6 diet tips for healing from autoimmune disease

By Matt Erickson
February 27, 2017

Psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Hashimoto’s hypthyroidism – all these conditions seem at first glance to be unrelated. They affect entirely different parts of the body. But they all have something in common: they are autoimmune diseases.

When someone has an autoimmune disease, their immune system has begun to attack parts of their own body. An autoimmune disease can attack almost any part of the body, or several different parts. More than 80 types of autoimmune disease exist. Some more examples:
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  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (affects nerves in the legs, arms, and upper body)
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (affects the eyes and mouth)
The medical community has reached no agreement on what causes autoimmune disease. But these diseases all have a common thread: intestinal permeability. (Perhaps you’ve heard it called “leaky gut syndrome.”)

The walls of your intestines naturally allow nutrients from your food to pass through, so they can be absorbed by your body. But in people with increased intestinal permeability, the intestinal wall also allows more harmful things to escape into your body, causing an immune response.

The food you eat has a big effect on the health of your gut. So, if you have an autoimmune disease, changes to your diet could help improve your condition, says Leigh Wagner, an integrative dietitian in Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System. “About 70 percent of our immune system is in our gut,” Leigh says. “When we eat real, whole foods, it helps to keep our gut healthy.”

Here are Leigh’s dietary tips for improving your autoimmune condition:

  1. Eliminate highly processed or refined foods.
    Stay away from packaged, processed foods, as well as foods with refined ingredients (white flour, syrups, colorings, refined oils). “Highly processed foods create an environment where the gut can’t heal,” Leigh says. 

  2. vegetables
  3. Eliminate added sugars.
    Most Americans eat too many added sugars (sugars added to foods during processing). Stick to sugar that occurs naturally in foods such as fruit. Avoid products with added sugar.

  4. Eat more plant-based foods.
    Your gut wants more plants: vegetables and fruit. Give it what it wants.

  5. Get an adequate amount of protein, plus healthy fats and oils.
    Supplement your plant-rich diet with some protein. And don’t shy away from healthy fats: nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut and extra virgin olive oils, and other non-refined oils.

  6. Sprinkle in some fermented foods.
    Good bacteria help keep your gut healthy, and they can be found in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt (as long as you’re not sensitive to dairy).

  7. Address food sensitivities.
  8. Your body might be sensitive to certain foods, such as gluten-containing grains or dairy products. Those sensitivities can affect the health of your gut, so you should eliminate any food groups you’re sensitive to. The best way to determine for sure if you have any food sensitivities is with laboratory testing – the type of testing you’ll have done if you visit one of our integrative dietitians for nutrition counseling.


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