Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Green tea? Yes, it's for me... but only after an elimination diet...

As some of you may have heard, recent research shows that green tea may help control autoimmune disease. There is a polyphenol in green tea called EGCG which can increase ability of a gene called Foxp3 to regulate T-cell expression. In other words, something in that steamy cup might help our immune systems work better.

Here's a link to the abstract, which concludes with this lovely sentence:
Our work provides the foundation for future studies to further examine and evaluate dietary strategies to modulate immune function.
That is one powerful statement. A group of researchers are saying "hey, diet may matter, and it is worth it to put our research dollars into studying diet and autoimmune disease."

Now, this is a no-brainer for me, and for any diagnosed celiac. We celiacs know from direct experience that what we put in our mouths can dramatically affect how we feel. I'm constantly surprised when doctors say "well, there's no proof that food matters, the science is iffy." Of course I'm a data driven gal, but I do like to live in the world of possibility. And I know avoiding gluten matters for me - so why not try one of these autoimmune diets I'm sure you've all read about? You know the ones - the ones that tell you not to eat anything but rice and kale. Ever.

And yet... I secretly am grateful when my doctors tell me not to modify my diet more.

After avoided gluten for 19 years, the thought of restricting more foods is repugnant. Don't I sacrifice enough? And to sacrifice all those yummy things - ice cream, steak, soft boiled eggs? No way. I've always nodded kindly at beatific, lecturing vegans and then - I confess - made that finger in the mouth gagging sign behind their backs and snarfed down a hot dog. (Sorry, vegans. You know I love ya).

But about 6 weeks ago, I got really, really fed up. I had to delay starting Enbrel because of an infected tooth, and I kept suspecting that the extended tooth infection (and dry socket) had something to do with all the drugs I've been on. And I felt bad. Super bad.

So I took the plunge, and put myself on an elimination diet. I decided to do it 6 weeks ago because I was off all my drugs, except for ibuprofen - so I could really tell if food made a difference. After checking with my primary care doc, for 2 1/2 weeks I didn't eat:

Gluten (of course)
Nightshades (potato, tomato, eggplant, peppers)

What do you know? Much as it surprises me to say this, after a week I felt better than I have in years. After 2 weeks, I was so pain-free that I even stopped taking ibuprofen (which I was eating like candy while off Enbrel). The energy and clarity of mind I had amazed me. I cleaned the basement. I weeded and mulched my whole yard. I increased my exercise... walking 30 minutes or more every day. And sure, I started the diet during the summer, but we're talking JUNE in Portland. It was 50 degrees and raining much of the time. My toe hurt a little, some days I was a little creaky, but I finally felt like myself again.

As a next step, after 2 and a half weeks, I started putting selected foods back in, one item every three days. I try to eat each item in its most basic form, e.g. a baked potato, instead of rice bread with potato in it.

And here's what I've learned, so far.

On the good list - soy, citrus, fish, caffeine. I get no reaction from these. Whew.

On the maybe list - potato, egg, chicken. I feel a little puffy, a little sleepy, a little off when I eat them, but the jury is out.

On the no-no list - beef. Ouch. Big stinking ouch. Within 4 hours my arthritis pain was back with a vengeance.

And if I needed any more proof, this last week we had house guests - and I was very, very bad. I had french fries and (gluten-free) beer, and salsa and corn chips, some cheese, and oooooh, salt water taffy. And I felt TERRIBLE. It was as if a tractor ran over my body every morning, I was swollen as a puffer fish, and terribly fatigued. I don't know if it was the alcohol, or the dairy, or the chips and salsa combo, but something I ate didn't work with me.

Today - this July 4th, I'm sitting here on my front porch (with a cup of green tea), watching my kids sell lemonade, and I'm back on the diet. Day 3. I already feel better. I'm eating soy, fish, caffeine and citrus, but nothing else on the naughty list.

I'm surprised to say this, but - I might become a beatific pesce-vegan. The thought that I might be able to control my pain - even if only for a short while - is so compelling it's worth the sacrifice.

My blog will return to it's regularly scheduled research focus soon, but I might keep you all updated on this amazing experiment. I am on no drugs. I feel great. I'm not 100%, but I'm 80% better, and that's good enough for me to stay off the big medical vehicles. And the beef.

I'm going to try corn on Thursday... I'll keep you posted. But now - fireworks.


  1. Hello, I just stumbled upon your blog this morning. I am located in Portland as well and am very encouraged by your post. Suffering with PsA for 3 years now. I have been, for almost a year now, fighting off and grappling with the notion of starting on biologics. I'm at my wits end but am very slanted towards natural medicine and familiar with the power of diet...sounds as though you are much more committed and disciplined than I. My husband is so hoping there is another way to go than biologics, however I'm about ready to throw in the towel. I suppose I just wanted to extend a thanks to you for your post. I appreciate the shot in the arm. :) Very much looking forward to your subsequent posts on this matter. ~Larissa

  2. Hey Larissa! Thanks for your note. To be honest, I was super, super skeptical about the diet... and this is the third time I've tried to do it. I had no willpower. I'm SO happy that I finally did try it, though. I feel more empowered... more like I'm in the drivers seat... than I have in three years. And if you want, I can send you some ideas about where to eat in Portland - I've found 3 great dishes, at three different restaurants (that aren't salad). Be well... JennyS