Anti-inflammatory diets have been around for a long time and have recently gained some popularity. Many people start an anti-inflammatory diet approach to cool inflammation related to joint pain or conditions such as arthritis. However, there is a huge benefit to an anti-inflammatory diet approach for autoimmune disease which is why I want to share this autoimmune disease diet approach with you today.
Before I talk specifically about this approach to combatting autoimmunity, I want to talk more about what an autoimmune disease is.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
When you suffer from an autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks healthy cells instead of protecting them. This is not the norm. In someone without an autoimmune condition, the immune system works to protect the body from disease and infection. When autoimmunity is present, the immune system is hyperactive and may begin attacking your own healthy body tissue such as the thyroid gland in cases of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Autoimmune diseases are also extremely complex and can take years to diagnose. In fact, many people see a handful of doctors before they get the proper diagnosis and that usually occurs over the span of four years. Yes, it can take four whole years of dealing with symptoms before a diagnosis is made! I see this quite often in my practice. A patient may come to me with classic autoimmune symptoms but they have not yet been diagnosed. This can be incredibly frustrating for patients and can even lead to the condition worsening over time if a proper diagnosis is not made early enough.
So, why is it so difficult to diagnose an autoimmune disease? For one, some of these diseases don’t cause immediate symptoms while others cause non-specific symptoms meaning that you experience discomfort in more than one area. This can make pinpointing what is actually going on in the body difficult. There are also so many different autoimmune diseases. There are more than 100 known autoimmune diseases seen today so you can imagine how challenging a diagnosis can be.
Want to learn even more about autoimmune diseases and learn about some of the common signs and symptoms? Check out another one of my blog posts here.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Dealing with Autoimmunity
In functional medicine, we work with patients to get to the root cause of the problem and uncover symptoms piece by piece to shed some light on what is really going on. Offering thorough testing can also be very useful in helping us determine if an autoimmune condition is present. Functional medicine helps to give us more insight as to what is going on in the body and potentially make a diagnosis sooner than if you were to go to your traditional medical practitioner. Unfortunately, many patients come to me after they have gone to a handful of doctors trying to get answers. However, even if you have not explored your symptoms further and you suspect autoimmunity may be affecting you, working with a functional medicine practitioner can help you get to your root cause and get you on a path to health.
What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet?
Now that you have some background information on autoimmune diseases, let’s get back to the anti-inflammatory approach for dealing with these conditions. Before we do that, let’s talk about what an anti-inflammatory diet is.
An anti-inflammatory diet is one that helps to combat chronic inflammation which is something that is on the rise today. When talking about this diet it is important to know that it is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle change. Meaning, it is not about counting calories, macros, or losing weight, although you may notice a natural reduction in weight with this way of eating. The anti-inflammatory diet is about eating foods to support your health and combat inflammation and removing the foods that trigger inflammation, and disease. An anti-inflammatory diet can also help boost energy levels, improve vitamin and mineral reserves in the body, boost fiber intake for a healthier digestive system, and provide the body with a healthy dose of antioxidants and phytonutrients to fight off disease.
An anti-inflammatory diet helps add variety to your diet as well as it is encouraged to eat fruits and veggies of all colors. It’s also about adding more fresh food into your diet instead of packaged food options.
When you follow this way of eating it is also about taking a look at your lifestyle as well. While eating healthy is a huge step in the right direction, lifestyle choices need to be addressed as well. Things like chronic stress, lack of sleep, and not getting enough physical activity can lead to chronic inflammation as well. This is why it is so important to address these lifestyle factors along with your diet to be sure that you are reducing inflammation on all levels and not just by what foods you put in your body.
The same goes for environmental toxins as these can cause inflammation as well. It is best to stay away from toxic household cleaners and use more eco-friendly, natural, and organic options (I love Young Living essential oils and their household cleaning products.) You will also want to stay away from second-hand smoke, and toxic beauty and skincare products. All of these things can trigger inflammation and even endocrine disruption.
An Autoimmune Disease Diet Approach
So, how does this autoimmune disease diet approach to eating and living help those with autoimmune diseases? How exactly will following an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing your exposure to toxins help you if you suffer from autoimmunity?
For starters, autoimmune diseases are one of the most common inflammatory diseases and they are affecting nearly 24 million people today. (1) This includes conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus to name a few. These are all inflammatory conditions. The problem we see in modern day medicine is that many patients suffering from these conditions are given medications to try to mask the symptoms while the root cause is not being addressed. Someone with a lot of pain may take anti-inflammatory medications and while it may temporarily alleviate some of the pain the actual cause of the inflammation is not being fixed.
In order to cool inflammation in the body such as in the case of autoimmune conditions, it is essential to find the actual cause of the inflammation in the first place which is where functional medicine comes in. This is also where an anti-inflammatory diet comes in for those suffering from autoimmune or any type of inflammatory condition.
For many patients with inflammatory conditions, finding what in their diet is causing the inflammation is an excellent starting point. An anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start simply because the focus is on removing the most inflammatory foods seen in the Standard American Diet and then replacing those foods with things that will actually help to reduce inflammation. Keep in mind that each person will be different, and not all foods work for everyone. Even if a food is anti-inflammatory, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will tolerate that food well. For example, if someone has a sensitivity to berries, we would obviously not include those in a diet plan despite the fact that they help combat inflammation.
As we talked about before, following an anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start but there are some lifestyle changes that can be made as well. Swapping out as many household cleaning products for natural options and using “clean” and “natural” beauty and skin care products can also help reduce the inflammatory load on your body. I personally love to use Young Living Essential oils mixed with some coconut oil for a moisturizer instead of toxic store-bought options. Not only does it smell amazing, but essential oils can also help balance many areas of the body as well.
Other Steps to Cooling Inflammation Associated with Autoimmune Disease
There are other steps you can take to help gain control over the inflammation going on in your body. Remember, it is all about finding the root cause of that inflammation and that can be done using a handful of steps.
#1 Get Tested for Hidden Inflammatory Triggers
As a Functional Medicine Practitioner, I often test patients for gut infections and food sensitivities which are great ways to detect any possible hidden source of inflammation. Once we get to the bottom of what is triggering the inflammation or autoimmune condition, we can start to develop a plan specifically tailored to you.
#2 Get Tested for Heavy Metal Toxicity
In my practice, heavy metal toxicity happens to be one of the leading causes of Hashimoto’s. Heavy metal toxicity can also cause other kinds of autoimmune diseases so it is so important to get checked for this when looking for the root cause of your inflammation.
#3 Focus on the Gut
Disease begins in the gut and I commonly seen many of my autoimmune patients suffering from things like leaky gut, candida, and SIBO. No matter what type of inflammation or autoimmune condition is present, focusing on gut health is huge. It is essential to fix the gut first and an anti-inflammatory diet is an excellent way to do that.
#4 Supplement when Necessary
A food first approach is always best, but there are some situations where supplementation may be very beneficial. This is especially true for someone who may have compromised gut function and may be deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral. Probiotics are also excellent for gut health.
#5 Take a Look at Your Lifestyle
As we have talked about, lifestyle is huge. Diet and lifestyle go hand in hand and the truth is that you can’t just change one and expect to see huge improvements in your health. Working on improving sleep habits, getting regular exercise, and practicing daily stress reduction are all essential. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to do all of these things at once. You can start with one change and work on that until you feel consistent enough to add in something else. Go at a pace that will work for you and that you know you can realistically commit to lifelong.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet Today
Ready to start adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet? Here is a list of some great foods to consume regularly.
- Wild-caught fatty fish
- Organic berries
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Chia seeds & Flaxseeds
- Soaked almonds & walnuts
- Extra virgin olive oil
Foods to Avoid
While you add all these wonderful anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, here are some that should be kept out and especially for those with autoimmune disease.
- Fried & processed foods
- Frozen meals
- Refined carbohydrates
- Hydrogenated fats & oils
- Conventional animal products
As you can see there is a tremendous benefit in following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle when dealing with an autoimmune disease. If you can find the source of the inflammation and then work to correct that with diet and lifestyle then you will set yourself up on a path to wellness. Many of my patients come to me, find their root cause, change their diet, and lifestyle and then are able to stop their medications. It is all about a holistic approach to cooling that inflammation and treating each autoimmune disease like an inflammatory condition with the proper diet and lifestyle changes.
If you are suffering from weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and more, click here to schedule a phone call with me, so I can find out where you’ve been, where you want to get to, and how I can help you get there.
I know exactly where you are because I’ve been there myself…I remember being so tired that I could barely function. I gained 30 pounds out of nowhere and had a severe case of brain fog. I also started to get severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was driven and motivated…until I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I wanted was to get my life back…
Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
(1) Mark Hyman. How to Stop Attacking Yourself: 9 Steps to Heal Autoimmune Disease
Amy Sarah Marshall (2014). The Detective Work of Autoimmune Disease
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. Autoimmune Disease List
Dr. Weil. Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet