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Autoimmune Conditions and Diet: Is there a Link?

Autoimmune Conditions and Diet: Is there a Link?

According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARPA), autoimmune conditions are the second leading cause of chronic illnesses.

With 10-20% of the U.S. population experiencing early stage symptoms and imbalances, only 5% are actually diagnosed and treated for an autoimmune disorder.   Most of the time (approximately 75%) these conditions affect women in their childbearing years.  A complicated interplay of genetics, lifestyle, environment, and individual risk all play a role in development.

Living with an autoimmune condition can be a frustrating and lonely experience. For many, it takes years of being sick until they are finally diagnosed and given some direction.  Often times, the patient will seek out a number of specialists, get prescribed numerous medications or steroids to alleviate whatever ails them.

Nutrition management plays a big role in autoimmune diseases. Because each individual is unique in terms of their needs, seeking a Registered Dietitian who specializes in this area can be very helpful.  There is not one approach that fits all.  The goal with nutrition is to: reduce pain and inflammation, slow the progression of the disease, and boost immunity.

A typical ‘westernized’ diet has been gaining a great deal of attention as being a large promoter of autoimmune disease.  A diet rich in fats, cholesterol, protein, refined grains, sugar, salt and processed foods can be a toxic mix.  These foods promote obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.

Shifting a diet towards a higher intake of: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, omega-3 fats, seeds, nuts, extra virgin olive oils, avocados, and fish can all be of great benefit.

In addition, there are specific nutrients that have been demonstrated to show potential benefit in autoimmune disorders:

Vitamin D

With autoimmune conditions being more common in areas furthest away from the equator, vitamin D levels are typically very low in these regions. In particular, low vitamin D has been implicated in such conditions as: multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and lupus.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Showing great promise as the ‘next frontier’ in therapeutics by health researchers, prebiotics and probiotics either through food or supplements can be highly beneficial.


With respect to celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet for life is critical. For those who do not have celiac, gluten may or may not contribute to symptoms.  Experimenting with a gluten-free diet for a one month period may be beneficial to assess effect.  Only eliminate gluten after a definitive celiac panel is conducted.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These fats have been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory processes in such conditions as: arthritis, chrohns, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and more. Ingesting these oils through fish and plant based foods or supplements can be very helpful.

Managing good nutrition, sleep, stress, and exposure to toxins are all keys to good self care, an essential step towards healthy living with an autoimmune condition.