Episode 21: Autoimmune Q&A with Dr. Datis Kharrazian

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A Functional Medicine Leader

When you look at Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s  list of credentials, it’s almost overwhelming. He has three graduate degrees in the fields of nutrition, chiropractics and health sciences, and is currently pursuing his fourth doctorate in autoimmunity and immunology. He is a research scholar at Harvard Medical School, and a professor at three other universities. He also teaches clinicians worldwide through The Institute for Functional Medicine.

In addition to his research and teaching, he operates a clinical practice in California, has written two bestselling books, and is in the process of writing two more.

He took time out of his busy schedule for an Autoimmune Q&A, because he believes patients are the best advocates for their own health, and he wants to educate as many of us as possible.

Listen to the Show

Show Notes

  • Intro (0:00)
  • Meet Datis (0:51)
    • He’s a clinician, professor, researcher and author, specializing in chronic conditions like autoimmune disease.
    • He’s the author of two bestselling books: Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?
    • His mother was mentally ill when he was a child, and he learned as an adult that she had neurological autoimmunity. That personal experience, combined with his work with many autoimmune patients, has led him to become passionate about autoimmune health.
  • The 3 Stages of Autoimmune Disease (3:07)
    • Stage 1: Silent Autoimmunity – antibodies are present, but there aren’t yet any symptoms.
    • Stage 2: Autoimmune Reactivity – symptoms have started, but they’re not clear enough to be diagnosed.
    • Stage 3: Autoimmune Disease – immune system has destroyed enough tissue that it can be identified and diagnosed.
    • Currently, treatment doesn’t being until Stage 3. He would like treatment to begin at Stage 1.
  • Dr. K’s Autoimmune Diet (6:21)
    • Unlike the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol that allows natural sugars in moderation, Dr. Kharrazian’s Autoimmune Diet excludes them completely, as well as high-glycemic fruit. The reason is the impact these foods have on blood sugar.
    • Blood sugar drops and surges drive autoimmune expression, so it’s important to keep blood sugar stable. You shouldn’t get shaky or moody between meals, nor should you get tired after a meal. Both are signs of blood sugar imbalance. Dr. K goes over this in detail in both of his books. Blood sugar stability is key to achieving remission.
    • He’s currently doing research identifying foods that uniquely cross-react with different tissues and would allow people to personalize their diet more effectively according to their autoimmune diagnosis.
  • Stress, Emotions and Autoimmune Disease (17:31)
    • Stress is a huge factor in autoimmune disease, and if people aren’t willing to address it, nothing else matters.
    • It’s not just about having too much to do. It’s about facing our “personal demons.” In fact, we often stay over-busy to avoid facing them.
    • With the thousands of patients he’s seen in his clinical practice, this is the single most impactful factor on the expression of autoimmune disease.
    • So, what do we do? For tips, listen to my podcast on The Mind-Body Connection.
  • An Overview of Autoimmunity – B Cells and T Cells (20:55)
    • The autoimmune response involves B cells and T helper cells. B cells make antibodies to our own tissues (joints in RA, thyroid in Hashimoto’s, etc.) These antibodies attach to the tissues like a signal that calls the Th cells to come and attack them. There are a wide variety of Th cells. Most autoimmune disease has a dominance of either Th1 or Th2. And the most important Th cells are Th3 (the regulatory cells). They’re responsible for turning attacks on or off.
    • Natural supports for Th3 regulatory cells are: (1) Vitamin D through sunshine or supplement. (2) Glutathione. (3) Opioids which come through appropriate exercise. (4) Emerging research into Cannabanoids.
    • Th17 is a major trigger for autoimmune disease because it ramps up the attack. Things that stimulate Th17 that we want to avoid are: (1) Stress. (2) Overexercise. (3) Poor sleep. (4) Blood sugar imbalances.
    • For Th1/Th2 balancing, testing is imporant and those tests were temporarily removed from the consumer market, but they should be for sale again through Cyrex Labs this year.
  • What’s the Connection Between Leaky Gut and a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier? (27:32)
    • Sometimes the same factors that cause intestinal permeability can cause permeability in the blood-brain barrier as well: (1) Zonulin. (2) High cortisol. (3) High homocysteine. (4) Hormone deficiencies.
    • It can also work the other direction. Traumatic brain injury often causes immediate leaky gut.
    • The most common symptom of leaky gut is bloating, and the most common symptom of a leaky blood-brain barrier is brain fog. It’s common for those two symptoms to go together.
    • Diet and lifestyle factors are important for healing both, but supplements differ. For example, L-glutamine is helpful for healing leaky gut, whereas Gingko Biloba is helpful for a leaky blood-brain barrier.
  • Harnessing the Power of the Vagus Nerve (32:18)
  • Chemical Intolerance and the Dangers of Chelation and Mercury Amalgam Removal (36:57)
    • You can develop antibodies against chemicals and have an autoimmune response. This is called chemical intolerance. It’s not about the levels of chemicals in your body; it’s how your body reacts to them. This is a very specific test and different from the heavy metal tests most naturopaths run.  Cyrex Array 11.
    • If you’re chemically intolerant and undergo chelation or mercury amalgam removal, the chemicals can enter your bloodstream and your brain tissue, making your autoimmune disease much worse.
    • The only time chelation is safe is if: (1) You have no antibodies against the chemicals. (2) You don’t have leaky gut. (3) You don’t have a leaky blood-brain barrier. Usually, people with autoimmune disease don’t meet this criteria.
    • Resource: Article by Dr. Kharrazian, which includes links to research studies on this topic.
  • His Two Favorite Supplements: Curcumin and Resveratrol (44:44)
  • His Top 3 Diagnostic Tests That People Don’t Usually Get (47:42)
    • Cyrex Array 11: Chemical Immune Reactivity Screen.
    • T-Cell Testing, hopefully becoming available through Cyrex labs this year.
    • Food Sensitivity Tests to be developed based on his current research into which foods cross-react with which tissues of the body.
    • Disclaimer: Dr. Kharrazian is a consultant for Cyrex Labs, because he feels they do the best work.
  • Can You Heal Food Sensitivities? (51:37)
    • Only allergies are considered permanent, and sensitivities aren’t allergies, so in theory, they’re temporary. However, it’s a complex question.
    • If it’s a cross-reactive sensitivity that directly impacts autoimmune antibodies, he recommends avoiding those foods forever.
    • Other sensitivities can be healed, but you need to heal at many levels: (1) Intestinal integrity. (2) Healthy digestion that breaks food down to the amino acid level. (3) Immune system regulation. (4) Strong detox pathways. (5) Inflammation cleared. Resource: Dr. Kharrazian’s Immune Tolerance Online Course.
    • Microbiome diversity is directly related to food diversity, and affects your food tolerance. Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible within your current restricted diet, and this will expand your diet over time. If you limit yourself to just a few foods, you will develop more and more sensitivities. Resources: The AIP Recipe Roundtable and A-Z Vegetable Recipe Roundup.
  • Outro (57:29)

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40 comments on “Episode 21: Autoimmune Q&A with Dr. Datis Kharrazian”

  1. Just listened to this podcast again. Any news on when Dr. K. will be releasing the books he mentioned about sibo, or autoimmunity? Thanks for all the work you do to keep us informed. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. Just discovered your podcasts- bingeing on them!! You’re doing a terrific service for alot of people, really appreciate it!
    Question from last two guests (Drs. Jaminet and Kharrazian) regarding intermittent fasting (IF). I have Hashimotos and am overweight; need to lose fat for health reasons, not just vanity. IF has been shown to be very effective for weight loss – Dr. Jaminet recommends it, but Dr. Kharrazian says to avoid it (for Hashimotos patients). From what I can gather, low carb diets also not good route to go for Hashimotos patients trying to lose weight. Any more insight into this conflicting advice? Is IF a useful tool for Hashimotos patients to lose weight or not? Any suggestions on resources for weight loss in Hashimotos pts?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Sami. You’ll often find disagreements in the healing community and it’s a place where you can do some self-experimentation to see what’s true for your body. If you want to do a little more research first, Listen to Episode 54 of my podcast: Thyroid Health with Elle Russ. Her book, The Paleo Thyroid Solution has a multi-phase weight loss plan for people with thyroid issues. It might sound counterintuitive, but often you have to go through a phase of rest and healing and allowing your body to recover before pursuing and achieving weight loss goals. Elle and I talk about this a little bit in the podcast, but her book has lots more information. Weight loss was one of her goals as well, and she did achieve it.

    1. Hi Joanna. I did a whole podcast on LDN which you’ll find very interesting! It’s Episode 39. I think LDN is absolutely worth trying. Results vary a lot – some people it doesn’t help at all, but for others like yourself, it’s hugely beneficial.

  3. I started having symptoms decades ago. I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmunity issues in 2010 going from one conventional doctor to another many referring me to to specialists who have no knowledge of the gut brain connection. None of them helped me but offered me drugs I am unwilling to take. Changed my diet in 2010 and improved somewhat but could never really get any better. Found out I had SIBO over a year ago and that was treated but it never really cleared up and I still was at that sticking point not able to work or enjoy things in my life while living with chronic pain and fatigue, still do…. I researched over and over while staying close to the SIBO diet for over 1 1/2 years. Hired a functional medicine doc to treat my leaky gut and SIBO but had a horrible reaction to the supplements and stopped on the 8th day. My OATs test results came in showing I’m not getting many of my nutrients which makes sense since I have several MTHFR mutations that I assumed had been expressing themselves.The tests also showed yeast and other bacterial issues. At the same time I was listening to Dr Kharrazian’s Brain book then this podcast and all my hopes came rushing back in. I have been treating my gut when I should have been targeting my brain. I am one of those who limited my food choices thinking they’re safe but knowing in the back of my mind that they too can become a problem by consuming them over and over. The supplements for the brain are going to really help me as well as the exercises for the Vagus nerve. Thank you so much for this interview its literally going to save my life!

  4. Eileen, Your reply to Corianna is very encouraging to me and I am soaking it in.Diagnosed with Hashimotos in November, I have been easing into AIP and also addressing above issues mentioned.It can be overwhelming.I too felt some discouragement hearing from Dr. K that there are foods on AIP that may not be right for me. I too will go back to “The top 5 mistakes people make on the AIP” Thank you, you are doing amazing work. I am learning so much. Gratefully, Gale

  5. Hi Eileen, this truly is another fabulous podcast! Thank you for your dedication and big heartedness in wanting to help others through the challenges of autoimmune disorders. I knew of Dr. K quite a few years before he had a wait list of 1500 people. I was a Weston Price chapter leader for many years until recently and he spoke at one of the conferences. And, yes, as another response above said, A big thanks to your husband for his music….a fun and welcoming contribution to your show! It’s all much appreciated.

  6. Eileen,
    Thanks for this show. Dr. K. clearly knows his stuff. However, I felt very discouraged after listening because I’ve been on AIP for over 5 weeks but it sounds like he’s saying that really won’t matter. He mentioned each of the autoimmune diseases having trigger foods, but they aren’t known yet. I want to heal, but I’m already doing everything on the list…is there a point to still trying if I might still be eating food on AIP that will contribute to my MS symptoms? I’ll get his book…but I’m not sure what to do in the meantime.

    1. Coriana, many people including myself have found the AIP to be dramatically helpful. Whitney-Ross Gray (the voice of Nutrisclerosis) went into remission with her MS, and she’s not alone. Don’t be discouraged. Dr. K focuses his research on troubleshooting for the toughest cases – the people who don’t respond to the standard AIP – and that troubleshooting is only necessary after giving the AIP at least 3 months and also addressing factors that go beyond diet – like sleep, stress, gut health, etc. You are brand new to this lifestyle. It’s not time to do any troubleshooting yet. If you want to make sure you are doing the AIP the best way possible, read my article The Top 5 Mistakes People Make on the AIP. Sending you hope and wishes for full healing.

  7. Thank you for a very informative and interesting podcast. I will certainly be listening to a few more! I have read Why Isn’t My Brain Working and would be very grateful if someone could share whether Dr Kharrazian has his own range of supplements or whether they are manufactured somewhere? I live in the UK so buying things in the US isn’t always easy it cost-effective. Thanks in advance!

  8. Hi, I’ve recently been diagnosed with Hashimotos via my natropath, I have had symptoms for at least 6 years and have had many, many blood tests through my GP and always comes back as ‘normal’. I’m currently on a gluten and dairy free diet, I was given a compounding pharmacist made formula to take but was away on holiday and ended up with severe oral canker sores and was advised by a doctor to stop taking this and wait till sores disappear, I am only just getting over this 6 weeks later. Do you have any recommendations for me? Thanks. Julie

  9. Thank you for this excellent interview with Dr. Kharazzian, I agree with others who appreciate your professional approach to these interviews. I was not familiar with Kharazzian before this, but plan to follow up on his work. The little bit of research I did after reading your notes helped me to have an aha realization about my own situation. Although treatment for Lyme and EBV were helping me to feel better on a number of levels, my brain is not feeling better. I realize this is an autoimmune flare. When dealing with multiple issues, it’s sometimes difficult to recocnize what’s what. Many thanks for your excellent work!


    1. Thanks, Claire! I’m so glad you had an “aha” moment. The same thing happens to me during the interviews themselves. Wishing us all healing on every level!

  10. Hi Eileen,
    Thank you so much for your latest podcast interview and notes. You do a fantastic job of asking questions and keeping the conversational flow moving. The show notes are always well organized, clear and concise. I always look forward to anything you do! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. Thanks, Dee! I work crazy hard on these podcasts, and it’s so nice to know others appreciate it. You made my night. 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for putting this informative podcast together! I have Ankylosing Spondilitis and I have recently been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s by a functional medicine practitioner. I have been on the Autoimmune Paleo diet for almost three months and my symptoms have got worse. I have felt so confused and lost not knowing what I am doing wrong. This podcast has given me new insights and a sense of direction – just what I needed. It is a great interview with Dr Kharrazian, what a wealth of knowledge he has. Great questions too! You are truly inspirational, Eileen. Thank you so much!!! Love, Kata

    1. My pleasure, Kata. I’m so glad you heard this podcast at the right time in your own healing journey. Wishing you wellness!

  12. Eileen, I have many amalgam fillings and I need to get them removed. I want to do it safely and not affect my autoimmune disease. I wonder what Dr.K would recommend. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Lori. As Dr. K outlined in the podcast – there are many health steps that need to be taken first. You need to know if you have chemical intolerance and heal it if you do (Cyrex Array 11). You need to heal leaky gut (which honestly, I’m not sure anyone with autoimmune disease can completely do, because autoimmune disease always attacks the gut in addition to the tissues of your specific diagnosis, and everything from food to stress to toxins affects this on a daily basis). You also need to see if you have a leaky blood-brain barrier, and the simple test he mentions in his book is to take a GABA supplement. If you feel an effect from the supplement, it means you have a leaky barrier, because GABA is too big a molecule to pass through a healthy blood-brain barrier.) In his book, Dr. K says it’s better to live “peacefuly” with chemicals including mercury, than risk releasing it into your body and brain. You need to make the choice that’s right for you, but I personally don’t ever plan to have mine removed. It’s too big a risk. And there are many safer steps we can take to protect and improve our health. I highly recommend reading his book, if you haven’t already. There’s a ton of information, and we only hit some highlights in this podcast.

  13. Eileen, you’ve found your calling! Your show is consistently the best hour I spend studying up on auto-immune disease. You navigated a very technical interview with ease and insight. You are so professional and concise, I feel like you have a great respect for your listeners’ time. Thank you! Keep up the great work!

  14. I can’t get enough of Dr. K’s expertise I have Celiac disease and was recently diagnosed with loss of chemical tolerance (Cyrex 11 Array). Because of his Brain book, I was able to find a functional neurologist in my area who saved my life. Thank you for your work Eileen – I got even more answers listening to Episode 21!

  15. Eileen – a huge thank you to you (and Dr K!) for this podcast. I found the information on cell mimicry in certain foods particularly fascinating. I look forward to learning more as the research is published. …I’m off to slay my demons with renewed vigour (and no sugar!).

    1. I plan to do a podcast in the near future on this demon slaying business. I think we could all use some guidance!

  16. This was the first podcast I listened to and it was great! I, too, think I need to get more variety in my foods, get more regular exercise and work on meditation and relaxation. i was fascinated by the vagus nerve stimulation. Gargling and singing are easy things to do. Singing is also relaxing . I enjoyed your husband’s easy melody and guitar. Time to get mine out. Thank you for putting this together and to Dr. K.

  17. I have negative antibody results but have all symptoms of sjogrens and scleroderma and have had to deal with them for 30 years getting more ill as time passes so what do you think about that? I also had a positive skin biopsy for connective tissue disorder and my dentist diagnosed my microstomia and thinks I have scleroderma, sjogrens syndrome and a couple other ones putting me in the overlap category.

    1. It sounds like you’re in the first stages of Autoimmune Disease, without the symptoms reaching “diagnosis” status. This is such a common experience, it’s frustrating! I hope you found some helpful tips in this podcast that you can implement to start feeling better. Wishing you healing on every level, Cheryl.

  18. I have eaten Paleo for the past 6 years and being that I have Fibromyagia I decided to cut out night shades. I have recently heard about the AIP diet and decided to give that a try. I did the AIP diet with fodmaps a couple months ago and did not see any difference. Now I am taking it one step more and taking out the fodmaps.
    I know that I need to have a large variety of veggies but when I look at the fodmap intolerance list I have very little to work with. I loved the podcast with Dr. Kharrazian. So much fantastic information, just find it hard to single out one food trigger over another if your sinuses and body are always flared up. I want my gut to heal so I can allow food back in and test sensitivity but how do I get the variety I need to heal and have a happy guy on no fodmaps?

    1. Hi Ginger. FODMAPs should only be removed if you have been diagnosed with SIBO. Without that diagnosis, it’s too much restriction. Here’s an article with more information: http://www.phoenixhelix.com/2014/11/16/sibo-fodmaps-and-a-meal-plan-giveaway/ . As Dr. K said in this podcast, too often we focus on the food, when more effective troubleshooting is needed in other areas. I recommend following his advice to address stress, emotions, chemical tolerance, and blood sugar balance, and see if those are the keys to your ongoing inflammation. Gentle hugs coming your way. Healing is a journey!

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