What to eat if you have an autoimmune disease

There are more than 80 autoimmune diseases, and many of us will develop one in our lifetimes. So what should you eat to help prevent or manage these painful conditions?

Yes, according to science – food can play an important role in helping to ease the pain of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and thyroid disorders.

What is autoimmune disease and what are the symptoms?

Around 5 per cent of us will be affected by an autoimmune disease, when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues, organs and cells, resulting in inflammation and damage.

There are more than 80 autoimmune disorders ranging from common to very rare, and in general they’re painful, disruptive and devastating.

Many autoimmune diseases share similar symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, fever and inflammation – which can cause redness, heat, pain and swelling.

While there’s generally no cure for these chronic illnesses, food choices are coming under increasing scrutiny when it comes to managing symptoms.

The importance of the gut in autoimmune disease

A 2017 study showing gut bacteria may play an important role in dealing with the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

“Eighty per cent of your body’s immune system is located in your gut, so if you don’t have a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system,” says Dr Amy Myers, author of The Autoimmune Solution.

Passionate about autoimmune and thyroid dysfunction because of her own journey with Graves’ Disease, the US health specialist says food plays an enormous part in achieving optimal health.

“Although it’s a double-edged sword because food is also one of our biggest sources of inflammation since our modern diets are loaded with toxic and inflammatory foods,” she says.

The 6 top foods to eat if you have an autoimmune disorder

Dr Myers says by reducing toxic and inflammatory foods like those high in sugar and saturated fat from our diet and adding in nourishing foods that support health and reduce stress, it’s possible to reduce inflammation and work your way back down the autoimmune spectrum.

And she picked these six as some of the best:

  1. Grass-fed lamb
  2. Wild-caught fatty fish
  3. Avocados
  4. Garlic
  5. Grass-fed beef
  6. Leafy greens

Potassium for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers

Studies into one of the most common autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis – inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues – have found that increasing potassium may decrease pain levels in patients, and may apply to other autoimmune conditions as well.

The leading sources of potassium are plant foods, such as avocado, acorn squash, spinach, sweet potato, pomegranate, and bananas.

Scientists have also found that a vegetable-rich, plant-based diet increased the levels of many specific nutrients that contribute to a healthy and balanced immune response — including fibre, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamins K and C, folate, magnesium, and potassium.

Giving sufferers back control

Garvan Institute of Medical Research senior research fellow Associate Professor Tri Phan says while autoimmune diseases are incredibly complex, the idea that patients can take a more active role in managing symptoms through diet can only be good.

“There’s a lot of interest and we are only now getting some of the science and robustness and data behind this, particularly in relation to the role of the microbiome,” he says.

“But what I will say is that the things that our parents and grandparents did well – a really simply and well-balanced diet and a good representation of all of the foods groups and lots of greens – is going to be good in terms of your health.”

Written by Liz McGrath.