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Autoimmune Diseases: Non-Drug Approach

Posted Sep 11 2009 4:57pm

An Interview with Shari Lieberman, PhD, CCN, FACN
By Jim English
Dr. Shari Lieberman is a noted researcher, scientist, author, and highly sought-after speaker at anti-aging conferences the world over. Last month VRP introduced three new immune-enhancing formulas that Dr. Lieberman designed based on her 18 years of clinical research and experience. Recently we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Lieberman about her work and, specifically, her new formulas, AIF (Auto Immune Formula), BCF (Breast Care Formula) and PCT (Prostate Care Formula)

VRP: Dr. Lieberman, lets start with the Auto Immune Formula (AIF) what does AIF address, and how does it work?

Dr. Lieberman: I formulated AIF in response to the failure of conventional medicine to adequately treat a number of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The problem with mainstream medicine is that while it aims to control symptoms or slow the progression of these diseases, it offers no cure and the long-term prognosis for remission from autoimmune diseases still remains poor.

Also, many of the drugs currently being used to treat these disorders have serious side effects, such as bone loss, ulcers, joint and organ damage and a further worsening of immune function and symptoms over time.

VRP: You mentioned side effects of current drugs for treating autoimmune diseases. What are the alternative approaches to treating autoimmune diseases?

Dr. Lieberman:Surprisingly, a number of scientific studies have shown that specific dietary supplements when combined with dietary and lifestyle modifications may benefit patients with autoimmune diseases by extending the length of clinical remissions, improving symptoms, and reducing the need to use steroids and other drugs.

More recent studies have shown that for some types of autoimmune disorders, exogenous testosterone replacement may actually be therapeutic (e.g. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis). DHEA supplementation of 200 mg daily has been shown to benefit lupus patients. A theoretical article on melatonin suggested it may benefit MS patients since melatonin modulates the thermogenic regulatory mechanisms of the pineal gland.

VRP: What sort of dietary modifications help a person dealing with an autoimmune disease?

Dr. Lieberman: Low-fat diets have been reported to benefit patients with lupus, MS, scleroderma and RA. Two very long-term studies (34 and 36 years) have found that patients eating less than 20 grams of fat per day experience significantly less deterioration and a much lower death rate. Approximately 95% of the patients followed during these studies not only survived, but remained physically active. By comparison, the death rate for patients consuming more than 20 grams of fat per day approached 80%.

And the greater the reduction in fat intake, the greater the benefit. When dietary fats were reduced to between 10 to 15 grams per day, patients reported even better improvement in energy and fatigue levels.

VRP: How does cutting down on fat produce this magnitude of benefits?

Dr. Lieberman: Low-fat diets could potentially modulate prostaglandin metabolism, specifically arachidonic acid and inflammatory prostaglandins. High-meat diets are rich in arachidonic acid and high-fat diets are generally quite high in linolenic acid both of which may result in an imbalance of prostaglandin metabolism by encouraging the production of inflammatory prostaglandins. Also, lower fat diets would result in lower levels of oxidative stress, and those consuming low-fat diets would be eating a more vegan-based diet that would provide a variety of potent plant antioxidants.

VRP: That sounds like a good reason to embrace a vegetarian diet.

Dr. Lieberman
: Well, vegan and gluten-free diets have been shown to benefit patients with RA, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, eczema and those with dermatitis herpetiformis. And milk and meat consumption have been shown to increase the incidence of MS. Overall patients with autoimmune disease in particular those with lupus, have a much higher incidence of food and other allergies compared to normal healthy patients.

VRP: In addition to reducing dietary fats, you also recommend supplementing with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. What role do these fats play in autoimmune diseases?

Dr. Lieberman: Numerous animal models of lupus have demonstrated that Omega 3 fatty acids which are found in fish oil offer marked protection from kidney disease while increasing lifespan and suppressing autoimmunity. Furthermore, human clinical studies have shown that fish oil can induce clinical remission without any negative side effects.

In MS, fish oil supplementation has also been shown to benefit patients, with significant reductions in neurologic scores. Additionally, there are many studies showing a beneficial effect of fish oil supplementation in patients with RA. Supplementation has been shown to reduce the use of NSAIDs and other medications and improve RA symptoms such as joint tenderness and joint swelling.

Clinical benefit of fish oil supplementation has also been observed in patients with disorders such as Raynaud"s syndrome, eczema and psoriasis. Excellent results have been achieved using fish oil supplementation in patients with Crohn"s disease and ulcerative colitis and it appears to work as well as if not better than conventional drug treatment with a lack of side effects.

In general, studies have used high-dose fish oil supplementation, from 12-18 capsules per day. However, co-administration of a very low-fat diet may reduce the quantity of fish oil required to improve a patient"s condition and/or induce remission.

VRP: Looking at the ingredients in your Auto Immune Formula I noted that you have a comprehensive panel of antioxidants. Can you explain the role of antioxidants in autoimmune disease?

Dr. Lieberman
: Patients chronically ill with autoimmune diseases have consistently higher levels of oxidative stress and lower levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells and organs from environmental insults and play a critical role in liver detoxification pathways. However, studies on disease progression have generally looked at the effects of one antioxidant at a time. The issue with this type of research is that unfortunately, supplementation with just one antioxidant can potentially induce oxidative stress.

For example, since vitamin E is a polyunsaturated fat, if it"s taken alone, it can potentially oxidize. But when vitamin E is taken along with vitamin C, the ascorbic acid will prevent vitamin E oxidation and help to regenerate vitamin E. There are numerous human and animal studies elucidating the synergy between antioxidants. However, this synergy is still largely ignored in autoimmune clinical research.

VRP: And have studies supported the use of antioxidants in autoimmune diseases?

Dr. Lieberman: Yes. Studies have shown that vitamin E may be beneficial to patients with discoid lupus, with complete clearing at very high doses of 900-1600 IU per day. Studies have also shown beneficial effects using high dose vitamin E with ulcerative colitis, and other forms of autoimmune disease as well.

Also, vitamin C, selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamin A have also been shown to be beneficial for a variety of autoimmune diseases, generally at doses significantly higher than the RDA (or RDI). Doses used are generally: vitamin C, 1000 mg or higher; selenium, 100 mcg or higher; beta-carotene, 25,000 IU or higher, and vitamin A, 25,000 IU or higher.

VRP: Can someone just take vitamin E or C, based on these studies, or is it best to combine antioxidants?

Dr. Lieberman: Studies that combine antioxidant supplements have generally yielded the best results. Also, vitamin E is necessary when taking an essential fatty acid supplement since it will help protect the fatty acid from oxidizing. Lower fat diets may also reduce the dose of antioxidants required to reduce oxidative stress and decrease symptoms so that doses of 100,000 IU of vitamin A used in some studies may not be necessary.

What is surprising is that while excellent results were achieved using vitamin E supplementation with lupus and scleroderma patients, there is a surprising lack of studies using vitamin E with MS patients, except for just a few studies that combined selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E. In reviewing each antioxidant individually, it is equally surprising that when great results were obtained for a particular autoimmune disease, it was not necessarily repeated for another disease.

In general, it would make greater sense to supplement all the major antioxidants, given their synergy, their role in modulating essential fatty acid metabolism, which favors anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (which is why they work well with essential fatty acid supplements) and their ability to quench free radicals and prevent organ and cellular damage.

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