Diet As Poison or Health Promoting in Autoimmunity?
Recently, Nordic Clinic organised a joint webinar together with Food Pharmacy on the theme autoimmunity. We are so happy that a big bunch of Food Pharmacy’s followers signed up for the webinar. The great interest in the topic is most likely a consequence of the growing group of people diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
As we discussed in the webinar, autoimmune disease is not pretty, but there are many factors that may help those with an autoimmune diagnosis. Autoimmune diseases vary widely in their presentation and symptomatology due to different target organs. A few autoimmune conditions and the target organs/systems include:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (Thyroid)
- Type 1 Diabetes (Pancreas)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (Joints)
- Multiple Sclerosis (Central Nervous System)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (GI Tract)
Though these conditions lead to a range of symptoms, the underlying driver is an immune system that turns its attention to our own tissues. Diet may be an important factor one can change to help manage an autoimmune condition. The underlying mechanism involves changes in the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability, or removal of dietary antigens that resemble human tissue.
A recent review highlights the complexities in the relationship between diet and autoimmune conditions.1
Diet As Poison
Various aspects of the modern diet may play a role in driving chronic inflammation. Gluten has inflammatory properties in certain individuals, particularly those with celiac disease.2 In some individuals, the gliadin component of gluten has been shown to activate immune receptors in the gut called TL4. The microbiome likely plays a role here as well, so you want to look after those little critters in your gut.
High intake of long chain saturated fatty acids found in meat and dairy products, coconut oil and some vegetable oils, is also believed to induce inflammation via a mechanism involving TLR4.3 Furthermore, it appears to increase lipopolysaccharide (toxins released from bacteria) abundance in the gut and translocation in to the body.4
Other nutritional factors within the diet may also play a role in inducing inflammation and promoting autoimmune disease. This includes dairy and various food additives such as dietary emulsifiers.
Diet As Health Promoting
It has become popular to demonise diets that include any of the above. But the truth is, many diets that include these components benefit autoimmune disease. This is because other dietary components may have a calming effect on the immune system.
For example, Mediterranean and vegetarian diets contain gluten and have been shown to benefit autoimmune conditions.1 This may be due to their high content of fiber and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, the Paleolithic diet may benefit those with Multiple Sclerosis, despite being high in long chain saturated fatty acids.5 Furthermore, it seems to have a beneficial effect on intestinal permeability and inflammation. This may be due, in part, to a higher intake of whole, unprocessed foods and elimination of processed foods.
Ultimately, a personalised dietary approach to treating autoimmune disease should look at both the beneficial and detrimental components of what we eat.
Using Diet To Target Autoimmunity
Diet is an attractive target for the management of autoimmune conditions. Ideally, patients should work with healthcare professionals, nutritional therapists and dietitians to identify the appropriate diet. Individual factors such as genetics, the microbiome, and disease presentation/affected target organ will drive this personalised approach.
Finally, a delicate balance between the elimination of detrimental foods and inclusion of beneficial foods is important. Tailoring the approach using an exclusion diet (Mediterranean, AIP, etc.) followed by re-challenge is key. This approach helps individuals with autoimmune disease find the diet that’s right for their situation.
Are you interested in learning more about Nordic Clinic’s approach to autoimmunity? You find more information on our website.
This is a guest post. Any opinions expressed are the writer’s own.