How Does Diet Help Common Autoimmune Diseases?

The body’s immune system plays a key role in maintaining our health. There are, however, cases
where it “confuses” this role and treats as enemy of our own organism. Autoimmune diseases can affect different parts of our body, something that distinguishes one disease from another.

If you have a chronic condition, it is always important to consult your doctor before making significant lifestyle changes. Working with a dietitian will help you make these changes in your eating habits and food choices that will play a catalytic role in controlling the symptoms of the disease.

Over the years and with the plethora of research, diet has shown that it can help fight these diseases, so let’s take a look at some of these diseases, what they are and how our diet can help.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases. While each of us could develop one of these
diseases at some point in our lives, risk factors that contribute to the onset of the disease are family
history, different ethnological groups, lifestyle, age of childbearing for women, environmental issues etc. This article is a general guideline and not a deeper analysis for any autoimmune.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis
This autoimmune disease affects the joints, creating inflammation that leads to joints thickening. People with arthritis often experience swelling and pain around the joints. If left untreated can end up with destructive cartilage or damaged bone quality.

How diet can help:
Because this disease causes body inflammation, it helps to consume foods with anti-inflammatory
action. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have been shown to help reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis and may reduce the risk of disease. Fish such as salmon, trout and tuna contain this type of fat, as do chia seeds and flaxseed.

Although there is still no research linking turmeric to rheumatoid arthritis, this type of spice is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, so it is good to add it to your diet. The Arthritis Institute also recommends that these patients add selenium (found in whole grains) and vitamin D (which helps our body absorb calcium to protect bones to their diet. You will get it from the sun, eggs and enriched products.)

2. Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
As with arthritis, with Lupus we have to deal with inflammation in our body. But unlike arthritis, lupus can affect not only your joints, but any part of your body including your cells, tissues and organs. People with lupus are at greater risk for further health problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney disease. Women are at greater risk, as about 9 out of 10 lupus patients are women.

How diet can help:
As with all autoimmune diseases, a proper and balanced diet is important. This means that it should
include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and a moderate amount of fish, poultry and meat. Again,
you will need to eat anti-inflammatory foods to help control your symptoms. You should also limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

3. Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that mainly affects the skin. It can cause erythema and thin skin that looks like a very dry spot. Some people may experience itching and burning in these areas, which
are usually the elbows, knees or scalp. It has also been linked to health problems such as heart disease, depression and diabetes.

How diet can help:
People with psoriasis could benefit from a gluten-free diet, as some research suggests that there is a link between celiac disease (causing a negative immune response to gluten) and psoriasis. The National Psoriasis Institute also points out that patients can control their symptoms by limiting foods such as tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes and increasing vegetables, vitamin D and fish oil.

4. Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease includes Crohn’s disease (affecting any part of the gastrointestinal tract but typically the lower part of the small intestine) and ulcerative colitis (affecting the large intestine). Both of these conditions involve chronic inflammation of the digestive system.

Some of the symptoms are persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, bleeding from the rectum, fatigue
and weight loss.

How diet can help:
A meal plan that could help people suffering from this disease is to consume natural short chain
carbohydrates or sugars, with trouble digesting in some people. FODMAP itself means fermentable,
oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, that is, all the things that people on a diet would try to avoid. Refer to the diet story on how to follow a low FODMAP diet for more details.

5. Hashimoto’s disease Also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
This disease means that your immune system is attacking the thyroid gland, rendering it inactive. The
thyroid gland controls how our body uses its energy and can affect many areas of the body, slowing down daily functions such as heart rate.

How diet can help:
According to the National Institutes of Health, people with this condition should avoid iodine, as it can worsen their symptoms. As with the other autoimmune diseases I mentioned, a diet along with
anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce the symptoms. You should avoid gluten and dairy products. According to a study, there is a link between lactose intolerance and Hashimoto’s disease, while another showed that vitamin D was extremely important to them.

Would you like to learn more about how a balanced diet plan can help you too? Book a free appointment with me and we will discuss everything in detail!

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