Guest Post by Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.
It’s amazing how many “beneficial” diets come and go. In a society where food is readily available and often engineered to taste fantastic, it’s no wonder that the diet industry is so big. Still, as science and medicine advance and we’re able to study the relationship between various foods and their effects on the human body, the things we learn can be hard to believe. But for this article we won’t be talking about food in general (not much anyway). Instead, we’ll focus on how a low starch diet can help treat spondylitis.
The Science of Starch
Let’s get this out of the way now: the science is out on the effects of a low starch diet for treating spondylitis. There simply isn’t enough data, so you probably won’t hear your family doctor recommend this for you. However, there are a ton of success stories out there of people who suffer from some form of spondylitis (usually ankylosing spondylitis) feeling better than they have in years with a low or no-starch diet.
There are some limited studies (which we’ll discuss briefly) that provide some proof for the efficacy of this diet, but not enough for the (thankfully) rigorous standards of the medical industry. Still, the nice thing about cutting starch out of your diet is that, for most people, it’s very safe. So, read on to discover just what we know so far, some tips for starting the diet, and a few other non-diet related suggestions for dealing with spondylitis.
The Relationship Between Starch and Spondylitis
In order to explain how this type of rare arthritis is tied to starch intake, we’ll have to get a little technical. I promise this isn’t an effort to bore you, and I’ll keep it as interesting as possible. Here we go.
Genetics Are To Blame (Somewhat)
Studies show that most people with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) carry a rare genetic marker, HLA-B27. When the disease is particularly active, studies have shown increased levels of total serum IgA among patients. Without getting into a lesson in biochemicals, these two factors suggest that there is something happening in the gut bacteria of AS patients that could be promoting inflammation of the spinal joints.
Don’t Trust Your Gut
Further studies have shown that Klebsiella bacteria have sequences closely resembling HLA-B27. And Klebsiella bacteria thrive on starch intake. Healthy people have normal amounts of Klebsiella bacteria in the body. But when someone who is genetically susceptible to AS eats a starchy diet, these bacteria multiply to abnormal levels, at which point they can start to cause problems like AS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and even pneumonia.
All this to say that the whole theory behind the starch-free diet is to reduce the amount of Klebsiella bacteria in the guts of those patients with AS. This should reduce both the intensity and the frequency of episodes of inflammation of the spinal joints, as well as other symptoms.
As you can see, the research is getting there. As we speak there are clinical trials underway that will do much to build the evidence supporting a low-starch diet for those with spondylitis. But many people have already taken the leap and seen excellent results because of it. You can read Janneke’s story here. And you can check out another one here.
There are online groups devoted to AS and this diet in particular that you can join to see some more results for yourself. But, to get you started, let’s talk about a diet that may work for you.
What Foods To Avoid
Surprisingly, starch is in a lot of stuff. Unless you have a need to, you probably don’t pay that much attention to which foods contain starch. So let’s get a list going.
- Cakes and Pastries
- Flours (sorghum, millet, white)
- Snack foods like pretzels and saltines
You may be surprised to find that potatoes aren’t the starchiest food on the list. They’re simply the starchiest common vegetable around. The Rice Krispies cereal is a starchy choice, so you may want to cut that out of your morning breakfast. For some delicious low-starch recipes, click here.
The following foods don’t necessarily contain starch, but they can cause inflammation, so it’s best to avoid them if you can.
- Sugar or processed sweets
- Palm oil
- Partially-hydrogenated oils (trans fats found in many processed foods)
- Saturated fats
- Processed meats
Sugar is on the list above, but not all sugar is bad. The majority of your sugar should come from healthy sources, like fruits. The concern is too much added sugar or sweeteners.
What Foods Are Okay To Eat
Everyone is different, but the foods below should be okay to eat (barring any allergies) without exacerbating your AS.
- Olive oil
- Tuna and Salmon
- Vegetables (maybe avoid potatoes)
- Other whole, unprocessed foods
For best results, keep a food diet for a month so you can determine what foods may be tied to inflammation. Ease your way into it, and make sure to talk to your doctor about major dietary changes that may affect any medications you’re taking.
Other Tips For Dealing With Spondylitis
Getting into the swing of a low-starch diet can be difficult. You may want to practice a few of the tips below while you’re at it, to help manage the symptoms of AS.
- Stretch and Exercise – Yoga is a great option for this. Extended periods of rest tends to make AS worse.
- Get a Massage – A professional massage can help you relax and loosen up. This is a good way to get your body ready for exercise.
- Try Acupuncture – The studies are limited, but there’s some evidence that acupuncture can help relieve AS-related pain.
- Hot and Cold Therapy – Heat can help reduce stiffness and provide comfort to the muscles. A cold pack can help swelling go down after a workout or during inflammation.
- Visit a Chiropractor – Chiropractors deal with spondylitis often, and the benefits of chiropractic care extend beyond helpful spinal adjustments. Many of the items on this list can be performed by a chiropractor, including massage therapy, hot and cold therapy, exercise, and stretching. Plus, a chiropractor can help you with nutrition advice for pain relief.
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor in Alaska for over 20 years. He is currently leading 10,000 Alaskans to more active and pain-free lifestyles with a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care, massage therapy, and physical rehab therapy.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.