Finding the right dietary supplements to help manage autoimmune disorders can be difficult. However, an effective dietary regime, including supplements, can be extremely helpful.
What’s needed is research and diligence to ensure you have the right supplements and to make sure they don’t interact with any of the other drugs that you need to take. It’s also important to consult with your doctor.
Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s own immune responses to be directed against itself, resulting in inflammation and tissue destruction. A healthy immune system has a variety of functions directed toward recognizing and repelling or destroying bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, cancer cells, or any other health-damaging agents not normally present in the body. On the other hand, a malfunctioning immune system wreaks havoc throughout the host by directing antibodies against the body’s own tissues.
Autoimmune disorders include, but are not limited to, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease, since it causes immune-responsive cells to attack the linings of the joints.
Autoimmune disorders can also cause insulin-dependent diabetes by causing antibodies to attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Allergies and multiple sclerosis are also the result of disordered immune functioning.
Some people also consider celiac disease to be an autoimmune disorder due to its generation of antibodies to attack cells which are part of the structure of muscle tissue. The deposit of these antibodies in the skin causes people with severe celiac to often have a blistering and itchy skin condition.
Other than celiac disease, which is more common in men, most autoimmune diseases are much more prevalent in women, which has lead some researchers to believe estrogen is implicated in the genesis of autoimmune diseases. One study with over 120,000 participants, found that women on estrogen replacement therapy are at a higher risk of developing lupus.
Dietary choices can also cause excess levels of estrogen. The tissue from meats, cheese, milk, and ice cream is remarkably similar, at a molecular level, to your own tissue. So eating animal food may provoke an autoimmune flare, which can make a vegetarian diet a good choice. It is also advisable for people with an autoimmune disorder to supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
The most well known source of vitamin D is sunlight, though it can be supplemented through other means. The immune system is directly impacted by vitamin D in your system. Some of this vitamin is converted into a hormone called calcitriol. This hormone turns on an antibacterial protein as a first-line defense against all unrecognized invaders.
It is also important in preventing an overreaction to harmless visitors or the body’s own cells. If you have an autoimmune disorder, ask your physician to test your level of vitamin D. If your levels are deficient, your immune system may not be functioning properly.
Vitamin A: An Essential Nutrient
Vitamin A is another valuable addition to your diet. It is often referred to as the anti-infective vitamin because it is required for normal functioning of the immune system. It does this by maintaining the mucosal cells that act as a barrier to invading germs, and by its involvement in the production of white blood cells vital to the immune system.
While vitamin A is essential to the immune system, large amounts are not required. Your body can use vitamin A from animal sources, or convert the vitamin from plant sources.
Beyond its other benefits, vitamin A is also necessary for your body to effectively metabolize vitamin D.
Vitamin B6: A Balanced Approach
The vitamin B6 group also has functions in your immune system. Vitamin B6 deficient individuals have decreased production of white blood cells and an important immune system protein called interleukin-2.
Balance is important with all the B complex vitamins as many of them are interdependent. Like vitamin A, you only need a small amount of B6—only 1.3 mg a day as an adult. However, your body can’t make this vitamin, so a healthy diet or supplements are required to obtain it.
Antioxidants are a broad group of compounds that destroy or neutralize free radicals in the body, and thus they protect against oxidative damage to cells caused by normal aging or daily exposure to pollutants and toxic substances. Inflammation goes hand in hand with autoimmune disease, but don’t underestimate the significance of oxidative stress.
During an immune response, there’s an increase in the production of free radicals, which can result in oxidative stress, which is a process marked by a negative shift in the natural balance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants that results in biological damage. In fact, much of the damage in autoimmune disease is linked to free radical damage to cell membranes and tissues.
Fish oil can be a valuable supplement for an individual suffering with an autoimmune disorder. Fish oils generally contain vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant when combined with vitamin C and selenium. Antioxidants are also found naturally in healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables. The most effective antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea extract, beta-carotene, grape seed-skin extract, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and selenium.
Fish oils also contain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA particularly, which have the ability to modulate the immune system. They’ve been investigated in conditions such as arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
It is also worthwhile to investigate taking DHEA as a supplement. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a pro-steroidal hormone that decreases with age. Decreases in DHEA levels can be linked to a variety of chronic and degenerative diseases including cancer, coronary artery disease, depression, stress disorders, and neurological functioning. As a result of aging, immunity may become compromised due to poor regulation of cellular hormones that govern immune response.
Among other approaches, a dietary approach to the management of autoimmune diseases is worth pursuing. There are a wide variety of supplements available and choosing the right ones can be a challenge. Before you pursue supplementation always consult with your doctor to ensure that none of the vitamins or minerals that you want to take will interact with medications that might have been prescribed to you. Otherwise, explore and investigate your options for supplements.