These include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, thyroid (hypo and hyper), psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, to mention just a few.
Autoimmune diseases are defined as the immune system inappropriately attacking organs, cells and tissues of the body, causing chronic inflammation. Thus, inflammation is the main consequence of immune system dysfunction, and it is the theme tying these diseases together.
The mainstay of treatment is immunosuppressives. However, there are several concerning factors with these drugs.
First, the side effect profile is substantial. It includes the risk of cancers, opportunistic infections and even death. It is no surprise that suppressing the immune system would result in increased infection rates.
Nor is it surprising that cancer rates would increase, since the immune system helps to fend off malignancies. In fact, a study showed that after 10 years of therapy, cancer risk increased approximately fourfold with the use of immunosuppressives.
Second, these drugs were tested and approved using short-term randomized clinical trials, but many patients are put on these therapies for 20 or more years.
What else is available to treat autoimmune diseases? Medical nutrition therapy using bioactive compounds, which have immunomodulatory effects on inflammatory factors and gene expression, and supplementation.
Nutrition and inflammation
Raising the level of beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid bioactive food component, by a modest amount has a substantial impact in preventing RA.
In one study, participants drank the equivalent of about one glass of freshly squeezed orange juice a day with a resultant 49 percent risk reduction in the development of RA.
While not specific to RA treatment, there are dietary studies that have shown anti-inflammatory effects in other diseases. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a Mediterranean-type diet significantly decreased inflammatory markers, including CRP, in 112 older patients.
Vitamin D helps treat and prevent many chronic diseases, and autoimmune diseases are no exception. Vitamin D affects over 200 genes, according to Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at University of Oxford.
In the absence of vitamin D, T-cell response, part of the immune system, becomes dysfunctional and uncontrollable, resulting in an increase in multiple sclerosis (MS) and inflammatory bowel disease.
However, when normal levels of vitamin D are conveyed to vitamin D receptors, proper T-cell functioning is restored with no subsequent autoimmune disease in animal studies.
The gut contains approximately 70 percent of your immune system. Probiotics, by populating the gut with live beneficial microorganisms, have immune-modulating effects that decrease inflammation.
I recommend probiotics with Lactobacillus to my patients, especially with autoimmune diseases that affect the intestines, like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Fiber has been shown to modulate inflammation by reducing biomarkers, such as CRP. In two separate clinical trials, fiber either reduced or prevented high CRP in patients.
In one, 30 grams, or about 1 ounce, of fiber daily from either dietary sources or supplements reduced CRP significantly compared to placebo.
In a second trial, participants who consumed the highest amount of dietary fiber (greater than 19.5 grams) had reductions in a vast number of inflammatory factors.
Immune system regulation is complex and involves over a 1,000 genes, as well as many biomarkers. Dysfunction results in inflammation, and potentially autoimmune disease.
We know the immune system is highly influenced by bioactive compounds found in high nutrient foods and supplements. Therefore, bioactive compounds may work in tandem with medications and/or may provide the ability to reset the immune system and thus treat and prevent autoimmune diseases.
For further information, visit medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.