best diet for autoimmune diseases
Do you know why some people experience autoimmune diseases and others do not? Have you tried to understand how changes in your diet might help an autoimmune disease? Or maybe you are worried that what you are eating is contributing to it? Perhaps you are someone that is suffering from an autoimmune disease and wonder how the ketogenic (often referred to as “keto”) diet might compare to other diets in easing the troubles of autoimmune disease. We want to assist you in choosing fuel for your body that will help you not only achieve your goals but be sustainable, and help you be successful in remedying these issues. We will learn about what autoimmune diseases are and what causes them. Then we will explore how to choose the best diet for autoimmune diseases.
what are autoimmune diseases?
First, we need to understand what the immune system does. It is designed to attack bacteria and viruses that do not belong in your body to help keep you healthy. It is expected to tell the difference between foreign cells (those that don’t belong) and your own cells (ones that belong). Autoimmune diseases occur when the body is attacked by the immune system in response to something going on inside it.It is working, trying to protect you from illness but instead causes it.Some diseases will be attacked in certain areas of the body and others can impact the body as a whole.
There are several common autoimmune diseases which include, but are not limited to:
- Type 1 diabetes–the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas
- Rheumatoid arthritis – immune system attacks the joints
- Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis – skin cells multiply faster than they should and build up as patches on the skin, psoriatic arthritis occurs when individuals with psoriasis also develop joint pain
- Multiple sclerosis – the protective coating around nerve cells is damaged
- Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) – joint pain, fatigue and rashes are common
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – inflammation occurs in the lining of the intestines
- Addison’s disease – adrenal glands are impacted; these glands produce hormones that affect the way the body uses and stores sugar
- Grave’s disease – thyroid gland is impacted; this gland produces hormones that control the body’s metabolism
- Sjögren’s syndrome – the joints are attacked
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – thyroid production slows, as noted above this relates to metabolism
- Myastenia gravis – the nerves that help the brain control the muscles are impacted
- Vasculitis – the immune system attacks the blood vessels
- Pernicious anemia – affects a protein called the intrinsic factor; which disrupts vitamin B12 absorption and impacts production of red blood cells.
- Celiac disease – the immune system attacks the intestine and causes inflammation when gluten is present
It is clear, by looking at this list, that there are a number of problems that can occur when your immune system decides to attack cells within your body. Some of them can be managed by diet while others need more serious medical intervention.
Many of these diseases will exhibit similar symptoms in the early stages. These symptoms include: fatigue, achy muscles, swelling and redness, low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, numbness and tingling in the hands and/or feet, hair loss, skin rashes. They do not all have the same symptoms, as certain diseases on this list can also exhibit their own unique symptoms. For example, type 1 diabetes might cause extreme thirst or weight loss while irritable bowel disease may cause bloating and gas. It is important to be aware of any of these symptoms and talk with your doctor should you experience them.
It is not entirely clear what causes these autoimmune diseases. Research shows that women are more susceptible to these diseases than men at a rate of 2 to 1 (6.4 percent to 2.7 percent). There are a few things being studied, that medical professionals believe may be contributing to autoimmune diseases. This includes: diet, infections, and exposure to chemicals but researchers cannot be entirely sure. Research has found that healthy people have a different combination of bacteria in their intestines than those with some of these autoimmune diseases. It is believed that the microbiome of the gut could be a key in alleviating them.
There are trillions of bacteria that reside within your body. The microbiome within the intestines is where several different bacteria live. Some of these bacteria are good and promote healthy digestion and others can cause problems and make your gut unhealthy. Your overall health is impacted by the bacteria in the intestines, which is also known as intestinal or gut flora. Creating a healthy microbiome in your gut happens when there are diverse bacteria present. The more species of bacteria there are, the higher the probability of them making a positive impact on your health.
There is a lot of research being done to pinpoint exact causes of these autoimmune diseases but for now, it is essential to be aware of what can contribute to them and be proactive if you are having problems. There are a number of foods that can lead to leaky gut which frequently causes more inflammation and can precede autoimmune diseases. Remember that what you eat nourishes all the cells and organs in your body and can play a part in the possibility of dealing with an autoimmune disease. With this plethora of information, you might be asking yourself, what is the best diet for autoimmune diseases? What things should I eat? Or perhaps, more importantly, what should I avoid eating?
best diet for autoimmune diseases
It is difficult to say that there is one “best diet for autoimmune diseases.” What we can say is that you should focus on overall body health and the risk for an autoimmune disease will decrease. Based on research, the best diet for autoimmune disease should improve your healthy gut bacteria. You should eliminate foods that are highly processed and those that contain artificial ingredients. A diet that focuses on natural ingredients and whole foods is best to create a balanced environment within your body where an autoimmune disease is not likely to occur. Food is very powerful in keeping your body in optimum health.
It is also advised to avoid foods that can cause or increase inflammation in the body. Did you know that over 75 percent of people are suffering with chronic inflammation and many don’t even know it? You could have inflammation in your gut, your joints, your digestive tract; or you may have allergies, food sensitivities, or any other chronic inflammation issue. Because inflammation of the body can happen as a result of autoimmune disease, one key is to minimize other instigators of it. Here are some common foods that cause inflammation: sugar and high fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats, vegetable and seed oils, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, genetically modified foods, artificial sweeteners, and processed meat. It is wise to watch consumption of these products not only to avoid inflammation but also to promote healthy gut bacteria growth.
In a ketogenic diet you will be eliminating the carbohydrates that your body burns first for energy. In doing this, your body will begin to burn fat for energy. This is known as ketosis which is a metabolic process where your body uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The basis of the keto diet is to devise an eating plan that helps your body reach ketosis. More simply put, it is a low carbohydrate and high fat diet. It consists of very little carbohydrates, moderate protein and focuses on healthy fats. Fats will constitute approximately 60-80 percent of your daily calories. Most of the foods that cause inflammation (as noted above) will be removed or dramatically reduced if you are following a ketogenic diet. Therefore, you will naturally experience a decrease in inflammation in your body which could promote a healthy intestinal tract. The following foods are recommended to improve your gut health, they are also on the suggested food list when following a ketogenic diet:
- Vegetables: Broccoli, arugula, kale, eggplant, Swiss chard, spinach, zucchini.
- Fermented vegetables: Kimchi, sauerkraut.
- Fruit: Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries.
- Sprouted seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds.
- Healthy fats: Avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil.
- Fish: Salmon, mackerel, trout, herring.
- Meats and eggs: Chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, eggs.
- Beverages: Bone broth, teas, kombucha, water.
- Nuts: Pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts.
Remember that inflammation and a healthy gut are connected. If you have a healthy gut, there will likely be less inflammation in your body. With that being said, there are also many foods that can negatively impact the healthy bacteria in your body. They include: wheat based products, grains with gluten, baked goods, junk food (chips, candy, fast food, etc.), and artificial sweeteners. Most of these foods will also be removed or dramatically cut if you are following a ketogenic diet. Therefore, you will be promoting healthy bacteria in your intestines. Reducing inflammation and promoting this healthy bacteria growth will lessen your risk of an autoimmune disease.
What else can you do to prevent an autoimmune disease? As with any issue your body faces, including chronic illnesses, it is imperative to make sure you remove things that negatively impact your overall health. It is just as significant to make sure you allow enough time for your body to rest and repair itself as well as supplement your nutrition if it is in any way lacking. Most diets today are lacking some nutritional value. It is important to make sure that you are getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals into your body. Sometimes it is hard to find all of it in your diet, so supplements aid in making up the difference. These are a few other things that you can do to reduce inflammation and encourage healthy bacteria growth:
- Take a probiotic supplement
- Reduce stress
- Avoid smoking
- Sleep more
- Limit alcohol intake
Most of these seem clear, in helping you find good health. The one that people maybe least familiar with is the probiotic supplement. What are probiotics? They are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system. As we mentioned above, there are healthy and unhealthy bacteria within your body. Probiotics are the helpful bacteria that can help keep your gut healthy. Reducing stress, improving diet and getting enough rest can all improve the health of your body, which then lowers the risk of autoimmune disease.
A lot of work goes into finding a sustainable diet that will produce results. Despite the research and information available to us today, not everyone will have the same results even if they are following the exact same plans. Everyone’s body will respond differently, and it is up to you to make changes until you find the plan that works the best for you. It can be overwhelming and for many people it is, at times, very frustrating.
A major factor to evaluate is finding a plan where whole foods, particularly ones that you enjoy consuming, can be incorporated. A lot of focus should be put on the quality of food consumed. Other lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity and improving sleep can also contribute and improve overall results. Remember that regardless of your diet choice, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking water. It is also suggested to avoid soda, drinks with added sugars, and alcoholic beverages.
We know that the benefits to finding a healthy, balanced diet are great and that the decision is one that needs to be made based on your health history, overall goals and in consultation with your primary care physician. Our goal here is to assess your options regarding the best diet for autoimmune diseases so that you can make an educated decision regarding your health journey. In knowing the potential causes and issues it triggers within your body, you can take steps to avoid the possibility of experiencing an autoimmune disease.