Paleo Principles for Autoimmunity

Leslie Pinaire, Certified Herbalist

Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, IBS, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis are the result of a complex interplay between our genes and the environment. An autoimmune disorder is characterized by an overactive immune system that is having difficulty differentiating between ‘self’ and ‘not self’ (bacteria, viruses, etc.). According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, “the main feature that differentiates one autoimmune disease from another, is simply the part of the body (the type of tissue) that is under attack by the immune system. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is the result of the immune system attacking the joints, whereas multiple sclerosis is caused by the immune system attacking the myelin sheath surrounding nerves.”

While we have relatively no control over the genetic components our parents hand down to us, the good news is we can control many of the environmental factors that contribute to our overall health, especially the immune system. The most important and influential of these is diet. Many people have sensitivities or, at worst, allergies to certain foods commonly found in today’s diet, like gluten and dairy. Regular consumption of these foods can lead to gastrointestinal dysbiosis, which in turn leads to conditions like chronic inflammation and compromised immune function. Poor gut integrity is now considered to be one of the leading contributors to autoimmune disorders and can initially manifest as undigested food in the stool, frequent constipation, loose stools, or pain during defecation.

In addition to the potentially negative side effects of the wheat gluten protein, the hull or bran of this and other unsprouted grains contains a molecule called ‘phytic acid’ that is considered an ‘anti-nutrient.’ Phytic acid binds to essential minerals in our body such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium and inhibits their absorption by up to about 20%. Processed and overly pasteurized dairy is missing the important enzymes that help aid in the digestion of lactose and casein proteins, which is why many people have an aversion to this food.

The Paleo diet offers a framework for eating which seeks to provide the maximum amount of nutrition with the least amount of aggravation to the immune system. The basic tenets are modeled after our ‘paleolithic’ ancestors who didn’t have access to foods like refined sugars or processed grains and dairy, and instead consumed diets rich in proteins, fat, vegetables, seeds, and fruit. These types of food are anti-inflammatory in nature and support the immune system’s ability to differentiate between ‘self’ and ‘not self.’ Come explore the ways in which this method of eating can be a healing force in the prevention and management of autoimmune disorders on March 26th, 2017 from 6:00-7:30pm at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism.


Ballantyne, Sarah. The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. New York, NY, Victory Belt Publishing, 2013

Wolf, Robb. The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. New York, NY. Victory Belt Publishing, 2010