Could Autoimmune Diseases Be Caused by Preservatives, Additives, etc. in the Foods We Consume
Updated: Aug 25
The role of chemicals in our food supply as a source of illness needs to be studied and researched.
Image from Wix
I recently listened to a discussion on NPR’s 1A podcast that resonated with me. The topic was the complexities of autoimmune diseases. The guests — three doctors — spoke about lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and psoriatic arthritis.
The discussion was very informative, but what struck me the most was what the research suggests are the causes of autoimmune diseases. The causes appear to be genes, environment, and hormones. I found this interesting because my experience with two autoimmune diseases are not the result of my genes, the environment, or my hormones.
In 2013, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder. I was prescribed methotrexate and Plaquenil. Both did nothing to heal my RA. After coming across an article about processed foods as a cause of inflammation, I stopped taking methotrexate and Plaquenil.
My husband and I emptied our cupboards of foods that are known to cause inflammation: processed foods, wheat, flour, sugar, dairy, pasta, rice, and beans. We started eating a Paleo diet. In a couple of weeks, my swollen, stiff, and painful joints were back to normal. At my next visit with the rheumatologist and another blood test, my rheumatoid factor was in the normal range. I no longer had RA. The doctor was surprised. I told him I wasn’t surprised at all and told him about the foods I got rid of and that I was now eating a Paleo diet. “What’s that?”was his response. I went on to explain.
From 1996 to 2022, I suffered from another chronic autoimmune disease — eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a rare autoimmune disease of the esophagus. For twenty-six years, I suffered life-threatening food impaction episodes. I endured over thirty endoscopies and biopsies of my esophagus, and other tests. My eosinophil count was abnormally high. Throughout the years, my eosinophil count (white blood cells in my esophagus) has been as high as 100. An EoE diagnosis requires a count of 15.
I have been prescribed proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) — Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec — to no avail. In fact, Prilosec depleted my body of vitamin B12, which my body needs but cannot naturally produce enough to create myelin sheath around my spinal cord. I have been on weekly B12 injections for life since 2009.
After my most severe life-threatening food impaction episode in 2021 that required an emergency endoscopy, my eosinophil count was 23. The GI doctor wanted to prescribe an off-label topical steroid created to treat eczema. I don’t have eczema. I refused.
The doctor then prescribed the 6-food elimination diet to figure out the cause of my food impaction. For six weeks, I was not allowed to eat dairy, eggs, fish, wheat, soy, and tree nuts. I was given the Oregon Clinic Diet for eosinophilic esophagitis to follow. The 6-food elimination diet did not work. It raised my eosinophil count from 23 to 100, and left me with an inflamed esophagus. I was also told I had Barrett’s esophagus.
Next, I was prescribed the elemental diet. The elemental diet is a full nutritional liquid diet made of amino acids. It was a success. My eosinophil count went from 100 to ZERO! I no longer had EoE or an inflamed esophagus.
But to find out what the cause of my food impactions and the triggers of my high eosinophil count, I was prescribed a fruits and vegetables only diet. This diet raised my zero eosinophil count to 100. How is this possible? I thought fruits and vegetables were healthy sources of food. Not in my case.
I researched the ingredients in the foods I was allowed to eat on the 6-food elimination diet and Oregon Clinic diet, and the vegetables and fruits diet. They all contained preservatives, additives, food coloring, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and insecticides.
I theorized that these chemicals were the cause of my eosinophilic esophagitis and food impaction episodes. I told my GI I didn’t want any more food reintroduction diets.
Instead, I created a diet that did not exist. I call it the Miriam Diet.
I did not eliminate any foods. I eliminated what’s in the foods — preservatives, additives, food coloring, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and insecticides. After eight weeks on my diet, a follow up endoscopy to see if my Miriam Diet had any merit, my endoscopy and biopsies revealed an eosinophil count of up to ZERO eosinophils, a normal healthy esophagus, and no mention of Barrett’s esophagus. That was in 2022.
My husband and I have been creating our own foods and recipes. We are currently writing a cookbook.
A sampling of delicious homemade dishes and desserts that contain no preservatives, additives, food coloring, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and insecticides. Photo by Miriam Diaz-Gilbert
The chemicals in the foods I had been eating for years and in the foods I was allowed to eat when I was prescribed the 6-food elimination diet and the vegetables and fruit diet were the triggers of my EoE. They are the cause of my damaged esophagus and the cause of my many food impaction episodes, some of which have landed me in the hospital ER for a trip to the OR for an emergency endoscopy.
Everyone’s autoimmune disease journey is different. Everyone’s EoE journey is different. There are different types of eosinophilic esophagitis. Some people suffer EoE from atopic allergies like asthma and eczema. Others suffer from EoE possibly caused by environmental allergens like pollens and mold. For most people, food allergies are the cause of their EoE.
But not for me. The cause of my autoimmune disease is not hereditary; no one in my family tree has or has had EoE. My EoE was not caused by my hormones. My EoE was not caused by environmental factors. My EoE was caused by the chemicals in our food supply. My esophagus is especially sensitive, not to the foods I eat but to what’s in the foods I eat.
While preservatives, additives, pesticides, food coloring, etc., are designed to give food a longer shelf life, make food look pretty, and keep pests and insects away, they did a lot of damage to my esophagus. Chemicals may give food a longer shelf, but in the process they put human life at risk for illness and autoimmune diseases.
After listening to the discussion on the 1A podcast about the mystery and causes of autoimmune diseases that affect so many, and women more than men, I’m going to suggest that the chemicals in our food supply are toxic poisons that cannot be ignored or dismissed as a potential cause of autoimmune diseases.
It took me twenty-six years to figure out the cause of my EoE and food impaction episodes, and to heal myself. When my doctors couldn’t help me and treat my EoE with success, I took control. In the process, I discovered what I call a fourth type of eosinophilic esophagitis. This one is caused by the chemicals in our food supply.
Interestingly, not only do the foods I had been eating contain chemicals, but so do the eleven medications that I am allergic to — CT scan dye, Cipro, Lasix, sulfa, and more. After researching the ingredients contained in these medications and pharmaceuticals, I discovered they contain preservatives, additives, corn starch, and more. While these ingredients are referred to as “inactive” ingredients, they have done a lot of damage to my esophagus. And research supports the damage that medications have on the esophagus.
I don’t dismiss the role genes, the environment, and hormones play in autoimmune diseases. However, any discussion of the causes of autoimmune diseases should not be limited to only hereditary, environmental, and hormonal factors.
The role of food, nutrition, what we eat, and what our food supply is infused with — preservatives, additives, food coloring, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and insecticides — must be included in the research and not ignored.
Research funding, researchers, physicians, dietitians, nutritionists, Big Pharma, and the food industry need to do better. Prescribing only meds to treat autoimmune diseases and not paying attention to the chemicals in the meds is harmful. Not paying attention to the dangers of chemicals in the foods patients ingest does more harm than good. Contaminating pharmaceuticals and the food supply with chemicals does not help people with autoimmune diseases to heal. Instead, pharmaceuticals and foods appear to make people sick.
I am not alone. I am one of many with an autoimmune disease who suffer needlessly and spend thousands and thousands of dollars, even with insurance, to find the cause of their illness and to heal. I have spent thousands and thousands on doctor visits, endoscopies, biopsies, meds, tests, and prescribed foods that turned out to be harmful.
Many of my readers have reached out to me to tell me that how I healed my EoE and the healthy chemical free foods that I create and consume inspires them, and gives them hope.
When what was medically prescribed harmed me, I tested my theory, created the Miriam Diet, and healed my eosinophilic esophagitis. My success is anecdotal. Consequently, I would welcome researchers reaching out to me and research dollars to fund a study of ninety-nine other patients suffering from eosinophilic esophagitis and food impactions, and testing the Miriam Diet.
The role of preservatives, additives, etc., in our food supply and medications as a cause of autoimmune diseases needs to receive the same attention that genes, the environment, and hormones receive.
I can be contacted via my website.
Originally published in Medium.
Visit my website and my blog for articles about my eosinophilic esophagitis journey.
Read excerpts from, praise for, and listen to interviews about my memoir, Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times.