Defeating autoimmune diseases with diet

Defeating autoimmune diseases with diet

Hanna V.

Autoimmune diseases are getting more and more common around the world. Within the last 20 years their amount has doubled.

One of the most common autoimmune diseases in Finland is the inflammation of the thyroid gland, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, psoriasis and type 1 diabetes. Also endometriosis and Crohn’s disease, which previously were considered as autoimmune diseases but were later removed from their list, also have similar symptoms and cause a similar state of inflammation in the body.

Three factors are required to trigger an autoimmune system disease:
  • genetic predisposition
  • a trigger from the environment
  • the leaky gut syndrome

The leaky gut syndrome can itself cause deficiencies of vitamins and micronutrients. These deficiencies in turn make the symptoms of autoimmune diseases worse.

What is the leaky gut syndrome?

A leaky gut refers to a situation in which the gut is too permeable. A healthy gut lets only the nutrients from fully digested food pass through. A leaky gut however also lets partially digested foodstuff and bacteria pass through to the bloodstream. This results in an inflammatory state in which the body develops antibodies against these unfamiliar subjects and at the same time also attacks its own healthy cells.

This inflammatory state causes both stomach symptoms as well as skin symptoms (research has shown that for example acne is connected to this kind of inflammatory state). It also causes deficiencies of important nutrients since the necessary nutrients will not be absorbed from the mucous membranes of the leaky gut, even if your diet was healthy. On the other hand, a leaky gut can also be relatively asymptomatic.

What can I do?

In addition to prioritizing the wellbeing of gut in your diet, you also need to pay attention to the foodstuff which sustain the inflammation in other parts of the body. This means eliminating certain foodstuff permanently from diet and eliminating certain foodstuff until the gut heals. After this, the foodstuff temporarily removed from the diet can be returned one by one, if they won’t cause any additional symptoms.

Suitable diets in the treatment of the leaky gut syndrome are for example AIP also known as Autoimmune Protocol Diet or FODMAP diet.

If you suffer from the leaky gut syndrome, you should avoid the following foodstuff:

  • dairy (casein)
  • grains (especially containing gluten)
  • sugar
  • alcohol
  • processed meats

In addition to diet, getting enough vital nutrients such as vitamins and minerals is necessary when suffering from leaky gut syndrome.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for everyone but getting enough of vitamin D is crucial specifically for a person who suffers from autoimmune diseases. It has been shown that vitamin D improves the absorption of calcium and brain functions.

It is good to check vitamin D levels with a blood test, preferably at the end of summer when the levels are at their highest. If the level is low or barely within the reference range at the end of summer it is safe to assume that the level won’t reach the reference range without a vitamin D supplement during the dark winter months either.

A person living in Finland gets their daily vitamin D intake mainly from dairy, yoghurt, fish and margarine. This can get tricky if autoimmune diseases start to be treated with a diet which eliminates all dairy. Fortunately fatty fish (e.g. baltic herring, mackerel and salmon) is also a good source of vitamin D and it is good to eat it at least three times per week. In the autumn, good sources of vitamin D can also be found in the forest: funnel chanterelles and chanterelles contain plenty of vitamin D2.

Taking high quality vitamin D supplement which absorbs well is a good way to ensure the sufficient intake of vitamin D, which also helps to maintain the conditions of the gut and the skin. D3 absorbs slightly better than the vegan-based vitamin D2. This is why vitamin D3 is recommended when the levels of vitamin D are low.

Collagen

Collagen forms 30 % of all the protein in the body and skin protein 70 %. The protein production of the body starts to decrease from the age of 25 and in the age of 40 the production stops almost completely. That’s when it is good to support the body’s own production of protein with vitamin C or to secure the intake of collagen with supplements.

Bone broth

Bone broth is a real superfood when it comes to healing the gut. However, preparing it in a proper way takes time, even over 24 hours. If this sounds like too much work, fortunately bone broth supplements are also available.

In addition to collagen, bone broth contains a lot of important nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and amino acids. All these support the functioning of the gut and are also good for hair, nails, joints and the skin.

If you wish to prepare the bone broth yourself, it is good to use the bones of organic chicken or beef which have been farmed according to the guidelines of organic production. The bones are simmered for 24 hours during which all the good nutrients will dissolve into the broth. Bone broth also contains glycine and proline which contribute to the healing of wounds. The collagen dissolved from the bones will form into gelatin which forms a protective coating in the gut and therefore helps with many issues.

I have shared a thorough recipe for preparing bone broth in my blog “Kotigourmeeta”. I recommend putting the bone broth into ice cube bags and freezing them. This makes it easy to consume bone broth daily either in a hot drink or by using the cubes in cooking. According to research, bone broth also improves the quality of sleep so it is good to enjoy it in the evenings.

Other important nutrients

The absorption of vitamin B12 and folic acid can also be disrupted with the people suffering from for example celiac disease, so it is also good to check these values with lab tests and if needed, secure their intake with supplements.

In addition, zinc also has an important role in healing the gut. Research has shown that zinc helps with the Crohn disease. It has also been shown that zinc deficiency plays a role in the formation of thyroid diseases.

A person suffering from autoimmune diseases shouldn’t only rely on the “healing powers” of the western medicine. Diet plays a huge role in health but focusing on the diet with the treatment of diseases is non-existent in the western medicine. I stopped using the corticosteroids prescribed for psoriasis at the same time when changing my diet and now my skin is better than ever.

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