Autoimmune diseases can be scary, since they occur when your body identifies your own cells as threats. In other words, your body turns against itself by creating autoantibodies, a type of antibody that attacks healthy cells. Some examples of the most common autoimmune diseases are multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Type I diabetes, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Celiac disease. Although the idea of developing an autoimmune disease is not easy to think about, it is important to be aware that you do have immense control over the health of your immune system! In fact, there are six specific nutrients that help prevent autoimmune disease. By paying attention to your diet and strategically including foods rich in these nutrients, you will give your immune system the fuel it needs to stay strong and healthy. Preventive measures like nutrition have a profound effect on your health, and they are a much better alternative to waiting until you are extremely sick before adopting healthy eating habits.
THE TOP 6 NUTRIENTS FOR PREVENTING AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
Magnesium is one of the most prolific minerals in the body. In fact, this mighty mineral helps your body conduct over 600 necessary actions! These include protein synthesis and the conversion of your food into energy, both of which are necessary for supporting a healthy immune system. Low magnesium levels have also been linked to an increased risk for a number of diseases, ranging from Type 2 diabetes to Alzeimer’s disease. One study found that people who took magnesium supplements experienced relief from symptoms related to asthma, coronary heart disease, and depression.
In order to maintain an adequate amount of magnesium in your diet, add some of these magnesium-rich foods into your weekly meal plans:
- Nuts like cashews and almonds
- Whole grains like quinoa, oats, and barley
- Fatty fish such as halibut and salmon
- Leafy greens, especially kale and spinach
Although this is an incredibly vital mineral, most people do not reach the daily recommended intake. Commonly, magnesium deficiency is found in individuals who eat too much sugar and/or suffer from unresolved stress.
To combat these risk factors, you should monitor your sugar intake and make stress reduction a priority. Stay away from soft drinks, refined carbohydrates, and excessive sweets. For an occasional magnesium-rich dessert, savour some pure dark chocolate. You can ease stress by making a few lifestyle adjustments. For example, getting enough sleep, meditating, and practicing a daily yoga or stretching routine are all excellent ways to gain peace and clarity.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy immune system because they improve the health of immune B cells, a type of white blood cell responsible for producing healthy antibodies. Members of the medical and scientific community have known for quite some time that omega-3 fatty acids protect your immune system by reducing inflammation. However, new research shows additional benefits: they make your white blood cells stronger and more decisive, too.
According to a study led by Dr. Jenifer Fenton of Michigan State University, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil enhance the immune system and may be beneficial for individuals with immunodeficiencies. In addition to helping prevent autoimmune disease, a diet rich in omega-3 helps resolve issues like chronic pain, a slow metabolism, and diabetes.
A great way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids is through fish. Some of the best options are salmon, mackerel, oysters, trout, shrimp, and seabass. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, then you may want to consider taking a supplement. You can also obtain omega-3 fatty acids through plant-based sources like chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is crucial for preventing autoimmune disease. Not only does it trigger your T cells to discern the difference between healthy cells and pathogens, but it also strengthens your body’s response to bacterial and viral infections.
Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, even if they are regularly exposed to sunlight. (Natural light is just one way to obtain this vital nutrient!) However, this deficiency is easy to correct by mindfully choosing healthy foods high in Vitamin D. Eat plenty of:
- Dark green vegetables like collard greens, broccoli, and kale
- Maitake and portobello mushrooms
- Organic, farm-raised eggs
- Tuna, salmon, herring, oysters, and sardines
- Fortified milks, cereals, and juices
Another option is to take Vitamin D supplements or cod liver oil, which is rich in Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Another nutrient linked to autoimmune diseases is selenium. Selenium aids your immune system in a variety of ways, including:
- Protection from viral diseases like the flu and HIV
- Defense against bacterial and fungal infections, such as yeast infections or C. albicans in vitro
- Reduced susceptibility to allergies and asthma
- Lessened risk of developing colorectal, prostate, lung, and carcinoma cancers
- Improved immune response in elderly individuals
Hopefully you are feeling inspired to eat selenium-rich foods after reading a list of such powerful health benefits! The good news is that there are plenty of natural food sources for all types of diets. If you eat fish, I recommend yellowfin tuna, halibut, shrimp, salmon, and oysters. Sardines and clams are also valuable sources of selenium. For meat-lovers, opt for organic and free-range chicken, beef, and turkey. Good dairy-based sources of selenium include organic cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt. If you are a vegan, you still have plenty of options for foods rich in selenium: brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, brown rice, legumes, oatmeal, and spinach are all great ways to work this nutrient into your diet.
5. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 helps your body produce white blood cells, making it an essential part of preventing autoimmune disease! It also aids in regulating mood, sleep, energy, and brain health. Individuals who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or following a vegan or vegetarian diet are especially vulnerable to Vitamin B deficiency.
In order to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin B12, make sure to eat a well-rounded diet that includes the following foods:
Zinc is a trace chemical element responsible for many facets of your immune system. It helps create white blood cells, keeps your skin barrier healthy, and facilitates lymphocyte gene regulation. Lymphocytes are a specific kind of white blood cell that exist in your lymph nodes, blood stream, and all throughout your body. They are a crucial part of your immune system’s ability to resist illness and infection.
Since your body doesn’t hold excess zinc “to save for later,” you need to consume it on a daily basis. Here are some good ways to get it:
- Organic milk and cheese
- Hemp, squash, pumpkin, and sesame seeds
- Almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pine nuts
- Free-range eggs
- Legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans
- Seafood like shellfish, crabs, oysters, shrimp, and mussels
- Organic red meat such as beef and lamb
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN GUT HEALTH AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
In addition to regularly consuming those six key nutrients, you should also eat foods that promote a healthy digestive tract. Gut health, your immune system, and autoimmune disease are closely linked. In fact, most of your immune system is located in your gut. If left unchecked, gut bacteria can cause autoimmune diseases that lead your body to attack and destroy healthy tissue.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is an especially threatening condition, and it has been linked to autoimmune inflammatory responses like colitis and lupus. Therefore, in addition to making sure you are getting enough of the nutrients listed above, you should also focus on nourishing a healthy gut microbiome.
A recent Yale study reports that a dangerous bacteria called Enterococcus gallinarum is capable of moving from inside the gut and into the spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. Using genetically susceptible mice as subjects, researchers noted that once the bacteria moved outside of the intestines, it caused inflammation and auto-antibodies. After observing this mechanism of action, they were able to successfully squash the rogue bacterium via a targeted vaccine and antibiotic. These discoveries have exciting implications for treating autoimmune liver disease and systemic lupus disease.
But while these new treatment options are encouraging, prevention is always best. You can nurture your gut health by:
- Eating plenty of fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso soup
- Consuming foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics
- Identifying your own personal food sensitivities and adjusting your diet accordingly
- Reducing or eliminating alcohol and caffeine intake
- Addressing chronic stress through therapy, mindfulness practices, a healthy sleep schedule, and regular exercise
- Participating in the Healthy Gut Institute e-course, a program designed to show you how to heal your gut in an organized, sustainable manner
DISCOVER THE BEST NUTRITION PLAN FOR YOU AT THE DEMPSTER CLINIC- CENTER FOR FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
Maintaining a healthy gut and incorporating the aforementioned nutrients into your diet is key for preventing autoimmune disease and protecting your overall health. However, designing a sustainable meal plan that fits your specific needs, promotes healthy intestines, and checks off all the right boxes (think “non-GMO” and “free-range”) can be incredibly challenging. At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I will work with you to create the best nutrition plan for you based on your own unique health concerns.
I hope you will take the opportunity to schedule a Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session with me, which can take place over the phone or at the clinic. I look forward to telling you more about the services I offer.
Please schedule an appointment today! Your best health awaits you.
Dr. John Dempster BSc., ND, FAAFM
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine