*We are not doctors. If you are not feeling well, please talk to your physician before attempting a new food regimen or other self care.
For some people, a lifestyle change is necessary to reduce the pain and fatigue that come with an autoimmune disease. This can mean experimenting to incorporate new foods into a daily routine that may already seem perfectly healthy. In reality, each of us should figure out the best foods that nourish our individual body’s needs.
For those with autoimmune disorders who experience inflammatory physical responses, finding solutions can be a challenge, especially since medical research isn’t often translated into actionable day-to-day practices. Many autoimmune diseases are chronic, meaning they will affect the person for life, and it can be an ongoing struggle to find relief from disease symptoms. The good news is a growing number of doctors, researchers, nutritionists, and naturopathic practitioners are finding ways to help people work with their own bodies to try to decrease inflammation by making dietary changes.
A good, but extreme, example of this relationship is Celiac disease and gluten. Not everyone has Celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten damages the small intestine. But some people who don’t have Celiac disease are on the gluten sensitivity spectrum, living with exhaustion, indigestion, and rashes. In both cases, removing gluten from meal plans can help to end the cycle of inflammation and pain.
Autoimmune Disease FAQ
Here are some facts about autoimmune diseases you may not know.
What is an autoimmune disease?
“Autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases that affect a wide range of body parts,” according to John Hopkins Medicine, a website affiliated with John Hopkins University of Medicine.
- Some of these diseases are: psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease/IBD, Lupus, Celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid diseases.
- Autoimmune diseases affect over 23 million Americans and approximately 80% of patients are women.
- Symptoms can range from physical pain to mental and emotional dysregulation. Infertility can also be caused by a number of different autoimmune diseases.
What is an inflammatory response?
“Your immune system becomes activated when your body recognizes anything that is foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. This often triggers a process called inflammation. Intermittent bouts of inflammation directed at truly threatening invaders protect your health,” according to Harvard Health Publishing (HHP). HHP is part of the consumer health education division of Harvard Medical School.
- HHP continues, saying that even when your body isn’t under threat, inflammation can persist and that’s the problem. Further, HHP states that “many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s—have been linked to chronic inflammation.”
In Hope Smith’s forthcoming book, “Your Body is Magic,” she talks about her autoimmune journey, and how it affected her ability to have children. Simply eating clean isn’t a cure, but Hope is living proof that if you want something, you have to go for it with your whole heart.
The Healthiest Things to Eat to Reduce Inflammation
There are so many websites and social accounts that make claims about the health benefits of certain foods, supplements, and treatments. It can be hard to sort out the good information from the questionable. What we do — and what we recommend you do, too — is stick to informative sources that have both authority and accountability, such as the nationally recognized Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC). The group was established “to advance the naturopathic medical profession by actively supporting the academic efforts of accredited and recognized schools of naturopathic medicine.”
Here’s the AANMC list of foods you should consider adding to your meal and snack times that can help your body reduce inflammation:
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Brussels sprouts
Learn more about these on AANMC’s Naturopathic Kitchen. Keep in mind that every “body” is different. And something that works for you, may not be useful for someone else. Talk to your doctor and your healthcare team about any new supplements or food items and how they might affect you or any current medications you’re taking.
What Foods Are More Likely to Cause Inflammation
We’ve compiled a list of troublesome foods that you should consider avoiding if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, or if you just want to clean up your lifestyle to prevent health problems before they arise. Here are some foods to avoid compiled from the Arthritis Foundation and HHP. Remember: arthritis isn’t just for AARP members, as it affects children and young adults, too.
Potential inflammation-causing foods include:
- White flour: bread, pastries
- Fried foods: French fries, donuts, fried chicken, frozen foods (like waffles)
- Sugar: white sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened products like sodas
- Processed meats: deli meat, hot dogs, and sausages
- Saturated fats: found in cheeses and red meats, as well as other sources
- Trans fats: found in margarine, shortening, and lard
- A surprising assortment of snack foods are sources of trans fats: chips, frozen waffles, cookies, and crackers to name a few. It’s best to try to avoid products containing partially hydrogenated oils. As always, read food labels to understand exactly what you’re putting in your body.
Whew — you might be thinking that’s a lot to avoid! It can be hard to go from zero to 60 on a dietary change. The truth is, not everyone is able to completely change their lifestyle due to household costs and needs, but we do what we can to be our best, most nourished selves. Try removing one source of inflammation at a time, and add in one or two good foods as well. Little by little you can make big changes and make a big impact on your health.