So you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and you’ve been instructed to take a medication you have never heard of. Everything is confusing, unknown, and frightening; and now you start to wonder if there is anything you can do outside of prescriptions and the doctor’s office to help make yourself feel better.
While medication is absolutely important and necessary, there are many other remedies that can additionally help lessen the severity of an autoimmune disease- one of these being your diet. Why is diet important? When it comes to Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Sjögren’s Syndrome, Hashimoto’s disease, etc... All of these autoimmune diseases have one thing in common: Inflammation, and diet can make a big difference with that.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is when the immune system triggers a response to try to heal an infection or injury that may have occurred within your body. This is typically helpful when the inflammation is short- term and its purpose is strictly to fix the injury/infection that posed a threat to the body. Inflammation can become an issue when it is long- term and the immune system is constantly fighting and exhausting itself . When the immune system starts to over-exhaust itself, this makes it harder for it to fight off those infections and injuries, which is an extremely important and serious issue. Those with autoimmune diseases have long- term inflammation .
What’s going on in your body if you have an autoimmune disease?
When someone has an autoimmune disease, their immune system produces autoantibodies to attack healthy cells within their body by mistake . Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body and there are more than 80 different types. Inflammation is one of the classic signs of most autoimmune diseases, along with fatigue, muscle aches, and a low grade fever . Each autoimmune disease’s symptoms will vary, and based on which one you have, the immune system will be attacking certain parts of your body (ex: RA is when the body’s joints are attacked, but Sjogren’s syndrome is when the body primarily attacks glands that secrete fluids) . This constant state of the immune system wrongfully attacking your body, will cause long term inflammation which can begin to damage your arteries, organs and joints. Medications are a great way to manage your autoimmune disease and the damage done from it, but there are definitely ways to additionally decrease the severity and progression of it.
How does nutrition play a role in autoimmune and inflammation?
There are chemicals naturally found in our body that have antioxidant properties and in turn, produce anti- inflammatory benefits. These are polyphenols that are types of phytochemicals, and there are 3 different kinds found in food and beverages associated with anti-inflammatory properties; Flavonoids, Stilbenes, and Phenolic acids . Some foods and beverages that contain these phytochemicals are cloves, leafy greens, dark chocolate, berries, apples, plums, beans, nuts, black tea, and green tea . Another important nutrient to consume is healthy fats, which can include olive oil and fatty fish .
How can I implement this into my own diet?
Generally, eating healthy, well balanced meals will be beneficial to those with autoimmune diseases. A good model for a diet that is anti-inflammatory based is the Mediterranean Diet, this will consist of favoring fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein, healthful fats, low-fat milk products, and spices . Avoid eating things containing saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars . On top of eating a nutrient packed diet, you should also be living a health conscious lifestyle! This means limiting your alcohol consumption, not smoking, exercising regularly, and trying to remain stress free .
Consuming anti-inflammatory foods should definitely benefit a person with an autoimmune disease, but make sure to choose to eat things that make YOU feel good (that’s the whole point, isn’t it?!). Having an autoimmune disease does not mean your diet will be one size fits all, it will take a lot of trial and error to see what helps with your individual symptoms. Hopefully after reading this article you feel a bit more ready to tackle your autoimmune disease whilst using nutrition!
Edited by PreRD intern, Lauren Gatto
Written by Emily Cafarella: I am a 4th year undergraduate student at Stony Brook University studying Health Science in pursuit of becoming a Registered Dietitian. I am passionate about fueling your body with nutrients and movement to create a sustainable and balanced lifestyle! I hope to open up a private practice in the future to further promote and spread awareness about health and wellness to others.
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