So, after coming out of the HS closet last week, it’s time to prepare for the first phase of the healing process. The whole shebang goes something like this: 1. AIP Elimination Diet (60 days), 2. Reintroduction phase (2 weeks – 1 year, depending how quickly I pick the winning ticket…), 3. Maintaining a paleo diet for life (based around the identifiable trigger/s).
The AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Elimination Diet begins today, and I was supposed to spend the past week ‘preparing’ for it – ie. cooking up loads of stuff to freeze so I didn’t have to worry or fuss over what I was going to be eating every day. I didn’t manage to get organised, but that’s OK.
But when there are only so many ‘safe’ foods to choose from, it can be hard to eat ad hoc – I am constantly surprised by just what (junk) goes into most of the food we eat. Basically, anything that comes in a packet is off limits, and quite a lot of foods I would have considered safe, are certainly not.
To recap, the reason it’s important to do an Elimination Diet, is to identify the food triggers which are causing leaky gut syndrome. This leaky gut syndrome allows toxins to enter our bloodstream before they have a chance to be filtered out by our natural digestive process, which in turn causes our immune system to attack our bodies (hence “autoimmune”), manifesting in conditions like IBS, Crohn’s Disease, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa. To prevent this happening (although diet is only one of the elements which can contribute to AI conditions), we must plug the holes in the gut, by identifying which food/s are triggering the response in the first place. Eliminating all possible triggers for 60 days, then reintroducing them one by one, is the only way to identify the culprit/s.
So, what can those on an HS-specific AIP Elimination Diet expect to actually eat over the 60-day duration? Well, let’s start with what you can’t eat. All of the foods below are known to cause inflammation of the intestines, and so must be avoided during the Elimination phase. It’s an extensive list…
1. Grains: rice, corn, wheat, oats…. so that means bread, cereals, muffins, pasta, porridge, anything nice and filling.
2. Legumes/Beans: everything from baked beans, kidney beans, soy in all its forms, peanuts (which aren’t nuts at all, but legumes), lentils, peas. Yes…peas!
3. Eggs & dairy: Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, any animal milk…was designed to be consumed by cows/goats/other animals, not humans. It might seem like the most natural thing in the world to have a glass of milk, but our bodies simply weren’t designed to ingest it and many people with autoimmunity issues find that milk/dairy is a strong trigger. Eggs, too, are high on the trigger list.
4. Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, sesame etc, plus seed herbs like cumin, coriander, even mustard. Anything obtained from a seed is a potential trigger, which also includes coffee and …
5. Chocolate: not a massive deal for me as I’m not a huge chocolate consumer, but I can imagine this would be tough for those with a sweet tooth…
6. Nightshades: what the hell is a nightshade? Well, it’s a category of plant from the Solanaceae family, with a certain chemical makeup which can cause inflammation when ingested. Some are even deadly (the clue is in the name…). Edible nightshades include potatoes, peppers, paprika, aubergine, goji berries and tomatoes. Incredibly, potatoes and tomatoes are among the two main food triggers for people with HS. That’s two staple foods, right there, gone…
7. Alcohol: Yup, all alcohol, in all its wonderful forms. Yeast, in particular, is the main reason alcohol is on the list, because it’s inflammatory properties are well known and many people have a yeast intolerance, even those with no autoimmune issues. Other alcohol, like vodka, is also banned, because anything fermented is a potential trigger. This is probably the thing I will miss most, and will be the first thing I reintroduce on Day 61.
8. Excess sugar: and I don’t mean cutting down on how much Tate & Lyle goes into your cup of tea (actually, you can’t have proper tea, either, or coffee…). Sugar is bad, very bad, in any form, whether it’s in vegetables, fresh fruit or even dried fruit. Regulating insulin levels isn’t just a concern for diabetics, it’s something we all need to do. Blood sugar imbalances inflame our guts, it’s that simple. Insulin regulates our blood sugar, so the more you force insulin to work overtime, the higher the risk of inflammation. Over time, the excess sugar in our blood does not respond to the insulin being sent to neutralise it, which makes the pancreas produce even more insulin, which then begins destroying the thyroid gland and all hell breaks loose. What you should avoid anyway, regardless of whether or not you have an AI issue, is fructose. Look at the labels on everything you buy. If fructose is listed as an ingredient, run far away.
9. Aspartame: artificial sweetener, NutraSweet, whatever you want to call it, aspartame is actually banned in some countries. Unfortunately the UK isn’t one of them. It’s in everything, from diet drinks and tonic water to breakfast cereals. Aspartame can cause tinnitus, blindness, headaches, anxiety, even psychosis. To say that aspartame can inflame the gut, is an understatement. It’s probably actually dissolving your gut, right this second. For more information on why aspartame is the work of the devil, go here. You’re probably better off drinking ‘full fat’ fizzy drinks than ‘diet’ drinks. Which is just wrong.
10. Processed foods: the reasons are obvious.
11. Vegetable oils: including sunflower oil, sesame oil, any oil derived from the foods above.
12. Non-grass-fed meat & farmed fish: We are what we eat, so if the animal you’re chowing down on has been fed on chemicals, farmed feed, grains, and/or been injected with water and hormones to make it plumper for market, then don’t eat them. That means 99.9% of supermarket/shop meat, even the ‘organic’ stuff. See below for a separate little bit on the scandal of ‘organic’ food labelling.
13. NSAIDs: Non-Steroid Anti-inflammatory Drugs are known irritants to our guts. The list includes aspirin, diclofenac (aka Naproxin) and ibuprofen. So if you’re embarking on an elimination diet and get a headache at any time, find another painkiller.
Safe foods (this list isn’t as long…)
1. Non-nightshade vegetables: embrace the veggies, as long as they’re not spuds or tomatoes. Broccoli, cauliflower, anything green which isn’t a pea or a bean, is great!. This is where I’m going to discover loads of great stuff, not that I could ever be vegetarian, mind. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are not nightshades, so are a viable and filling substitute for the humble spud.
2. Grass-fed/naturally fed meat: If you’re a meat lover, that means avoiding chicken, beef, pork, anything which might have eaten any of the above banned foods. I love chicken, so much so that I eat it almost every day. For this Elimination Diet, however, I can’t eat chicken which has been eating grains or any of the above stuff. Even ‘free range’ chicken isn’t ‘OK’. All ‘free range’ means is that the animal has space to move around, it doesn’t mean anything about what the animal actually eats. Ditto ‘organic’ beef or pork. For this reason, all supermarket/shop bought meat is off limits during this phase. I will be using an online supplier, Athleat, to source my meat, so I can be sure exactly what the animals have eaten.
3. Wild fish: I love fish, so wild salmon, tuna etc, is fine. Nothing farmed, though, so always be sure where the fish has come from. Tinned salmon and tuna are inexpensive and often fresher than the ‘fresh’ stuff, and make a great ‘quick fix’ for hunger without having to cook. Just make sure it’s wild and not farmed.
4. Fresh fruit in moderation: citrus fruits have a high sugar content, so best avoid these. Instead, go for bananas, a few berries, and as many avocados as you can shake a stick at. We aren’t bothered about fat content in this phase, in fact that’s another myth propagated by the diet brigade.
The Organic Myth
I’ll make this as short as possible. When you walk into a supermarket and you see something that says “organic”, walk away. Walk away fast. You are not buying what you think you are buying. In fact, you are being conned, big time.
When you see the magic word “organic”, you think of lambs bouncing around the field having a wonderful life, or blackberries hanging from a bush in unfiltered loveliness….
Move away from the organic aisle. You are being scammed to such an extent, it is scandalous. Why? Because you have been conditioned to think that “organic” means “health”, and you are so wrong, but it’s not your fault.
In the UK, the legal definition of “organic” (according to The Soil Association, which is the government’s quango) includes the caveat: “the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is banned”. Notice the syntax. “Routine use…” That is to say, the non-routine use of all of that, is permitted, or ignored. They are covering themselves on a massive scale. Don’t read what they are saying, read what they are NOT saying.
In the UK, it is standard to inject animals with water to “plump up” their volume. It is also standard to inject the same animals with hormones and other chemicals to make them more ‘viable’ for market. These same animals can be labelled “organic”, according to British law. In short, the meat you buy and consume from supermarkets is rubbish. At least, if you want to be eating meat, you are eating Frankenmeat. As long as 85% of that animal is fed and reared “naturally”, then it can be called organic. The main problem with that is, that the government cannot decide what “naturally” actually means. The remaining 15%? Well, who cares? Certainly not the government.
Also in the UK, it is legal to label a fruit or vegetable “organic”, as long as it has been treated “with fewer pesticides than other products“. That’s it. That’s all they need to say, legally. In the real life, of real people, and in real words, as long as the spud in the next field only got a “blast” of spray as opposed to the “whole” spray, then it’s actually allowed to be called “organic”. You’re not believing this at all, are you? And why should you? I’m not an MP, I’m just a normal person who doesn’t believe what people tell me. Which is why I researched it, and is why I think the world should wake up. Organic, Schmorganic.
The blunt truth is, that anyone who buys “organic” fruit and veg from a supermarket or shop, for twice the price, is being conned. Your organic onion is only 0.000001% less toxic than the bog standard “Everyday” scallion. You are being played, pure and simple. But that’s why you’re there – to fuel the faux-organic gravy train.
Now I am conscious that this post is turning into a political diatribe, which is not my intention at all. But you still have to wonder – why are the basic questions of every day health not being raised in the democratic halls that we elect? I think that you have to experience something to empathise with it. Perhaps it’s a selfish thing. Definitely it’s a selfish thing. Love thy neighbour, as long as my neighbour’s problems are my own…
There is a very valuable addition to the AIP Elimination Diet, and that’s the fact that the vast majority of HS sufferers have been medically proven to be deficient in zinc and magnesium; naturally occurring elements that “normal” people don’t need to top up. But anyone with an autoimmune issue, does.
Since December 10th, I have been taking a steady dose of the following supplements, and I need to impress that I am NOT an ad hoc pill-taker. Trust me, I will question every reason why I need “this” or “that”. I do not take stuff lightly. I actually DIStrust every reason people give me.
3000mg Omega-3 Cod Liver Oil (3 x 1000mg capsules, Home Bargains, £2.49 for 90. Do NOT waste money in Boots/health food shops….) – this eases the joints. And no, it’s not an old wives’ tale, it really does work. Note: Omega 6 oils are not the same thing.
100mg Zinc Gluconate – HS sufferers have a common zinc deficiency. We need zinc, we really need it. It’s sensible to start off with around 50mg of zinc, increasing if you feel the need. Personally, I know 100mg is a high dosage, but I can honestly testify to the benefits. I sleep better, I feel better, I an more alert. Is it the result of all the other supplements? Perhaps. But it could also be the zinc, which is far and away the most proven supplemental benefit to an HS sufferers’s diet.
500mg Magnesium – like zinc, magnesium is an ingredient of any HS sufferer’s arsenal. It helps digestion, it creates energy in your body, it protects you from all sorts of banal ailments. It’s magic. And we never absorb enough of it, whether you have autoimmune issues or not. It’s common to find magnesium supplements with added calcium, which is all well and good. But if you’re looking to sort an autoimmune issue, just go for pure magnesium without the whistles. Holland & Barrett have own-brand magnesium, as do Nature’s Best.
1000g Glucosamine sulphate – so common now, it’s like buying butter. Fantastic for joint pain and general suppleness, you can get this in all pound shops, plus the regular pharmacies. Just look for the dosage vs tablets in the bottle, because the price difference can be unreal. For instance, a month’s worth of 1000mg/1-a-day GS in a health food shop was about £7. In Home Bargains, a 500mg/2-a-day bottle was £1.99. Go figure.
1000mg Turmeric – the health benefits of turmeric for HS sufferers is well documented. However, the specific use of the turmeric is the important bit. Turmeric tablets, as they are, will do little, if anything, for your HS. The scientific trials on the medicative role of turmeric in HS, relied on the heating of said turmeric, which was incredibly beneficial. Unless you are planning to use turmeric in the proper way, however, then cold tablets from the health food shop are a complete waste of time.
1 x 5 billion CFU Lactobacillus acidophilus Probiotic – helps promote good bacteria in the gut. 5 billion is a high dosage, most supplements out there are around 1-2 billion.
I have to say, out and out, that I am not a hippie in any way, shape or form. I have not signed up to supplemental lunacy simply because I read something in a book. Everything I espouse on these pages I am willing to back up with physical, personal evidence. Believe me, if all this homeopathic mumbo jumbo was just that, I would rejoice in telling you so.
And that includes the supplements. I can say, unequivocally, that within TWO weeks of taking the zinc and magnesium tabs, my joint pains VANISHED. My energy levels went crazy (in a good, non-druggy way) and my hips stopped aching every time I wanted to go to sleep. Perhaps my leaky gut was nothing to do with this, perhaps the supplements had nothing to do with this (ie: have I imagined everything?). The point is, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Change is afoot, and for once I am going to go with it, wherever that takes me.
The Magic of Coconut Oil
Finally, just a few words on the wonders of coconut oil. In fact, the wonders of coconut in all its forms. Coconut does not fall into any banned list, ever. Coconut oil is an elixir I have never before experienced. I cook with it, I smear it over my skin (it’s a FABULOUS moisturiser…), I eat it from the jar, I clean stuff with it……. And it doesn’t smell.
100% virgin coconut oil (accept nothing else, especially not “refined” coconut oil) is almost odourless. If it smells, then it’s had something added to it. Basically, coconut oil is a wondrous substance that heals ailments, makes food taste great, makes your skin glow and adds much needed moisture to anyone following an AIP. There isn’t anything you can’t do with coconut oil. It’s not cheap, but it lasts a long time.
For anyone suffering with an autoimmune issue, or even if you just want great skin, coconut oil will change your life.
So everything begins today (Monday). I have not stocked the cupboards, I have not cooked the 5L of bone broth or soup I intended to do, and I am not in my own house. At the very least, I can buy a tin of tuna and figure out later what to do for the rest of the week.
The point is, I’m moving towards a solution for something which has blighted my life for 15 years. That, in itself, feels like a massive step forward.