rural populations of Asia and Africa (Chung Hua Nei Ko Tsa Chih 34:79, 1995; Arthritis Rheum 34:248, 1991). As recently as 1957, no case of rheumatoid arthritis could be found in Africa. That was a time when people in Africa followed diets based on grains and vegetables.

These once unknown joint diseases are now becoming common as people migrate to wealthier nations or move to the big cities in their native countries. With these changes they abandoned their traditional diets of grains and vegetables for meat, dairy products, and highly processed foods.”

How Does Meat Cause An Autoimmune Response?

The exact mechanism by which meat consumption causes this response in the body is unknown. A paper published in the Journal of Nutrition in Clinical Practice explores two possibilities in its title, “Meat-Induces Joint Attacks, or Meat Attacks the Joint?: Rheumatos, Versus Allergy.” Some research suggests bacterial infections as the cause and that meat-consumption may be linked with these infections. Perhaps it is bacteria and organisms in the meat that trigger these responses. But while science investigates the mechanism of disease, those who are sick and searching for answers care more to know the cause and cure. The good news is many of these conditions can be healed with a plant based diet.

Curing Autoimmune Disease With Plants

Agathe Mathier’s story is another testimony for healing an autoimmune disease with diet. At 42 years old Agathe lost the ability to use her hands after developing rheumatoid arthritis. But determined to not let this disease cripple her, she headed the advice of a raw food diet book her friend loaned her. She immediately adopted a raw food diet in hopes of healing and after just three months she regained the ability to use her hands. After nine years of sticking to the diet she says,

“It’s all gone; it’s never come back.”

The former seamstress took to helping others find wellness through the raw food diet. Agathe now owns a raw vegan restaurant in Vancouver which one review called a “mainstay of vegan and raw cuisine for Greater Vancouver.”

Over the years Dr. McDougall has shared numerous other stories of his patients who have healed Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune conditions with a plant based diet.

“I have personally cared for three children with JRA and all have done extremely well on the McDougall Diet. There are also three reports of JRA cured by stopping cow’s milk in the published scientific literature. One report was of a 14-year-old girl who had been so sick with JRA that she was hospitalized nine times over the previous six years. Her diet had been primarily based on dairy products because she had an aversion to meat. Three days after starting a dairy-free diet her persistent fever disappeared, and after one week her joint swelling subsided. She gradually stopped all medications and her problems of fever, joint pains, and anemia all resolved. Eighteen months later an experimental challenge with dairy foods was done and within ten days she was sick again. The child refused to eat any more dairy foods.”

The good news gets even better when you see how quickly patients experience relief and recovery from their conditions. According to Dr. McDougall:

“The improvements are very quick. Not for everybody. Some have to be patient. Give it a few weeks. By four months, most of the time, all the ailments are gone….”

No Longer a Secret: Plants Cure

In my research for Healing With Plants I have collected nearly 300 stories from individuals who have healed their ailments through a plant based diet. These include a number of people suffering autoimmune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. From my review of the stories, those who heal themselves must remain on a plant based diet to continue to experience health and wellness. Generally if they consume animal products again, they will experience the return of illness. These stories point to a common cause of these conditions – diets high in fat-rich meat and dairy products. The stories also point to a common cure for these conditions – a plant based diet free of animal products. Yet despite the evidence, authoritative bodies on these conditions continue to play dumb. The website of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases states:

No one is sure what causes autoimmune diseases. In most cases, a combination of factors is probably at work. For example, you might have a genetic tendency to develop a disease and then, under the right conditions, an outside invader like a virus might trigger it.”

Getting personal…

Now is where I admit that this article is also a bit personal to me as my aunt, who has long suffered from obesity-related ailments, has also suffered from the autoimmune disease MS. She has long been in a nursing home and unable to walk. My uncle was also suspected to have this condition at one point. Without being close to that part of my family I can only share information from afar but when I asked my cousin about her mother trying healing with diet she told me it’s “beyond hope” at this point. It’s sad to me, for my cousins, that their mom has been hospitalized for most of her life, and for all of her grandchildren’s lives. From my view my aunt has suffered needlessly for years because the medical establishment covers up the simple cure for her condition. I have known a couple other people who have developed MS over the course of my life and all three had one thing in common – they were all visibly overweight.

Food is medicine. A whole foods plant based diet has been shown to heal autoimmune disorders in dozens of people who’s stories have been collected for the Healing With Plants series.

Research has established a correlation between obesity and diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and MS. But still the role of diet and nutrition in wellness is largely swept under the rug, leaving many people around the world to suffer needlessly and consume dangerous drugs. These drugs enrich the pockets of pharmaceutical executives and doctors at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. But the silver lining to all of this is that the good news about the healing power of plants is spreading. The more people who speak up and share their healing story, the less people will suffer. While changing your diet and removing foods that have long been a source of comfort can be scary, the relief brought by a healthy diet is generally more than enough motivation for people to stick with it.

The way I see it the choices are:

1. Suffer forever in the medical establishment as a victim of your genetics, taking dangerous drugs that further compromise your body, or

2. Claim your power to heal yourself at home by eating more fruits and vegetables and incorporating physical therapy.

Your path to wellness is up to you. I’m just here to share information and inspiration. I created a playlist on the Healing With Plants YouTube channel on autoimmune conditions and one for inflammation and have included some of the videos I mentioned in this article there for your reference and so you can dig in further at home. Wishing you a speedy recovery and return to a life free of pain and full of joy. Sincerely, Reya Steele, Healing With Plants

Contact Healing With Plants to share your story and help inspire others to heal themselves at home with a plant based diet.
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Reya Steele Andrews

Reya (Steele) Andrews is a holistic health writer, educator, and publisher at Healing With Plants. Reya is a certified Holistic Nutritionist (AFPA), is certified in Plant-based Nutrition, and teaches nutrition science and healthy food preparation. Find her book, The Frugivore Diet, on Amazon.

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