According to the American Autoimmune-Related Diseases Association, autoimmune diseases affect up to 50 million Americans. An autoimmune disease develops when the immune system sees healthy cells as foreign, and decides they are dangerous to the body. The immune system attacks healthy cells, affecting one or many different types of body tissue. There are as many as 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. They fluctuate between periods of remission, with little or no symptoms and flare-ups with worsening symptoms. Current treatment for autoimmune diseases focuses on symptom relief, as there is no cure.
While autoimmune diseases often run in families, research suggests that genetics only account for about one-third of autoimmune disease factors. Environmental triggers, and diet and lifestyle may be largely responsible, which suggests that those suffering from autoimmune disease may be able to lessen the inflammatory attacks and attempt to put their autoimmune response into remission.
Dr. William Cole, who specializes in functional medicine and clinical nutrition, put together a list of five nutrients that he strongly recommends for those suffering from autoimmune disorders, to help them fight the disease and eventually remove the problem.
A Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to some autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. Researchers believe that Vitamin A helps regulate a “calm down” message to the immune system, which can tone down excessive immune responses that can damage the body. True Vitamin A can only be found in animal products such as fish, shellfish and liver, but plant carotenes – a precursor to Vitamin A – are found in sweet potatoes and carrots.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for many metabolic and immunological pathways in the body, including Th17 cells. Th17 cells are helper T-cells that produce inflammatory chemicals. In someone suffering from an autoimmune disease, their Th17 cells are out of control, but Vitamin D has been shown to help dampen the Th17 inflammatory response. Vitamin D is most abundant in animal and dairy fats, but spending some time in the sunshine outdoors can help you soak up some of this essential vitamin!
3. Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the western diet. A study published 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 systems – a gene under he control of a variety of inflammatory mediators. Vitamin K2 is best paired with other fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. It can be found in grass-fed oil and a Japanese superfood made from soybeans, called Natto.
Iron deficiency is linked to many autoimmune diseases, because a large amount of stored iron is absorbed in the intestines. The damage of the gut lining and leaky gut syndrome are considered preconditions for autoimmunity. Finding the underlying problem is the first step to controlling an iron deficiency. Iron-rich foods include grass-fed beef and spinach.
Deficiencies in micronutrients including selenium, magnesium and zinc are associated with several autoimmune diseases, due to chronic inflammation that decreases the absorption of these nutrients. Micronutrients are essential for the healthy production of the thyroid hormone. Thyroid problems are some of the most common autoimmune conditions. Many seeds and nuts, including Brazil nuts, are good sources of micronutrients.
According to Dr. Cole, if you’re struggling with an autoimmune disease, these are essential steps to take:
- Get your nutrient levels checked.
- Find out if you have absorption issues.
- Avoid your trigger foods.
- Implement natural methods.
- Consider a functional medicine evaluation.