Can Diet Cure Autoimmune Diseases?

Tina once defined herself as a successful writer and editor of fashion magazines, but once the diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease (AD) and its stark reality entered her life that definition took a drastic turn. She is not alone in her identity as estimates find that between five and nine percent of the world's population suffer from some form of AD. Each those 380 to 680 million individuals are eager to escape from this uninvited identity and place their hope in a cure. Many AD sufferers look to dietary changes as a cure, but can diet cure autoimmune diseases? Finding an answer to this question only leads to more questions.

Is There a Cure for Autoimmune Disease?

Because of its extensive reach and menacing upsurge in recorded diagnoses, there have been and continue to be a broad range of studies into the cure of autoimmune diseases. Research has concentrated on various approaches, which include retraining the immune system, beta cell mutation through genetic research, and dietary interventions. 

Studies into Retraining the Immune System

The good news is that a 2014 Bristol University study reported significant progress in retraining the immune system not to turn on itself. Laboratory tests in the treatment of the multiple sclerosis (MS) demonstrated some promise in reducing the aggressiveness of immune system attacks. Researchers are hopeful that they are on the right track toward an autoimmune cure. 

Beta Cell Mutation Research

Recent research at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is working on the insertion of molecules that protect beta cells from the immune system into healthy tissue cells. Some gene mutation occurred in their tests, along with some success in protecting the cells from immune system attacks, but their research is ongoing, and not yet ready for human testing. HSCI geneticists are hopeful that their work is yet another avenue toward a cure for AD. 

Dietary Interventions Research

Mayo Clinic studies have taken a closer look on the effects of dietary changes on autoimmune diseases. Their research relates to introducing selective bacteria for restoring eubiosis of the gut microbiota. Through this process, they hope to activate various immune system mechanisms in order to suppress the autoimmune protocol. This research is an important step into AD treatment, but does not represent a cure. 

Though these studies and developments are good news and provide some hope, one stark reality remains; research efforts have come up short in discovering or developing a cure for autoimmune diseases. Many have placed hope in dietary interventions, but to date these have not produced a cure either, leading to additional questions about the role of diet in AD treatment.

Does Diet Play a Role in Autoimmune Diseases?

There is some good news in spite of this hard-to-swallow reality. Diet does play a significant role in reducing and eliminating some symptoms and complications associated with AD. In fact, certain dietary changes demonstrate the capacity to help guide AD into remission. The area where dietary intervention celebrates the most success is in relation to anti-inflammatory diets. 

Anti-inflammatory Diets

AD presents with increased levels of chronic inflammation among its list of symptoms. This fact has led many to consider the age-old question of whether the chicken or the egg came first. In other words, does inflammation cause AD, or does AD cause inflammation? In either case, treating inflammation has become a major research focus in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Most of the efforts and recorded successes in this area result from anti-inflammatory dietary interventions. The effectiveness of these efforts in nutritional research have given birth to a plethora of diet plans among which are Atkins, Keto, Mediterranean and AIP/Paleo. Though they use different approaches, they do have some characteristics in common. Each approach limits certain inflammation contributing foods and encourages foods that reduce inflammation. 

Which Foods Contribute to Inflammation?

Different amounts of various foods contribute more or less to inflammation in each individual. Consequently, reducing the intake of certain foods will successfully reduce inflammation in one person, while another may have to eliminate them. Some foods or food groups that contribute to inflammation include: 

  • processed sugars, corn syrups (soft drinks, candy,
  • artificial trans-fats (sometimes referred to as partially hydrogenated oils)
  • refined carbohydrates (high gluten carbs with most of their fiber removed in processing)
  • excessive alcohol consumption (excludes moderate amounts of red wine)
  • processed meat (sausage, bacon, jerky, lunch-meats, canned meats)
  • artificial sweeteners and flavorings (acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, monosodium glutamate). 

Though there are other foods that contribute to inflammation in varying degrees, these tend to be included on the majority of inflammation contributing foods lists. 

Which Foods Reduce Inflammation?

While reducing or eliminating the consumption of foods help reduce inflammation and related AD symptoms, there are also foods, which contribute to reducing inflammation. Most anti-inflammatory diets encourage consumption of these foods in various degrees, including: 

  • dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
  • dark berries (blueberries, blackberries, black cherries) and red grapes (including red wine)
  • avocados and coconuts (including their oils)
  • olives and olive oil
  • nuts and nut oils (walnuts, pistachios, almonds)
  • wild caught cold water fish and fish oils (salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, krill)
  • cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and most herbs
  • dark chocolate. 

This is not an exhaustive list of inflammation reducing foods, but it is a good place to begin a winning battle against chronic inflammation and its aggravation of autoimmune diseases. Keep in mind that there are varying degrees and guidelines for consuming each of these foods, and their consumption will affect each individual in a different way.

Can the AIP/Paleo Diet Help?

The primary focus of the AIP/Paleo Diet involves the reduction of inflammation through reducing the consumption of foods that contribute to gut inflammation. This approach builds upon the research and success of the Mayo Clinic studies mentioned above as well as additional research relating to altered intestinal permeability or "leaky gut" syndrome. Studies indicate that favorable results from an autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet are a viable treatment option in lieu of that elusive cure.

Neither Paleo nor any other anti-inflammatory dietary interventions provide a cure for AD, but reducing inflammation can help with symptom reduction and allow individuals to redefine themselves apart from their disease. Contact us and allow Paleo Angel to become a reliable resource for answering questions and providing treatment solutions to your autoimmune challenges.