nutrition facts

How to fight autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune disease is an epidemic in our society. But it doesn’t have to be. Although genetic predisposition accounts for approximately one-third of your risk of developing an autoimmune disease, the other two-thirds comes from your environment, your diet, and your lifestyle. In fact, experts are increasingly recognizing that certain dietary factors are key contributors to autoimmune disease, placing these autoimmune conditions in the same class of diet-and-lifestyle-related diseases as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. This means that autoimmune disease is directly linked to our food choices and how we decide to live our life. It also means that we can manage and reverse autoimmune disease simply by changing how we eat and making more informed choices about sleep, activity, and stress… and that’s good news!

There are more than one hundred confirmed autoimmune diseases and many more diseases that are suspected of having autoimmune origins.

The root cause of all autoimmune diseases is the same: our immune system, which is supposed to protect us from invading microorganisms, turns against us and attacks our proteins, cells, and tissues instead. Which proteins, cells, and tissues are attacked determines the autoimmune disease and its symptoms. For example, in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid gland is attacked. In rheumatoid arthritis, the tissues of your joints are attacked. In psoriasis, proteins within the layers of cells that make up your skin are attacked.

How does the immune system get so confused that it starts to attack our own bodie? 

It turns out that autoimmunity, the ability for the immune system to attack native tissues, is a relatively common accident. In fact, about 30% of people will have measurable levels of autoantibodies (antibodies that bind to some protein in our bodies instead of, or in addition to, a foreign protein, called an antigen) in their blood at any given time. In fact, this accident is so common, that our immune system has several failsafes for identifying autoimmunity and suppressing it. What occurs in autoimmune disease isn’t just the accident of autoimmunity, but also failure of the immune system failsafes, stimulation of the immune system to attack, and the build up of enough damage in cells or tissues within the body to manifest as symptoms of a disease.

This confluence of events that culminates in autoimmune disease is a result of the interactions between our genes and our environment—a perfect storm of factors that cause the immune system to be unable to distinguish self (you) from invader (not you).

The autoimmune protocol is a powerful strategy that uses diet and lifestyle to regulate the immune system, putting an end to these attacks and giving the body the opportunity to heal.

What is the autoimmune protocol ?

The autoimmune protocol is a complementary approach to chronic disease management focused on providing the body with the nutritional resources required for immune regulation, gut health, hormone regulation and tissue healing while removing inflammatory stimuli from both diet and lifestyle. The diet’s part provides balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding processed and refined foods and empty calories. The lifestyle’s part encourages sufficient sleep, stress management and activity as these are important immune modulators.

Foods can be viewed as having two kinds of constituents within them: those that promote health (like nutrients!) and those that undermine health (like inflammatory compounds). (While there are constituents that neither promote nor undermine health, they are not used to evaluate the merit of an individual food.) Some foods are obvious wins for a health-promoting diet because they have tons of beneficial constituents and very few or no constituents that undermine health—good examples of these superfoods are organ meats, seafood, and most vegetables. Other foods are obvious fails because they have a relative lack of health-promoting constituents and are rife with problematic compounds—good examples are gluten-containing grains, peanuts, and most soy products.

But many foods fall into the amorphous world of gray in between these two extremes. Tomatoes, for example, have some exciting nutrients, but they also contain several compounds that are so effective at stimulating the immune system that they have been investigated for use in vaccines as adjuvants (the chemicals in vaccines that enhance your immune response to whatever you’re getting immunized against). The biggest difference between the autoimmune protocol and other dietary templates that take a nutrients-first approach while considering inflammation triggers is where we draw the line between “yes” foods and “no” foods in order to get more health-promoting compounds and fewer detrimental compounds in our diet. Those who are typically quite healthy can tolerate less-optimal foods than those who aren’t. 

As such, the autoimmune protocol places greater emphasis on the most nutrient-dense foods in our food supply, including organ meat, seafood, and vegetables. And the autoimmune protocol eliminates foods endorsed by other healthy diets that have compounds that may stimulate the immune system or harm the gut environment, including nightshades (like tomatoes and peppers), nuts, seeds, and alcohol. The goal of the autoimmune protocol is to flood the body with nutrients while simultaneously avoiding any food that might be contributing to disease (or at the very least interfering with our efforts to heal).

The autoimmune program is an elimination diet strategy, cutting out the foods that are most likely to be holding back our health. After a period of time, many of the excluded foods, especially those that have nutritional merit despite also containing some (but not too much) potentially detrimental compounds, can be reintroduced. The autoimmune program is not a life sentence, but rather a toolbox full of strategies for understanding how your body reacts to foods, lifestyle and your environment and methodologies for healing given your individual health challenges.

The autoimmune program is also a holistic approach to health, including not only a dietary framework but also a focus on lifestyle factors known to be important modulators of immune function, gut health, and hormone health. This includes a strong focus on getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and living an active lifestyle while avoiding overtraining. These three lifestyle factors are each essential for gut health because they directly influence the gut microbiome (getting enough sleep, keeping stress levels in check, and being active are all essential for a healthy and diverse gut microbial community in addition to supporting the growth of key probiotic strains). Chronic stress and overtraining also increase intestinal permeability. Sleep, stress and activity are all essential hormone modulators; for example, insulin sensitivity is more strongly influenced by these lifestyle factors than it is by diet. And, most importantly, immune function is directly tied to lifestyle. Inflammation is triggered by getting inadequate sleep, feeling stressed, being sedentary, and overtraining. Furthermore, the regulatory aspects of the immune system are most active while we’re sleeping, and sleep quality is linked to stress

Need More Guidance?

You can join a practitioner who has received advanced training in addition to their base certification for helping clients implement dietary and lifestyle interventions to best affect healing and achieve higher levels of wellness. OsteoNutriTherapy is one of them , and I can provide you with personalized support for all the stages of your journey on the autoimmune protocol.

Perrine