Autoimmunity is on the rise and has reached epidemic levels in the United States. Studies show that a common biomarker for autoimmune disease called antinuclear antibodies (ANA) has increased by 50 percent in the last 30 years. There is also a growing number of autoimmune diseases occurring after COVID-19 infection.

What is an “Autoimmune” Disease?

Autoimmunity happens when the immune system can’t distinguish between healthy cells and invading microorganisms. Instead of protecting cells from invaders, the body’s disease defenses attack healthy tissues and organs. An important immune system function is responding to invading viruses and bacteria by producing antibodies. Under normal conditions, the immune system would not trigger an attack against your own cells. However, the immune system sometimes makes a mistake and invades the cells they are meant to protect. This leads to autoimmune diseases, which include more than 100 different conditions. Here are some examples of autoimmune conditions:

  • Addison’s disease
  • Alopecia areata
  • Asthma/allergies
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Dermatitis herpatiformis
  • Diabetes, type 1
  • Grave’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Lichen planus
  • Lupus
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Vasculitis

Research suggests that the breakdown of immune tolerance is related to changes in our environment and lifestyles. This includes changes in our microbiomes that can be triggered by processed food diets, gut dysfunction, obesity, sleep deprivation, air pollution, chronic stress, infections, and exposure to toxic chemicals. Most doctors support the idea that autoimmune diseases are incurable.

Nutrition Can Help with Autoimmune Disease

Many people don’t realize the power of nutrition and diet when it comes to preventing, managing, and achieving remission with autoimmune conditions. Start with these three dietary factors:

Gluten-Free Diet

    Gluten is a protein in wheat and other grains. Modern-day gluten is not the same as it was 50 years ago. Scientists developed hybrid strains of wheat with a higher gluten content. Since humans can only partially digest gluten, the leftover fragments promote intestinal lining inflammation. Today’s wheat is unfriendly to the digestive system. Ancient wheat contained about 4% gluten whereas today’s wheat contains up to 12%. Also, the way food companies currently process bread and flour products is different from how it was done traditionally. Making bread as an overnight process gave the yeast’s enzymes time to partially digest the gluten. But this process is seldom used today.

    Reducing gluten is a good idea for everyone.  However, if you have an autoimmune disease, it’s best to eliminate gluten from your diet. Gluten can cause intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and is a trigger for inflammation and immune system problems. A gluten-free diet can be a powerful factor that helps manage or put autoimmune disorders in remission.

    Vitamin D

    Recent research shows that having optimal vitamin D blood levels (40-60 ng/ml) for five years (with or without omega-3 fats) can decrease the risk of autoimmune disease by 22%. The current recommendation is to increase vitamin D from foods and sun exposure to yield a blood level of at least 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L). The VITAL randomized controlled trial is the first study to back up the benefit of having vitamin D levels in the slightly higher range between 40-60 ng/mL (100-150 nmol/L) for optimal health. This study that used vitamin D and omega-3 supplements, suggests that vitamin D supplementation should be taken continuously for prevention of autoimmune conditions, but also showed that the beneficial effects may last up to two years after discontinuation.

    Sun exposure is the most natural source of vitamin D but for those who avoid the sun, supplementation may be necessary since few foods are good sources of vitamin D. The current daily recommendation (600 IUs) for vitamin D is lower than what most research shows is necessary for good health (2000 IUs daily). For comparison, in the summer, a person can make about 5,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D in about 15 minutes, depending on geographical location. A 3-ounce piece of salmon provides about 400 IUs, and dairy products offer between 80-100 IUs per serving. So, to maintain adequate blood levels of vitamin D, supplementation may be necessary, especially in the winter months.

    Omega-3 Fats

    The VITAL study was the first to show a modest benefit from omega-3 fats, reducing the risk of autoimmune disease by 15%. The data showed an aggregate 40% drop in incidence of rheumatoid arthritis in those taking vitamin D, omega-3s, or both when compared with subjects taking placebos.

    Foods that provide a good source of omega-3 fats include salmon (and other cold-water fish), flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.

    Other lifestyle elements that may help with autoimmune prevention and disease symptoms include moderate exercise, restful sleep, meditation, weight loss (if needed), and management of chronic stress. These are all within your control.

    Start with the dietary factors and gradually make other changes. Lastly, consider a visit to Sanoviv Medical Institute for an excellent jump start.