April 3, 2019
Last Updated:
December 17, 2019

Diet and Autoimmune Disease

Christi Staufer, IIN Content Editor

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease, which includes type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease.

What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy tissue for foreign cells. A normally functioning immune system can detect the difference between your own cells and foreign bodies, but in an autoimmune condition, the distinction is blurred. These conditions can be specific to one organ or can affect the entire body.

Could it be related to diet?
While it seems there is a genetic component to many autoimmune conditions, environmental and lifestyle factors can exacerbate symptoms. Autoimmune disease has some known triggers, including stress, inflammation, and diet.

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As a potential source of inflammation, diet is one of the best ways to help reduce flare-ups and protect the body. Here are a few factors to keep in mind: 

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system. Most of us are deficient in vitamin D because it’s hard to get the proper amount from foods and we may not have access to sun exposure year-round. Because of this, a supplement may help boost vitamin D levels.
  • Probiotics – Gut health is imperative to keeping a healthy immune system as 70%–80% of immune cells are found in the gut. Probiotics are living microorganisms that help add to the “good” bacteria in the gut. They can be taken as a supplement or found in various foods, such as yogurt, traditionally fermented pickles, and Kombucha.
  • Turmeric – It contains a very potent anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin. Turmeric is a great spice that can be incorporated into almost any dish to help reduce inflammation throughout the body.
  • Fish Oil – Omega-3 fatty acids are another powerful anti-inflammatory. To ensure you’re getting enough, include fatty fish, like salmon, in your diet a few times a week or add a fish oil supplement to your regimen. Walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are good plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • CBD – This alternative medicine has been gaining a lot of attention recently. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and a lot of people use it to aid with anxiety and pain.
  • Meditation – This can be a great way to help your body combat stress. As you may know, stress can have severely negative effects on your body and your immune system, so finding some time every day to meditate, enjoy some cleansing breaths, or just clear your mind can have a positive impact.

While these options may help reduce inflammation, it’s also important to be aware of foods that have been shown to cause inflammation, including refined grains, sugar, and alcohol. Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet and crowding out inflammatory foods can help boost immunity and reduce the risk of an autoimmune flare-up.

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