What Is the Best Autoimmune Disease Diet & Lifestyle?
While only a few are well-known and easily recognized by name (like type 1 diabetes), autoimmune disorders are an alarmingly common issue for many. Collectively, autoimmune diseases affect 23.5 million Americans.1 They are more common in females than in males and are considered among the leading causes of death in young and middle-aged women.2 3
Unfortunately, the prevalence of autoimmune conditions is on the rise, and more and more people are being diagnosed with these diseases. If you or a loved one is dealing with an autoimmune disorder, what can you do to help? In this article, we will cover the basics of these disorders and outline the best autoimmune disease diet and lifestyle to help support you in feeling better.
What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s own immune system starts to attack normal, healthy cells. The immune system usually serves as a defense system against foreign invaders, protecting us against things like bacteria and viruses. But with an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly starts to attack our own cells. This leads to inflammation and many other problems, which can vary depending on which tissues come under attack.2 4 5
Researchers don’t exactly know what causes the immune system to go rogue and attack healthy, normal body parts. But they do think that certain environmental and lifestyle factors come into play. For example, autoimmune conditions are associated with smoking, heavy metal exposure, hormonal imbalances, stress, infections, unhealthy diets, and more.5 6 Usually, it seems that there are many factors acting together that cause the problem, including genetic and environmental components.3
Common autoimmune conditions
As mentioned above, there are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases. These include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Multiple sclerosis
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Addison’s disease
Because autoimmune diseases can affect all different parts of the body, the symptoms can be wide-ranging. Some of the most common symptoms shared across various conditions include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin issues
- Digestive problems
- Swollen glands4
If you have one of these conditions and are suffering from these symptoms, then it is important to know what types of things you can do in your day-to-day life to help improve things.
The best autoimmune disease diet & lifestyle
When it comes to autoimmune disease, it can feel like so much is out of your control. After all, your own body is attacking itself, causing discomfort and these debilitating symptoms.
But there are certain things that you can do related to your lifestyle and diet that will support your body in calming down, helping to relieve your symptoms and handle your condition.
Here are some of the top tips for the best lifestyle for autoimmune disease:
1. Lose weight
Being overweight is one of the risk factors for autoimmune disease.7 And losing weight is one of the things that can help out the most. It helps lower inflammation in the body8 and allows everything in your body to function more smoothly. When you have excess weight in your body, this puts extra pressure on many of your systems and can make it difficult for your body to focus on healing.
Consider weight-loss strategies and begin to work with your diet and exercise habits to start shedding the pounds.
2. Be physically active as much as possible
It is not uncommon for people with autoimmune diseases to be less active than others.9 And that is absolutely understandable, as the symptoms can oftentimes be completely debilitating. But it turns out that physical activity can be a really useful tool when it comes to managing symptoms and feeling better.
Getting active helps people with these diseases to have less fatigue, improved moods, better joint mobility, reduced pain, and increased quality of life.9 Exercise is another great way to decrease inflammation, too.8 Plus, if you get outside while being physically active, there is added benefit: boosting your vitamin D levels through natural sun exposure is great for supporting healthy immune function when dealing with autoimmunity.5
If you can, try to get your body moving regularly, even if it has to be for short periods of time and at very low intensity.
3. Stop smoking and limit alcohol
Smoking is the most well-known risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.5 And it can make symptoms worse. Both smoking and alcohol are inflammatory in nature, and it is essential for people with autoimmune conditions to lower inflammation as much as possible.8
So kick your smoking habit to the curb and drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
4. Address stress
People who are under stress are more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age, and more likely to be diagnosed with more than one of these conditions.6 10 Stress contributes to the severity of autoimmune symptoms in several ways; for example, stress contributes to inflammation which can in turn increase pain.8
An important step you can take is to learn to manage stress. Consider working with a counselor or health coach and doing stress-relieving activities like getting exercise, doing meditation, or trying out mindfulness techniques.
5. Get enough sleep
Prioritizing sleep is something that helps out with so many chronic health problems, including autoimmune disorders. Lack of sleep adds to inflammation in the body and can cause all sorts of other problems—or make your existing ones worse.8
Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, allow for downtime and screen-free time before bed, and make your bedroom a peaceful, comfortable space that promotes rest and relaxation for you.
Along with lifestyle habits, our diet can be closely linked to our health problems—especially autoimmune disorders.
In fact, the association between diet and autoimmune disease was proposed over 50 years ago. In particular, the “Western diet” (full of refined, processed, sugary foods and low in wholesome, nutritious plant foods) is thought to play a large role in these conditions.7 11
Researchers know that both the type and level of certain nutrients can affect our immune system function and thus autoimmune diseases.12 Diet can also affect our gut microbiota and other factors that influence autoimmunity.7
Many people with autoimmune conditions find positive benefit from shifting their diets in some way. For example, about a quarter of people with rheumatoid arthritis report that diet has an effect on their symptoms.13
So if diet plays such a strong role in these conditions, what changes to the diet can help? Here are some of the top recommendations when it comes to the best autoimmune disease diet.
1. Reduce inflammatory foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods
A common thread between different autoimmune diseases is too much inflammation in the body.8 For example, the joint pain experienced by someone with rheumatoid arthritis is linked to excess inflammation in the joints.
Certain foods that promote inflammation can make autoimmune conditions worse, like sugar.13
One thing we can do to help lower inflammation in the body is to eat more anti-inflammatory foods while avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.8
Inflammatory foods to avoid include:
- Sugar and sweets
- Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda
- Fruit juice
- Refined carbohydrates (white breads, muffins, bagels, pasta, rice, baked goods, etc.)
- Fried foods
- Processed foods and processed meat
- Vegetable oils like soy, corn, and canola1 8
Healthy, anti-inflammatory foods to add more of include:
- Healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, and coconut oil)
- Green leafy vegetables (like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and Brussel’s sprouts)
- Colorful vegetables and fruits (like sweet potatoes, carrots, purple cabbage, and beets)
- Fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines)
- Berries (like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
- Nuts and seeds (like walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, and chia seeds)
- Fiber-rich foods (like vegetables, fruits, and legumes)
- Herbs and spices (like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and pepper)
- Dark chocolate1 8
One specific type of anti-inflammatory diet that is designed specifically for people with autoimmune disorders is called the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP diet). It has been shown to be useful in people with these conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.14 15
2. Try cutting out gluten
Being gluten free is all the rage these days. But for those with autoimmune conditions, it is more than just a fad. Gluten can have many negative effects in the body when it comes to autoimmunity. For example, it is pro-inflammatory, affects the gut microbiome, influences the immune system, and more.
Researchers believe that even for people who don’t have celiac disease (an autoimmune condition where you are reactive to gluten), removing gluten from the diet can be beneficial for autoimmunity.3 16
3. Foster healthy gut microbes
Researchers have discovered a strong link between the gut and the immune system. And they now believe that the health of the community of bacteria living in our digestive tract can have a strong influence on autoimmune disorders. Changing your diet to support your gut bacteria can alter your immune system responses in a positive way.7 11 17 And that might help you feel better.
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and kefir are great for boosting gut microbes. Fiber is also important. Adding a probiotic supplement to your routine is also worth a try.
The bottom line…
When your immune system is attacking itself and you are dealing with an autoimmune disease, it can sometimes feel like your symptoms and your health are out of your control. But there are many things you can do each and every day that can help support your healing and overall wellness.
The best autoimmune disease diet and lifestyle will vary depending on each unique person and their unique condition. But common strategies such as losing weight, managing stress, prioritizing quality sleep, eating anti-inflammatory foods, removing gluten, and boosting your gut microbiome can be very useful for many people.
Give these strategies a try, and see what happens. You might just be able to find some freedom from your symptoms with a few simple changes to your daily habits. And if you’re looking for additional diet and lifestyle assistance for autoimmune issues, a ZYTO scan provides detailed information about the body’s unique preferences for foods, lifestyle options, and more by utilizing cutting-edge galvanic skin response technology.
About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
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