There are now two times more Americans living with autoimmune diseases than heart disease, according to The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Despite billions of dollars spent on care every year, people are struggling with autoimmune problems more than ever before.
An autoimmune disease is a disorder that arises from an unusual immune response of the body against healthy body tissue. Essentially, it is the body mistakenly attacking and destroying itself. This may be restricted to certain organs or involve a particular tissue. Immunosuppressants, medications that decreases the immune response, are typically the treatment for the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. Some examples of autoimmune diseases that may sound familiar are Celiac disease, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Women are two-three times more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder. But not every ache and pain is due to autoimmune. Just because your joints hurt doesn't necessarily mean this; it could simply be due to injury or overuse.
When your immune system is not working the way it should, as in the case of autoimmune disease, it starts attacking healthy body tissues which it would normally ignore. There are many autoimmune diseases, all with their own specific pathways and symptoms, which can make this group of illnesses particularly difficult to treat. The cause behind these may be bacterial or viral, perhaps caused by our environment, or possibly even toxins in the food we consume. Typically, the symptoms of each of these conditions is treated rather than the underlying cause.
In the past, when there were limited treatment methods for autoimmune diseases, steroids were used to mitigate and treat symptoms. Steroids as a treatment are not necessarily effective, as they can be thought of as a temporary fix. Steroids will reduce the amount of inflammation in the body and take care of the symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders, but not the disease itself. Newer therapies using your own immune system to fight off any immune deficiencies are currently in development, which provides hope that a more permanent solution exists aside from steroids.
Research suggests that genetics account for only about 1/3 of autoimmune disease factors. Environmental triggers, diet and lifestyle might be what's largely responsible — which means you can help balance your immune system, dampen the inflammatory attacks and attempt to put the autoimmune response into remission.
1. Vitamin A
- Vitamin A is essential for equipping you with a strong immune system.
- Vitamin A deficiency has also been linked to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
- Researchers seem to think it has to do with our dendritic cells.
- These alarms of the immune system can send out a "red alert" to stimulate immunity, or a "calm down" message that tones down excessive immunity that can damage the body. The "calm down" message makes use of vitamin A.
- True vitamin A, what's called retinol, is only found in animal products like fish, shellfish, fermented cod liver oil, liver and butterfat from grass-fed cows
2. Vitamin D
- Known as the "sunshine vitamin," this nutrient is essential for many metabolic and immunological pathways in the body.
- For example, Th17 cells are helper T cells that produce a number of inflammatory chemicals, such as interleukin-17.
- With autoimmune conditions — such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis — Th17 cells are out of control.
- Vitamin D, in conjunction with Vitamin A, has been shown to synergistically dampen the Th17 inflammatory response.
- As with vitamin A, vitamin D is most abundant in animal and dairy fats.
- Soaking up some time in the sun can also help — about 20 to 60 minutes a day, depending on your complexion.
- Consider getting tests done every few months to ensure your vitamin D levels are healthy.
3. Vitamin K2
- One study in the Journal of Neuroimmunology found that vitamin K2 was effective at inhibiting the pro-inflammatory iNOS in the spinal cord and the brain immune system in rats that had multiple sclerosis symptoms.
- Unfortunately, K2 is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the western diet.
- Vitamin K2 is best paired with the other fat-soluble vitamins, A and D, in whole food form like grass-fed butter oil (ghee), or organ meat.
- Natto, a Japanese superfood made from non-GMO fermented soybeans, also has high levels of K2.
- Iron deficiency anemia is linked to many autoimmune diseases.
- One reason is because a large amount of stored iron, ferritin, is absorbed in the intestines. And in functional medicine, damage of the gut lining and leaky gut syndrome are considered preconditions for autoimmunity.
- It's critical to first deal with the underlying problem that's causing the iron deficiency.
- Healing of the microbiome is essential for healthy nutrient absorption, especially iron.
- Once the gut is healed, iron-rich foods like grass-fed beef, liver and spinach can be effective, as well as cooking with cast iron cookware.
- Micronutrient deficiencies — such as selenium, magnesium and zinc — are associated with several autoimmune diseases.
- Mainly due to chronic inflammation, which decreases the absorption of these vital nutrients.
- These micronutrients are needed for the healthy production and conversion of the thyroid hormone — and thyroid problems such as Hashimoto's disease are some of the most common autoimmune conditions.
- A variety of nuts and seeds like Brazil nuts, as well as oysters, are good sources of these nutrients.