What Should I Eat When I Have an Autoimmune Disease?
by Laura Korman, DC
It is estimated that nearly 65,000,000 (one out of five) Americans live with an autoimmune disease. There are over 80 autoimmune conditions, but the most common are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s and Crohn’s disease.
Autoimmune (AI) disease also is the third most prevalent chronic illness in the United States, right behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Autoimmune disease occurs when a person’s immune system has formed antibodies that attack or destroy self-tissue. Common denominators in those with AI conditions are genetic susceptibility, poor gut health, a serious environmental trigger (e.g. virus, bacterial infection) an exposure to a toxin (e.g. mercury, mold, BPA), or an emotional trigger (e.g. death of a loved one, divorce, severe accident).
While we cannot control the genes we inherit, we can control the environmental factors that influence the expression or manifestation of our unique genetic makeup. This is known as epigenetics. In this article, I want to share how to manage an autoimmune condition by first identifying specific foods and other environmental toxins or pathogens that can trigger an exaggerated immune response against self-tissue. These epigenetic factors can then be eliminated or minimized, lessening the severity and flare-up of autoimmune symptoms.
The foods we eat can either help or harm our bodies. We are all unique, with our own set of genes, environmental exposures, deficiencies, stressors and lifestyle, which means there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Someone might believe they’re making a healthier choice to consume a vegan diet, only to find out they have a reaction to nightshade vegetables. Whereas someone who follows a gluten-free diet might later find themselves reacting to dairy, rice, corn or potatoes. Any food can cause an immune response in a person with an autoimmune condition.
It’s crucial to identify the offending foods, then eliminate them from your diet, lessening the body’s attack on self-tissue. Sugars, artificial ingredients, or fried food items are void of any real nutrition. As such, they cause inflammation and must be eliminated from the diet of anyone with an autoimmune disease. Aside from that, the most common food known to trigger an immune response is gluten, found in all wheat, barley or rye products. The wheat grown in the United States has been hybridized and altered from its original form. This large protein is hard to digest, so I recommend that all of my patients with active autoimmunity issues eliminate their consumption of gluten containing foods.
Other common foods that can aggravate an immune response are dairy, soy and egg. Sensitivity to foods is different from a food allergy. A true allergic reaction to a food will occur within minutes of consuming, it and is commonly tested in a doctor’s office by placing a small amount of the suspected substance under the skin, then looking for a welt on the skin to appear, which indicates a positive response.
Sensitivity to food involves a different part of the immune system. A positive food sensitivity is a delayed, rather than an immediate immune response, usually occurring 24 hours or more after consumption. This makes it more difficult to spot than an allergy. Accurate testing for food sensitivities is also more difficult, as many labs produce false results, leaving both the patient and the doctor confused.
After performing food sensitivity tests for 25 years and working with several labs, I now only use Cyrex Labs, which is known as the gold standard in food intolerance testing by several functional medicine practitioners, including myself. They adhere to and surpass the highest standards of global clinical laboratory standards to deliver accurate, reproducible results. This eliminates the confusion and guesswork as to what my patients should avoid eating in order to minimize or avoid an autoimmune flare-up.
Other environmental factors—such as toxins in our food, water, air, plastics, household cleaners and personal products—often trigger AI symptoms. Exposure to these factors should also be limited as much as possible. In addition, you’ll need to optimize liver detoxification, improve digestive and bowel health, prioritize sleep and make time for social connection, exercise, slow mindful breathing, meditation, prayer and gratitude practices.
There is also promising research to indicate that cells from the birth tissue of a healthy, newborn infant could be used to treat autoimmune symptoms. While having an autoimmune condition is an individual, complex situation, it can be managed with the manipulation of epigenetic factors such as nutrition, environmental toxins and lifestyle.
Dr. Laura Korman is the lead practitioner of Korman Relief & Wellness Center, located at 16954 Toledo Blade Blvd., Port Charlotte. For more information, call 941-629-6700 or visit DrLauraKorman.com.