Is a Raw Food Vegan Diet Good for Autoimmunity? - Aspire Natural Health

Is a Raw Food Vegan Diet Good for Autoimmunity?

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I recently had a distant friend adopt raw food veganism to help with her psoriasis and they feel that it is helping.

I also just read an article about how Venus Williams (the famous tennis player) had adopted a raw food vegan diet in the hopes it will help her Sjogren’s syndrome.


What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

“Sjogren’s is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Today, as many as four million Americans are living with this disease.

Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjogren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma [a type of blood cancer].

With upwards of 4,000,000 Americans suffering from Sjogren’s, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. Nine out of 10 patients are women.

About half of the time Sjogren’s occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. When Sjogren’s occurs alone, it is referred to as “Primary Sjogren’s.” When it occurs with another connective tissue disease, it is referred to as “Secondary Sjogren’s.”


What is a raw vegan diet?

A raw vegan diet does not include any animal products of any kind, or any foods that have been heated above 118 degrees F, the temperature at which enzymes begin to degrade.

What do you eat on a raw vegan diet? Raw vegetables and fruits, nuts and nut pastes, grain and legume sprouts, seeds, plant oils, sea vegetables, herbs, and fresh juices.


My thoughts on raw veganism

Let me start out with the required disclaimer: Everyone is a little bit different, so no one diet in exactly the same ratios and proportions will work for everyone. AND, if something is working for you, keep doing it.

Having said that, here’s what I’ve found from my research and my clinical experience.

I think veganism (raw or cooked) can be a good short term diet. A cleanse, if you will.

It’s helpful for many Westerners. Especially to borrow a term from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) those who are excessive or hot.

Hot people are ‘hot’ both mentally and physically: they tend to be aggressive, Type A, in-your-face, loud, boisterous, overweight, sweaty, and all around excessive people. They tend to do really well on a raw vegan diet, which according to TCM would be very cooling, at least until they ‘cool’ down.

Cool people on the other hand, who tend to be thin, with thin bone structure, are cold all the time, cold hands and feet, soft-spoken, slow/poor digestion, weak, with a pale complexion, tend to do exceptionally badly on a raw vegan diet as it tends to ‘cool’ them down even further.


The benefit of all diets

Setting aside TCM for the moment, it’s my belief that the benefits we see with most diets come from avoiding ‘junk’.

Universally it’s acknowledged that white flour, white sugar, and processed vegetable oils are poison.

Every culture that adopts eating these modern foods suffers a decline in health.

And basically every diet out there avoids these foods, thus providing at least some health benefits.


Back to raw veganism

The problem with raw plant foods is that they are difficult to digest.

We just do not have the digestive machinery to handle large amounts of raw plant foods as our primary source of nutrition.

I know many people will argue this, with unresearched statements like, look how big gorillas get and they’re vegans, or look how big cows are.

They say this, because they don’t understand biology, physiology and biochemistry.


So let’s debunk two myths floating around real quick

One: If gorillas & cows do just fine on raw plants, we can do it too.

The answer is NO.

Gorillas digestions look very different from ours.  They have GIANT colons where the plant matter is digested by their gut bacteria, and from which they derive a huge percentage of their calories and nutrition.

Humans do NOT have a giant colon.

Similarly cows have a four chambered stomach, a rumen, where food is fermented and broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms providing energy and nutrition to cows.

We do not have a stomach like a cow.

Because our anatomy is different from theirs, we cannot eat and get nutrition from foods in the ways that gorillas and cows do.

Two: No other animal cooks their food, therefore we shouldn’t either

True. However no other animal wears clothes, uses phones or computers, drives cars, watches TV, reads books, use kitchen utensils like knives or blenders or juicers, etc.

In ancestral medicine we take this though seriously and look at the potential negaive aspects of our modern lives like too much sitting, or too much screen time.  But the research on cooking shows universally positive things for humans with increases in nutrition once humans began to cook food.


Cooking as pre-digestion

Humans have learned to make use of cooking as a method of pre-digestion. It helps kill infectious microogranisms on animal foods, and it helps soften and break down plant foods so that our digestive system (that is not like a gorillas or a cow) can break down plant food effectively to extract nutrition.


My experience with raw vegan diets

In my work with people, most people I’ve seen that adopt a raw vegan diet will crash after 3 months to 3 years on a vegan diet.

The usual pattern goes like this.

Transition from Standard American Diet (moderate animal intake, lots and lots of sugar, lots of wheat and processed grain products, lots of very low quality vegetable oils, lots of preservatives, colorings and artificial flavorings) to raw vegan diet (add a lot more fruits and vegetable and cut out a lot of junk).

Begin feeling better, often much better.

Over time, deplete nutrient status and begin to feel worse. This depletion depends on how well the diet is constructed, how strong the persons digestion is (the better the digestion the longer it takes), and how ‘full of nutrition’ the person was before starting the diet.

For some people as little as 3 months can bring on a crash. For many others, that seems to happen around 18 months or so. Others take longer, and I have met one raw food vegan who was still doing very well after 5 years and a few others vegans who have been doing it, on and off, for many years.


Two short stories

Two different women I’ve seen in the past year in my practice.

Both extremely smart, very diligent, very committed. So the common complaint they were doing it wrong, not these two women. In fact when they began to crash, they like many others, got a lot stricter, a lot more hard core, in order to make sure they were “doing it right.”

Both felt good, very good, for about a year. Then the first lost about half of her head hair. The second crashed hard, suffering from very low energy (tired ALL the time), and became sickly (catching everything that came around).

We transitioned both back to a healthier diet and rebuilt them, and they’re feeling fantastic now!


Bottom line

I believe raw vegan diets can be very helpful, for the right people, as a temporary cleansing style diet. Most people will need to transition off them after 1-12 months onto a more sustainable diet, compatible with our physiology.

I expect to hear that both my distant friend and Venus Williams did well for a while, and if they don’t listen to their bodies and transition off, that they crash in the future.

For more info and experiences on veganism I recommend you check out:

Lierre Keith’s book, The Vegetarian Myth. I think her book, while somewhat extreme, is a really good look at veganism and the philosophy underlying it, from someone who still wants to be a vegan. Lierre, an incredible devoted woman, destroyed her health with veganism.

Denise Minger’s Raw Food SOS Website – another vegan forced to quit the lifestyle, she writes very intelligently about it and a variety of other issues.


At Aspire Natural Health we are experts at helping people suffering with digestive issues and autoimmunity.

Are you looking for help?

Email us at or call us at 425-202-7849.

The first step of our process is to see if we’re a good fit for one another. If we are, we’ll talk about next steps. If not, that’s okay, and we’ll do our best to help you find the right person.

Everything is no-obligation and no-pressure, so you don’t have to worry. You have nothing to lose!

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