Autoimmune Diseases And Diet

One of the worst things you can deal with on a day-to-day basis. Fatigue, fever, malaise, joint pain, and rashes are just some of the symptoms that sufferers must endure. Autoimmune diseases cover a wide range of conditions. Here is a long, but by no means, comprehensive list:

  • alopecia areata
  • autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • dermatomyositis
  • diabetes (type 1)
  • some forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • glomerulonephritis
  • Graves disease
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
  • myasthenia gravis
  • some forms of myocarditis
  • multiple sclerosis
  • pemphigus/pemphigoid
  • pernicious anemia
  • polyarteritis nodosa
  • polymyositis
  • primary biliary cirrhosis
  • psoriasis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • scleroderma/systemic sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • some forms of thyroiditis
  • some forms of uveitis
  • vitiligo
  • granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener™s)

There are many inspiring stories, such as that of Dr. Terry Wahls, of people who have overcome autoimmune diseases simply by lifestyle changes. Up to 50 million Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases and traditionally they have no cure. The emotional toll that this diagnosis takes on many of those afflicted is heartbreaking. Autoimmune diseases develop when your body attacks healthy cells rather than antigens.

Antigens can be bacteria, toxins, viruses, cancer cells, and other forms. Your body produces antibodies that help it to kill these antigens. When you suffer from an autoimmune disease, your immune system cannot distinguish between healthy cells and antigens, destroying healthy cells. This can happen in multiple bodily tissues.

Besides traditionally having no cure, autoimmune diseases also do not have an accepted cause. There are a few theories that try to explain the causes of these diseases. One theory is that microorganisms or drugs might cause changes that confuse the immune system. This may be happening due to genetic factors.

The Science

Genetics certainly may play a role in autoimmune diseases. Foxp3 is one gene that seems to play a central role in regulation of immune responses to self-antigens, allergens, and other microbiota. By better understanding this gene, there may be hope for better understanding of autoimmune diseases.

A recent study in mice actually had researchers stop an autoimmune disease. The experiment stopped diabetes and multiple sclerosis in its tracks. The hope is that one day this may be translational to humans. Autoimmunity is mediated by a variety of mechanisms. This can be molecular or cellular.

There are a few other elements potentially involved in autoimmunity. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha is one of them. By blocking the action of TNF-alpha, researchers have shown the potential therapeutic effects in autoimmune diseases. However, it ultimately remains that there is no accepted cure or cause for autoimmune diseases. This is where dietary intervention can potentially be beneficial.

Foods To Consume

Though the science may seem somewhat bleak, there are many wonderful stories of people putting these diseases into remission simply by changing their diet and lifestyle. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend you watch Dr. Terry Wahls amazing story of vastly improving her multiple sclerosis. When dealing with an autoimmune disease, the standard Paleo diet is a good starting place. This means consuming foods like:

  • Meats
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Healthy Fats

This also means eliminating foods like:

  • Dairy
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Processed Foods

Foods To Avoid

While otherwise consuming the foods listed above, which are staples of a Paleo diet, if dealing with an autoimmune disease, it is a good idea to limit the following foods, for at least 30 days.

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nightshades
  • Eggs
  • Peppers
  • Spices

Why should one avoid these foods? While not directly spelled out in the literature, they are foods which contain inflammatory or disruptive compounds. An example of this would be this study on the glycoalkaloids found in potatoes (a nightshade). For questions on nightshades, a great source of information can be found here.

Eggplants are another food that are found in the nightshade family. Interestingly, nicotine is found in eggplant. It has the highest concentration of nicotine found in any food, second only to tobacco. However, the concentration found in eggplant is much lower.

Regarding eggs, the lysozyme protein seems to cause most problems related to autoimmunity. The egg white, specifically, can be problematic. This study outlines the molecular mimicry process that may be at work. Dr. Cordain, one of the authors of that study, goes further to outline that in order for any food proteins to potentially cause or promote an autoimmune disease, it must:

-Survive the human digestive process
-Cross the gut barrier intact
-Interact with the immune system in a manner suspected of causing an autoimmune disease

As he states, there are a number of egg proteins that meet these requirements. This is why eggs would be a food to avoid on an autoimmune protocol.

Nuts are a little harder to justify as a food to remove, at least on the basis of science. As excellently explained by Dr. Ballantyne, there is no scientific evidence that the lectins in nuts and seeds cross an intact gut barrier or prime the immune system.

If one is to look at the phytic acid argument, it makes sense to only limit nut consumption, not eliminate nuts entirely. In fact, Dr. Wahls and Dr. Cordain both barely suggest the removal of nuts when dealing with autoimmune disease. However, they don’t endorse their consumption either.

Nuts may be the last food you try remove when dealing with an autoimmune disease. They still may cause digestive problems, allergies, or food sensitivities. Those with autoimmune diseases are more likely to have food allergies.

Peppers contain capsaicin, which is a gut irritant. It can be difficult to determine which other spices may be problematic. Some come from the nightshade family, which could obviously be an issue. The best spices to avoid are:

  • Red Pepper
  • Chili Pepper Flakes
  • Curry
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne

Seeds can also be problematic for many of the same reasons as peppers. Seeds to avoid, include, but are not limited to:

  • Sesame Seed
  • Celery Seed
  • Nutmeg Seed
  • Coriander Seed
  • Cumin Seed
  • Dill Seed
  • Fennel Seed
  • Mustard Seed
  • Poppy Seed

Lastly, some sources recommend consuming no more than 20g of fructose per day when dealing with an autoimmune condition. There doesn’t seem to be much documentation for that, but I do agree that it is a good general health guideline. The world’s obsession with fructose, is truly getting out of hand.


Though there are by no means supplements that can claim any kind of reliability in treating autoimmune diseases, there are lots of interesting studies, which hopeful sufferers can try. It should go without saying, that diet and lifestyle are much more important than supplements.

However, supplements may provide the last 10% that can help. Dr. Terry Wahls has even stated that without her supplement regimen, she couldn’t get out of bed. It is, of course, important to make sure studies involving supplements are properly done. Ideally, they should be in vivo, meaning they are tested in living, whole organisms. This is in contrast to in vitro.

The first study that may prove of some interest, is one involving omega-3 fatty acids. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is the best form of omega-3, since it retroconverts into EPA. Docosahexaenoic acid tends to have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of autoimmune diseases.

The second study of interest is one involving L-carnitine. Here, researchers showed that L-carnitine was able to prevent regulated cell death in damaged nerves. This is amazing information to have and shows how supplements can help slow and even possibly reverse autoimmune symptoms.

The next study, is one involving coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 exerts anti-inflammatory properties, as is often listed in autoimmune protocols. Another study reports similar benefits. Arguably misrepresented as a supplement (some argue it should be a vitamin),  CoQ10 is required for the proper function of many organs along with multiple chemical processes in the body.


While there is no accepted cause, or cure, for autoimmune diseases, I hope I have outlined some potential methods to try and help with symptoms. There is no reason that someone suffering from an autoimmune disease can’t have a better quality of life. I am of the opinion that any and all methods should be tried if it means a potential cure, or at least an improvement of symptoms.

Do you or someone you love suffer from an autoimmune disease? If so, have they tried any of the above methods to help alleviate some of their symptoms? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally appeared on PaleoHacks.