Is an Autoimmune Paleo diet safe?

If you’re dealing with an #autoimmune disease, chances are you have heard of an autoimmune paleo diet, or maybe even tried it. This diet excludes all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, nightshades, and sometimes other foods such as citrus or natural sweeteners.

While many have used this diet successfully, I want to present another way to look at this diet because, unfortunately, I have also seen many people GET sick while eating this way.

If done right, this diet can be healthy and can aide in healing a leaky gut (which we know is at the root of autoimmune conditions) as well as reducing your allergen load (which helps reduce immune stimulation). But there are REAL risks with this diet that you should take into consideration before starting or before you continue with it.

  1. Lack of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are essential to human health and without them you can end up digging a deeper hole for your health. You must rely on fatty animal foods to get these vitamins and since avocado, olive, coconut, and meat fats primarily the only fats allowed it can be tricky to get enough animal fat. Most people are used to buying lean cuts of meat to begin with. Use lard, tallow, duck fat, or chicken fat in cooking, and non-lean cuts of meat as solutions to this problem.
  2. Lack of cholesterol. Cholesterol is the raw fuel that our hormones are made from so we need it for our thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormone health. Cholesterol also fights infections (we know infections are a cause of autoimmunity to begin with so we need cholesterol). It also aides in synapse formation so without it we can get brain fog and memory loss. See above for ideas as this only comes from animal fat sources. 
  3. High in thyroid-stimulating fats. If you are hypothyroid, this isn’t a bad thing. But if you have Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, relying on avocado and coconut as your primary fat sources (both of which are thyroid-stimulating) can have dire consequences. I have seen many hyperthyroid patients eat an AIP diet and get worsening of symptoms — rapid heartbeat that can’t be slowed, anxiety, weight loss, mania, sweating, etc. 
  4. Weight loss. This is one of the number one complaints I see when people come to me while on an AIP diet before we make alterations. Bottom line, it is HARD to get enough calories daily while eating AIP. It kind of ends up being like the chicken breast and broccoli low-fat diets of the 80’s/90’s. You can add coconut cream to smoothies, put coconut butter on apples or sweet potatoes, fry vegetables in animal fat, dip vegetable chips in guacamole, and eat fruit (especially dried fruits), and have sausage or bacon daily for additional calories, but you will likely still lose weight. If it gets to a point where you are losing too much weight (again, VERY common), you should think about adding in the least allergenic of the foods you have eliminated and see how you feel and how your blood work looks. White rice and legumes that have been soaked or sprouted tend to be okay for some.
  5. Worsening of mental health or mindset. Simply put, it is hard to ENJOY life when all you are worrying about is diet. If you have to eliminate these foods because the diet genuinely is helping or because you do notice a reaction to these foods, then by all means stick with it. But JOY is a required element to the healing process and it’s not fun for anyone to miss out on social events or to simply start hating food because there are so many rules. Rules and the perceived “punishment” make us sick.

Remember, there are always more sides to the story. Just because a diet is popular at the moment doesn’t mean it’s right for YOU. You are a unique being and deserve a diet as unique as your genes and life history. A standard approach can never take those things into consideration. 

Ready to figure out the perfect diet for you? Ready to improve your lab work and daily symptoms? Click here to book a nutrition consultation. 

4 ways highly sensitive people can defeat chronic fatigue

Have you heard of the term “highly sensitive person” or do you consider yourself one? Highly sensitive people are extra sensitive to external stimuli, and often experience a greater depth of cognitive processing and emotional understanding.

In other words, you “feel it all”. Highly sensitive people take in more stimuli than the average person and may often feel drained, overwhelmed, overworked, tired, and need to take time away to “shut off” their brain from the heavy task of processing so much that is going on around them. If your brain and senses are working extra hard, you probably feel like you need more time off than others — and rightfully so!

Being extra sensitive will also affect your physical health. Many highly sensitive people end up coming to me for help with complaints such as headaches, stomach troubles, allergies, muscle tightness, brain fog, adrenal and thyroid problems, but mostly — chronic fatigue. 

Chronic fatigue syndrome, now medically known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is being studied by researchers who hope to find medical solutions for the symptoms. In my practice where I teach clients how to use evidence-based nutrition, however, I know there are already many tools available to naturally raise your energy levels without relying on medications or risky procedures.

If you deal with feelings of constant fatigue, first consider that you may be a highly sensitive person. How many from this list describe your personality?

  • You are overwhelmed by strong or chaotic sensory input.
  • You are aware of subtleties in your environment that others overlook.
  • Other people’s moods affect you.
  • You are extra sensitive to pain or like to rely on natural, over-the-counter or prescribed painkillers whenever possible.
  • You like to withdraw after busy days so you can have privacy and relief from stimulation.
  • You are sensitive to stimulants, such as caffeine. 
  • Bright lights, strong scents, and loud noises upset you.
  • You have a rich, complex inner life that you share only with a few chosen friends or family members.
  • Your nervous system is prone to feeling over-worked or you have a poor stress response.
  • You get frequent colds or infections. 
  • You are considerate of other people’s needs and often place them above your own. 
  • Sudden noises or changes startle you.
  • Being rushed or having too many expectations on a timeline make you feel anxious.
  • You aim for perfection to avoid being judged by others.
  • You don’t like violent movies or TV shows.
  • You get symptoms of low blood sugar, such as weakness, shakiness, frustration, nausea easily if you do not eat as soon as you feel hungry. 
  • You do not like sudden life changes and go out of your way to feel comfortable.
  • People may often ask you “what’s wrong” even when nothing is wrong.

If you feel many of the above describe you, you could be a highly sensitive person. Highly sensitive people can experience more health challenges than the average person because your nervous system tends to be more reactive than others’, which creates a cascade of health concerns after years of living a stressed-out life. Chronic fatigue is a chief complaint among sensitive souls, but there are solutions to help stop the cycles of tiredness associated with processing more of the world than other people. 

4 ways highly sensitive people can defeat chronic fatigue: 

  1. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine. Instead choose natural options to boost your energy, including:
    • Methyl, Adenosyl, or Hydroxy B12. These are “active” forms of vitamin B12 and easily get into the cells for use. Avoid synthetic B12, also called cyanocobalamin. B12 shots are likely to be synthetic as well. Believe it or not, synthetic B vitamins can actually prevent the nutrient from getting into your cells due to common gene mutations that affect a large portion of  humans. 
    • DLPA: This is a natural stimulant that raises catecholamine levels which keep you feeling energized. It is very different from caffeine, however and won’t give you the same highs and lows.
  2. Eliminate your unique food intolerances. Gluten and dairy are the big two food intolerances that can cause fatigue for many people because they inhibit thyroid function, but also because they require lots of digestive energy for breaking them down in the gut. Ever eaten a meal and felt so tired afterwards? It could be that you’re reacting to a food in the meal you just ate. There are other food intolerances, though, that you may not have heard of that can also make you feel very tired — even disoriented after a meal. These include oxalates, salicylates, histamine, sulfur, and ammonia. A leaky gut (which is where the tight junctions in your intestines become permeable and allow food particles into the bloodstream) as well as common gene mutations can cause people to not break down or eliminate these food compounds properly which can end up making you feel tired after eating them. 
  3. Begin breathing properly. This one sounds simple but many tired, stressed people are simply not breathing well. They take shallow breaths, or quicken their breathing when feeling anxious. Breathing properly involves long, deep inhalations and exhalations. Inadequate airflow to the brain and muscles will make you feel tired. As soon as you feel fatigued, start deep breathing for a few minutes at a time. 
  4. Let go of unhealthy people in your life. From a young age, many highly sensitive people adapt by becoming people-pleasers. This helps to prevent some of the chaos and tension that stimulates you beyond a comfortable capacity. Unfortunately this can make you feel more tired in the long run because while you are looking out for others, there is no one to care for you and ensure you are happy and healthy. Also, often highly sensitive people find themselves in relationships in which there are lots of rules you have to follow to avoid the punishment of others. Being scared of others’ judgments and punishments can leave you feeling extremely drained because you never truly get a break and the flow of love is one-sided. Let go of relationships where you have to please others or are constantly walking on eggshells. If you can’t get these people out of your inner circle, at least put up boundaries and begin asserting your needs and caring for yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Watch how your energy levels soar once you start caring about what is best for you. 

As always, find a natural health practitioner to help you determine which diet changes and supplements are necessary for you. Being tired the rest of your life isn’t worth it and there are tons of solutions to the problem. 

Ready to stop feeling sick? Ready to get to the root of your fatigue? Click here to book an appointment with me. 

<3 Liz

12 ways to overcome stimulant addiction

Stimulants. I’m not talking about hard drugs here, just those “innocuous”, legal, everyday substances people are self-admittedly addicted to: coffee, tea, energy drinks, artificial sweeteners, sugar, MSG or other flavor enhancers, chocolate, diet pills, and more.

Could you be addicted to stimulants?

  • Do you feel you can’t start your day with caffeine?
  • Do you make plans to find and consume the above products before you start your day, at the expense of anything and everyone else?
  • Do you commonly reach for these items in the afternoon as well?
  • Do you feel jittery or irritable yet crave the boost from these products?
  • Do you get noticeable “crashes” after consuming these products?
  • Are you especially tired in the late afternoon?
  • Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night?
  • Do you have racing thoughts during the day?
  • Do you use stimulants to initiate bowel movements?

If you answered yes to any of these, you may need some help replacing stimulants with substances and nutrients that energize you more gradually or make up for deficiencies that are causing you to crave these things in the first place. 

12 ways to overcome stimulant addiction:

  1. Vitamin B12. First, get your level tested. If you are in fact deficient or on the low-end of the scale, you can add in an “active” form of B12 called Methyl, Adenosyl or Hydroxy B12. Avoid synthetic B12 which can actually block the absorption of the nutrient. B12 is best taken in the morning and early afternoon.
  2. DLPA. This is a natural stimulant that raises catecholamine levels (catecholamines help us feel energized). However, it is very different from caffeine — DLPA is subtle and should not cause jitteriness.
  3. Adrenal glandulars. This applies to people whose lab work shows they have low cortisol levels. Low cortisol/adrenal gland function is a major cause of fatigue and therefore, the desire to use stimulants. By boosting cortisol levels, you can eliminate the need fr artificial energy from stimulants. 
  4. SAM-e. People who have been dependent upon stimulants for many years are often actually low in SAM-e, which causes the cravings. Supplementation with SAM-e may be very helpful. It is also a natural anti-depressant — win/win. 
  5. Determine if you have irregular blood sugar or insulin. This is an all too common cause of stimulant use — your blood sugar drops, or you have problems with insulin resistance, which makes you tired before or after meals. So you instinctively reach for a stimulant to give you an energy boost. Low carbohydrate, high fat, moderate protein diets work very well to eliminate low energy caused by food intake. 
  6. Determine what your unique food sensitivities are. If you feel cranky, sleepy, achy, disoriented, or brain fogged after every meal, you must determine which foods you are in fact intolerant of. Common food intolerances include: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, grains, nuts and seeds, salicylates, oxalates, histamine, sulfur, gluatamate, and others. Remember that food sensitivities are not always immune-mediated and therefore difficult to prove via testing. You must work with a practitioner and do an elimination diet to figure out which foods you are reacting to. 
  7. Determine if you have underlying mood problems. Low mood can cause us to reach for uppers because they temporarily make us feel on top of the world. We can feel powerful, fun, invincible, and ready to take on the world. Caffeine perpetuates a vicious cycle of ups and downs. Address the cause of your low mood and why you instinctively are self-medicating to boost your mood with caffeine. 5-HTP, and GABA can be very helpful to boost a naturally low mood. Essential fatty acid deficiency, food allergies, and other nutrient deficiencies are a known cause of mood disorders too.
  8. Determine if you have low iron. This is a simple blood test you can order from your doctor and if it is low, it is a common cause of fatigue. Address the low iron by supplementing with a whole-foods iron supplement, or by eating foods rich in iron.
  9. Determine if you have low thyroid function. If your doctor has never performed a “full thyroid panel” lab test on you either for your diagnosed thyroid disease or because of your symptoms of fatigue, demand one. Then ask your doctor to treat your thyroid disease according to which values you were low (or high) in.
  10. Get your electrolytes tested. Low potassium is a common cause of fatigue and in fact it is difficult to get enough daily. Do you ever have twitching muscles or muscle cramps, frequent urination or frequent thirst? Those are easy-to-spot low potassium symptom. You can find magnesium/potassium blend powders or drops to put in your water to make-up for any deficit. 
  11. Eat B-vitamin and mineral-rich foods. If you can tolerate yeast, nutritional yeast is full of potassium and B vitamins which will keep you naturally energized. Choose one that is not synthetically fortified, like Foods Alive brand. Sprinkle on cooked vegetables, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, gluten-free pasta, mix into sauces and use as a cheese replacement (it has a cheddar cheese flavor).
  12. Determine if you have underlying digestive issues. Sometimes if a person is chronically constipated, they reach for caffeine subconsciously to stimulate a bowel movement. If you are chronically constipated, there are underlying gut issues that need to be addressed: food allergies, gut infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites), lack of healthy gut flora (the good bacteria), lack of digestive enzymes (you can supplement these with each meal), lack of bile production (you can use ox bile and salt your food liberally to taste, or drink lemon water before meals to stimulate bile), and more. 

Ready to figure out the perfect diet for you? Ready to improve your lab work and daily symptoms? Click here to book a nutrition consultation.

increasing breast milk supply with thyroid or autoimmune disease

I gave birth to our daughter Olive at home in October 2012. It was an exhausting experience — I went into labor on a Monday (right at the 42 week mark) and gave birth to her in the early hours of the morning that Friday. She was nearly 9 1/2 pounds! I was in (unmedicated) labor nearly four days! Imagine little to no eating and sleeping during that time. My mind and body were beyond spent and I literally felt like I had nothing more to give. But of course, I had to “give” more because I was handed over a baby to care for, love, and be her sole source of food.

A few days after my daughter was born and my milk came in, my supply dropped dramatically. Miraculously, Olive had actually only ever lost 2 ounces and then went on to gain weight her first week of life (which is rare for breastfed babies — they typically lose several ounces of weight the first week or so before they start putting weight back on). But one day, she was wanting to nurse and root all day and night long, couldn’t be separated from my breast, and was crying out of sheer frustration. It was the most horrible feeling for both of us. The labor had been so intense that my body shut down and went into what felt like a healing phase, and instead of having enough milk for my daughter, my supply became very low. We were referred to a Certified Lactation Consultant who weighed my daughter before and after feedings to determine just how much milk she was transferring (not much at the time). To make up for what I was unable to provide her, we were able to supplement with donor milk from other women we knew who also had young babies.

Though our midwife had tested my thyroid levels through out the pregnancy (at my request) to ensure there were never any problems (there weren’t), we also tested my thyroid levels postpartum to make sure that my Hashimoto’s Disease was still in remission and that the stressful labor had not induced any thyroid problems.  My thyroid disease was still in remission, which was good to hear, but didn’t give us any clues as to what specifically could be causing the lactation problems.

This trying experience allowed me to learn quite a bit about lactation, galactagogues (those substances that increase milk supply), and general tips and tricks for successful breastfeeding. Because so many of my clients are women who are wanting to get pregnant and prepare for a successful pregnancy, this is a pertinent topic! Thyroid disease (and other hormonal problems) and autoimmunity can certainly take a toll on conception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, which is why having an arsenal of options and knowledge is so important. The following tips aren’t 100% fool proof, but they do help so many women to successfully breastfeed. Ultimately, you’ll need to address the underlying causes of the thyroid or autoimmune disease to achieve optimal health and lactation. But thankfully, with time they also helped me to successfully nurse my daughter — at 6 weeks old, we were able to stop using donor milk and I was able to exclusively breastfeed her, have her gain healthy weight, enjoy our new life together, and even begin donating milk to other moms in need.

  1. Galactagogues are your friend. Galactagogues are substances that increase milk supply. Well-known galactagogues include: fennel, fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, nettle, Goat’s rue, marshmallow root, and red raspberry leaf. Many women are advised to take just one from this list (usually in tea or supplement form). However, I did not want to put all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak, so I took many at once. You will need to check with your lactation consultant about which will be best for you. I also found that tea was not the best source of galactagogues for my situation. If you think about it, herbal teas can be great because they are encouraging you to drink water (which you need to produce milk), but they don’t seem very concentrated. I took tinctures with great results (Mother Love carries several, as well as Maxi Milk). I also bought fenugreek and fennel seeds and ground them in my spice grinder, and then took a few teaspoons of that powder daily. I also cooked with fennel seeds on a weekly basis. I tried to get the most potent sources of galactagogues in my system. I took these every few hours through out the day. After about 3 months, I was able to stop using these altogether. Though if you need them, you can continue to take them. (Note that fenugreek is related to the peanut, and is therefore considered goitrogenic).
  2. Avoid anti-lactogenic herbs. These are substances that are known to decrease milk supply (which is great for when you’re trying to wean a child, but not so great when you need to increase supply). Avoid parsley, mint, and sage. Cabbage is also sometimes considered anti-lactogenic. I noticed decreases in milk supply any time I over-indulged in mint chutney at our favorite Indian restaurant! Others include: rosemary, thyme, and lemonbalm. Be sure to check all sources of exposure — toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, aromatherapy, etc — not just the foods you’re eating.
  3. Add electrolytes. Our lactation consultant mentioned that some women have anecdotally observed that electrolyte water helps to increase their supply. After drinking myself up to my neck in electrolyte water I got from Whole Foods, I had a thought: just what is in this water that i could be taking more potent doses of? The answer of course was potassium, calcium, and magnesium. I began using a magnesium oil spray with great results — this seemed to increase my supply way beyond what herbs alone could. Magnesium is also a supplement I typically recommend to my clients and I knew that stressful situations can induce magnesium deficiency (hello labor and delivery!).
  4. Enjoy lactation cookies. You don’t need a better excuse to eat cookies than breastfeeding. Lactation cookies actually seem to work very well for many women. They include a mixture of galactagogues (in food form) that usually do the trick. The magical food combination usually includes oats, flax seeds, and brewer’s yeast. While these three ingredients aren’t generally the best for thyroid and autoimmune disease, they do help with lactation, which gives them the green light in my book. I’ve made these gluten-free by buying gluten-free oats and brewer’s yeast. However, one thing I teach my clients is that proper preparation of grains is essential to thyroid and immune health. So, simply pouring oats out of a bag and baking them in cookies is not a good idea. But in the case of lactation cookies, I find that soaking oats ahead of time reduces the galactagogue properties. Therefore, if you are in a dire situation and really need these cookies, just bake them without soaking the oats. Also, many recipes call for peanut butter (which is yeasty and goitrogenic), so feel free to use another nut butter in its place.
  5. Invest in a breast pump. I had no idea I would need an electric high-powered breast pump. I just though having a manual pump would be a good idea in the event that I needed to leave my daughter for a few hours and needed to have someone feed her milk from a bottle. However, renting, and then buying a breast pump was a life-saver! The more stimulation you receive, the more milk your body is told to make. The idea that your breasts need time to “fill” with milk before you can feed the baby is false. Your body manufactures milk according to “request”. Therefore, to increase your supply, nurse your baby and pump several times through out the day. The more demand, the more supply. A lactation consultant can prescribe how much pumping per day is right for your situation and also give other guidance (like flange size, pump brand, etc.). Also do not mistake the amount of milk you pump for how much milk your baby is transferring while nursing. No pump can ever replicate the sucking action of a baby and therefore, many women do not get the same amount of milk as their nursing baby receives. Some women barely respond to a pump at all.
  6. Nurse as often as baby wants to. Scheduling feedings for your baby is counterproductive to a high breast milk supply. This goes back to demand and supply. If your baby is hungry every hour-and-a-half but you won’t allow him to feed until every 2 or 3 hours, you will be decreasing the demand for your milk and therefore decreasing your supply. Also, not all babies are hungry every 2-3 hours. Some babies (many babies when allowed, I suspect) will nurse as often as every 45 minutes or so in the first weeks even if the mother’s milk supply is adequate. There were some days after my milk supply became stable that I was literally nursing my daughter every hour. I felt okay about this because we had worked with a lactation consultant who measured how much milk she was transferring and while I knew she was getting enough, I also knew that if she was hungry, I was going to feed her and not limit her intake at all. This nursing on demand increased my supply and kept her happy and healthy.
  7. Don’t try to get baby to sleep through the night. Sleep training is right for some families, but in the early months, it can sabotage breastfeeding. This goes right back to demand and supply. If you don’t let baby nurse for hours on end, your body will think it doesn’t need to manufacture so much milk. Now that my daughter is a little over 6 months old, I can say with certainty that I have been her on-call everything for the last 6 months, but it gets better! This is a short phase in your child’s life and while your needs and health are important, realizing that being on-call for your child, especially for feedings, is biologically normal, helps us cope. At first, I got very little sleep but as my daughter has gotten older, she has naturally fell into better and longer sleep cycles and requires less frequent nursing. But waking up every hour or two or three to feed baby those first few months of life helps establish a milk supply. I would also suggest co-sleeping to make those nighttime feedings easier on both of you.
  8. See a Certified Lactation Consultant. This person will be able to determine just how much milk your baby is receiving at the breast (via a very sensitive scale). But they will also be able to identify any other potential problems that are common (and that I haven’t mentioned here): tongue tie, lip tie, forceful letdown, delayed letdown, shallow latch, etc and etc. This person should never push formula on you, but should instead offer solutions for your situation. Beware of LCs who are slow to offer support and ideas and are quick to just suggest formula as a “solution” to the problem.
  9. Get real information, don’t believe misconceptions. Resources like KellyMom.com are great places to commiserate with other nursing moms and get solid information on biological norms for breastfeeding. Don’t allow friends or family to pressure you into giving up with comments like, “he’s nursing again?”, “that’s all you pumped?”, “if you gave him formula, he would sleep through the night”, “you don’t have to breastfeed to be a good mom”, “breastfeeding is gross”, etc.
  10. Relax. I feel like my biggest challenge in successful breastfeeding was being able to relax. My labor was very tiring and feeling like I couldn’t properly feed my baby was traumatic. I had a very difficult time relaxing and enjoying those first few weeks. I had to get a change of scenery (leave the house!), spend time with other people (other moms who had babies around the same time, friends, family who came to help), and do things that I enjoyed (listening to music, watching something funny on TV, talking about something other than breastfeeding, etc.). Stress hormones will wreak havoc on your nursing relationship. De-stressing is essential!
  11. Don’t forget that breastfeeding isn’t all-or-nothing! If you and your care provider/LC come to the conclusion that your baby needs supplementation due to low supply, do not panic. Do not feel like a failure. Breastfeeding does not have to be all-or-nothing. If your baby gets several bottles of donor milk or formula everyday but still gets even a tiny amount of breast milk from you, it is worth it. The immunological properties and emotional connection your baby receives will make all of the effort worth it. You can still nurse even if you cannot provide your baby with 100% of its nourishment. Any amount you can provide is a blessing.
  12. Look into donor milk if you cannot exclusively breastfeed. We used donor milk for the first few weeks of my daughter’s life while my body healed from my intense labor. Do not be afraid to rely on donor milk if you cannot meet your baby’s food needs at the moment. Donor milk is a wonderful and healthy alternative to formula. If you don’t know anyone personally who is able to donate, see resources like Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies (check their Facebook pages for local chapters and locals offering donor milk in your area!). It may seem risky or strange at first — to accept milk from a person you may not know — but there is alot of trust and integrity in the milk donation community. Women who donate are generally very proud of the fact that they do so and are willing to explain their health history (any possible health concerns), medication use, and food intake, with great transparency. Offering milk bags to your donor mom is always a nice touch too.
  13. Remember that breastfeeding is natural but it doesn’t always come naturally. This will save you lots of frustration and tears as bumps in the road may appear. Think of them as things to work through and that usually there is always a solution. This way, your nursing relationship won’t come to an end at the slightest problem.

How has your breastfeeding experience been?