Finding relief for autoimmune diseases

Published May 24, 2022, 10:45 AM

by Cheshire Que

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBS, Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Graves’ Disease, and Eosinophilic Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis or EGPA are examples of debilitating chronic illnesses classified as autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases affect body organs with symptoms manifesting in various ways. A person suffering from Lupus can have a characteristic butterfly rash on the face, joint pains, and kidney problems while an individual who has EGPA will have poor blood circulation as a result of vasculitis or inflammation of blood vessels.

How does one get an autoimmune disease? What exactly happens when you have an autoimmune disorder? There are about 80 types of autoimmune diseases that affect approximately five percent of the world’s population. The body’s immune system is our defense against harmful microorganisms and toxins, as well as the development of cancer cells and other diseases. For instance, when one gets infected by a virus such as the common cold or influenza, the immune system automatically sends soldiers in the form of white blood cells to kill the intruder. This is a normal immune response.

Since some autoimmune diseases are triggered or aggravated by food sensitivities, the most common of which is wheat and gluten sensitivity, it is best to have a food intolerance test done to determine what’s causing low-grade inflammatory reactions in your body.

Some conditions, however, confuse the immune system, resulting in the immune cells attacking and damaging healthy or normal body tissues. Some of the risk factors for autoimmune diseases are genetic susceptibility, gender, medications, smoking, and environmental triggers. Moreover, the condition of your gut or intestinal lining also plays a role. A leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability stimulates the immune system to react through inflammatory response or inflammation.

When we ingest food, it is digested and absorbed in the gut, which is made up of the stomach and intestines. Therefore, the intestinal wall acts as a protective barrier filtering substances and allowing the passage of small molecules broken down from food. When the intestinal wall is damaged and leaky, however, large and incompletely digested food molecules pass through to the bloodstream. Here lies the problem. These substances tend to accumulate in body organs, thus stimulating the immune system to wrongly attack otherwise healthy organs leading to autoimmune disorders.

Studies have shown that abnormal intestinal permeability is characteristic of not only autoimmune diseases but other chronic illnesses as well such as cancer and heart diseases among others.

There is currently no known cure for autoimmune diseases. Medications, however, are used to control the immune response. Unfortunately, some drugs tend to have undesirable side effects. NSAIDs and aspirin in particular are linked to increased intestinal permeability. Given these facts, is there no way of finding relief for autoimmune diseases?

EAT GREEN The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet reduces inflammation and relieves some symptoms of autoimmune disorders

Recent studies have shown evidence that point to the role of diet and nutrition in quelling inflammation, decreasing intestinal permeability, and repairing a leaky gut. Since some autoimmune diseases are triggered or aggravated by food sensitivities, the most common of which is wheat and gluten sensitivity, it is best to have a food intolerance test done to determine what’s causing low-grade inflammatory reactions in your body. This test will help you determine the specific food items to eliminate from your diet for about three to six months.

Indeed, the type of diet you have increases your risk of autoimmune diseases, especially if you are a meat and dairy eater. A four-year study was conducted on 25,630 participants in Norfolk in the UK by Dorothy J Pattison et al on the dietary risk factors for the development of inflammatory polyarthritis: evidence for a role of high-level of red meat consumption. The research concluded that a high level of red meat and meat product consumption doubly increased the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis compared to those with the lowest intake.

Once you eliminate the food items that trigger inflammation and damage the intestinal wall, what then should you eat? Having an eating pattern that is mostly from plant sources like fresh vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, with some nuts and seeds will help quell inflammation and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These friendly bacteria impact your immunity. Minimize the intake of vegetable oils that are high in omega 6, which can be pro-inflammatory. Instead, consume plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids like oats, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, perilla oil, kiwi seeds, and seaweed. Occasional intake of fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines also provide omega 3.

There is hope in finding relief for autoimmune conditions. Consult a registered nutritionist dietitian to help guide you in transitioning to a whole food, plant-based way of eating to quell inflammation and repair your gut.

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