It is the job of the immune system to protect us from infection and disease. But for people with an autoimmune disorder, the very system responsible for keeping them healthy turns on them. Instead of an immune system that protects them from illness, they have an immune system that may cause illness.
Common autoimmune disorders include celiac disease, diabetes type 1, Graves’ disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. By no means is this list all-inclusive. According to the Office on Women’s Health, there are an estimated 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, affecting nearly 24 million Americans.
Common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle pain
- Numbness and tingling
- Low-grade fever
- Hair loss
- Skin dryness and skin redness
The common denominator behind every autoimmune disorder is chronic inflammation. As we’ve discussed many times before, the foods we eat play a significant role in our inflammation levels. On that note, we’re going to talk about foods that reduce inflammation and also help alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune disorders.
Here are 8 Foods That Help an Autoimmune Disorder
“It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses – including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.” – Dr. Andrew Weil (source)
One small portion of halibut contains an entire day’s worth of vitamin D. A lack of “D” is linked to a number of autoimmune diseases, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Other fish sources of vitamin D include mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, and whitefish. Vegetarian sources include egg yolks and organic mushrooms.
Various studies conclude that the main ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, encourages immune system health through its anti-inflammatory properties. Per the Arthritis Foundation, curcumin suppresses the symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, including inflammation, joint pain, and joint stiffness.
A more bioavailable form of curcumin, called nano-curcumin, has even been approved in some countries as a legitimate treatment for HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Broccoli contains a potent antioxidant called glutathione, which may help alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Glutathione is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that has been shown in some studies to be at deficient levels in people with an autoimmune disorder.
Cauliflower, cabbage, kale, onions, radishes, and other foods high in sulfur also contain glutathione.
Flaxseed is a favorite among vegans and vegetarians for its high omega-3 content. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, notes that Omega-3s contain “the most potent immunomodulatory” properties of any fatty acid. Many clinical trials attest to the benefits of omega-3 supplementation in relieving some of the most common types of autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis.
Sauerkraut is an excellent source of probiotics, which help to balance the gut’s levels of good and bad bacteria, or microbiome. When the microbiome is healthy, our gut is less prone to permeability, a condition known as “leaky gut.” In turn, we are less susceptible to an autoimmune disorder and related symptoms. Other good sources of probiotics include fermented veggies, kimchi, pickled ginger, and kefir.
6. Green Tea
Preliminary studies examining the effect of green tea on autoimmune diseases show tremendous promise. Researchers believe that green tea, due to its effect on specialized immune cells (or “T-cells”) – and a high concentration of a compound called EGCG – is possibly beneficial to both preventing and potentially treating autoimmune disorders.
7. Fortified Cereal (Vitamin D)
Fortified cereal is a potentially rich source of vitamin D, and it is an excellent choice of vegans and vegetarians. Just one small serving of cereals containing enriched bran, fortified whole grain, and raisin bran have between 12 to 13 percent of recommended daily value (or RDI) for vitamin D.
Fatty fish, dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cheese are some other good sources of vitamin D. But without a doubt, the best source of vitamin D is good old-fashioned sunshine!
8. Coconut milk
People with an autoimmune disorder know better than to go crazy with milk (or any other dairy product, for that matter). Enter coconut milk, which has both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Various studies indicate that coconut milk helps to reduce inflammation and swelling, heal ulcers, and neutralize bacteria and viruses.
10 Foods to Avoid to Fight an Autoimmune Disorder
Next up, we will share ten foods for people concerned about an autoimmune disorder to consider eliminating from your diet. Science proves these foods can trigger inflammation or otherwise aggravate an autoimmune disease.
Researchers prove time and again that alcohol causes inflammation, especially in your gut. Drinking too much alcohol causes gut problems, which can spread inflammation to your entire body.
2. Dairy products
Eating dairy products and drinking milk may also cause inflammation as well as lactose intolerance and stomach problems. So nix the dairy if you are feeling this discomfort.
Eggs are controversial because in some people they increase inflammation, while in other people they actually reduce inflammation. No studies have been found to prove that eggs cause inflammation. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may want to try eliminating eggs from your diet for several weeks to see if you feel differently
4. Red meat
Studies found that red meat increases inflammation as well as a high risk for cancer. Processed meats are also inflammation culprits. Avoid red meat as well as these foods
- Hot dogs
- Deli meats
5. Refined flours and gluten
Gluten can trigger inflammation. Before you go off all gluten, you may want to take it out of your diet for a few weeks to see if you feel better. Totally eliminating gluten from your diet means you’ll lose out on some critical vitamins and minerals. These include
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin D
So, be sure to eat foods high in these vitamins and minerals to make up for not getting them in foods with gluten. Here’s a list of what you can eat to still get these important nutrients in your diet.
- Vitamin B6-Chickpeas, tuna, chicken breast, salmon, bananas
- Vitamin B12-Salmon, trout, beef, milk
- Folate-Spinach, broccoli, peanuts
- Vitamin D-Dairy products, sockeye salmon, egg yolks, orange juice fortified with Vitamin D
- Iron- Beef, oysters, turkey, tuna, lentils
- Thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin- Peas, lima beans, potatoes, acorn squash, beef, chicken, and fish
6. Omega-6 cooking oils
Omega-6 fats can create inflammation in your body. The Omega-6 cooking oils include the following:
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
7. Sugary drinks or foods
Sugary drinks or foods-Recent studies found that autoimmune diseases are made worse by eating a high sugar can boost inflammation
8. Nightshade veggies
Nightshade vegetables and foods-Nightshade vegetables include peppers, tomatoes, and white potatoes. These veggies can increase inflammatory flare-ups in people with autoimmune diseases. Other nightshade foods to avoid include
- Cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika, chili pepper flakes, curry powders
- Hot sauce
- Goji berries
- Tomato-based foods like ketchup, tomato sauce
- White and red potatoes
- Steak seasoning
- Barbeque sauce
Stop eating nightshade foods for two to three weeks to see if you notice a reduction in inflammation.
9. Excessive carbohydrates
Research suggests that eating too many carbs may escalate inflammation. Of course, many foods high in carbs are healthy, so be careful totally avoiding all carbs. Try to eat healthy carbs like whole grains or sweet potatoes is a good way to include some carbs.
Eating too much salt can boost inflammation. Salt increases inflammation in your tissues, making an autoimmune disease worse. This elevated inflammation due to salt can hurt your organs. Substitute lemon juice for salt in stews, soups, or salads. Add spices or herbs to your cooking instead of salt. These can add flavor without the harmful side effects of salt.
Other Self Care Tips for Autoimmune Disorder Relief
It’s important to exercise every day if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder. Exercise helps lower your stress levels, which worsens an autoimmune disorder worse. Exercise also increases your energy and endorphins, which give you an overall improved mood. Get your blood flowing with exercises such as
- Jumping jacks
It’s critical that you manage your stress if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder. Stress can make this ailment worse. Try yoga to help relieve your stress. Find ways to get outside since enjoying nature can lower stress.
Find a support system
Whether it’s family or a group of good friends, a support system is important if you are dealing with an autoimmune disorder. Having a group of people who understand the complications and side effects of your autoimmune disorder and know how to encourage you on a bad day will make a huge difference. You may need to explain to your friends or family the different nuances of the disorder and what meds you take, or how you need extra rest. That’s okay. Having a supportive community will give you peace of mind and hope.
Mindfulness is vital
Practicing mindfulness is another way to care for yourself if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder. Practicing mindfulness helps you to release tension, anxiety, and stress, which makes autoimmune disorders worse. You may want to join a mindfulness group or you can practice mindfulness at home. Here are a few simple ways to practice mindfulness throughout your day.
- Try connecting your senses to the things around you. Listen to your breathing. Do you hear a bird chirping outside? What do you smell? How do your hands feel right now? What colors do you see outside that you’ve never noticed before? Use all your senses throughout your day and find peace as you practice this sensitivity.
- Look and listen when you talk to others. Listen to their voice, look at their face in a new way. Find things about them you’ve never noticed. Do they have a cadence in their sentences? Does their face have smile wrinkles? Do their eyes twinkle when they talk?
- Change up your routine. Don’t follow your normal routine. Go for a walk before your morning coffee. Or find a new dog park for your dog. Eat outside on your patio. Find a new coffee shop for your afternoon coffee. Whatever you normally do, try to do something different. Change elevates your brain function. It energizes you and who knows, you may find some new places you enjoy.
Drink water to stay hydrated. Staying hydrated can be difficult with some autoimmune disorders, so carry a water bottle around with you so you can easily drink wherever you are. Drink tea or coffees too. Avoid sugary drinks since they will make you feel worse.
Manage your doctor appointments
Don’t skip your scheduled doctor appointments or lab work tests. These may feel inconvenient, but the appointments are critical for you to be able to best manage your autoimmune disorder. Skipping these appointments only sets you back and can upset your regular meds or treatment.
Get enough sleep
Fatigue is a normal side effect of an autoimmune disorder. Sleeping well can help your body rid itself of toxins refreshing your brain and body. Not sleeping messes with your metabolism and sometimes causes you to eat more. Have a bedtime routine that helps your body wind down about an hour before you go to bed.
- An hour prior to your bedtime, turn off all electronics including your kindle, computer, and cellphone. Blue screens have been found to stimulate your brain, causing you to not be able to fall asleep.
- Take a shower or a bath to relax.
- Be sure your bedroom is the correct temperature-not too warm, not too cool, so you’ll sleep all night.
- Don’t drink alcohol too close to bedtime since it may wake you in the middle of the night.
- Play relaxing music.
- Wear comfortable sleeping clothes.
- Avoid tense conversations with your partner prior to bedtime. Save them for the morning.
Allow yourself a bit of relaxation and rest every day. Whether it’s lying down on the couch or sitting in your favorite chair to read for an hour, your body needs a little rest every day. It’s easy, especially on the days when you feel good, to push through your day, but having an autoimmune disease means you need to avoid stress and wearing yourself down. Resting gives your body a chance to recharge. Your stress levels will be lower and ultimately you’ll feel better.
Having an autoimmune disorder can make you feel different from everybody else. You have limitations others don’t have. You may need medications during the day. Your diet is different and exercise is non-negotiable. So stop comparing yourself to others and embrace who you are with an auto-immune disease. In a weird way, having an autoimmune disorder broadens your horizons, making you a more compassionate person. It slows you down, causing you to embrace your life in a way that people who are healthy can’t appreciate. Find grace and peace even in this unwanted illness. It’s part of who you are, and that’s okay.
Auto-immune disorders are on the rise across the United States. If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, you know the importance of eating well, avoiding inflammatory foods, daily exercise, staying hydrated, daily rest, and sleeping well. Stay current on your doctor appointments and lab work. Be sure to manage your stress with mindfulness or yoga. Find support from family and friends so that you can get the encouragement and help that you need. Finally, be at peace with yourself and with the autoimmune disorder. These challenges are part and parcel of your life’s journey. So find enjoyment in your life appreciating the small joys you encounter every day.
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