9 Best Diet and Supplements for Autoimmune Disease 2024

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.

Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.

Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), affect the whole body.

Scientists know about more than 80 autoimmune diseases. What are the various autoimmune disorders? Some are well known, such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, while others are rare and difficult to diagnose. With unusual autoimmune diseases, patients may suffer years before getting a proper diagnosis. Most of these diseases have no cure.

There are many self-proclaimed medical experts recommending all kinds of diets and supplements for autoimmune disease out there. Do they actually work? Some diet and supplements do have evidence and some don't. This guide can help you make sense of the options and to separate the facts from fiction.

Here are the handful of diet and supplements under the most intense study for effectiveness for autoimmune disease:

1. Autoimmune Protocol Diet

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a diet that aims to reduce inflammation, pain, and other symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis (pubmed).

Many people who have followed the AIP diet report improvements in the way they feel, as well as reductions in common symptoms of autoimmune disorders, such as fatigue and gut or joint pain. Yet, while research on this diet is promising, it’s also limited.

The AIP diet is an elimination diet designed to help reduce inflammation or other symptoms caused by autoimmune disorders.

It’s comprised of two phases designed to help you identify and ultimately avoid the foods that may trigger inflammation and disease-specific symptoms. Research on its efficacy is limited but appears promising.

Due to its limited downsides, people with autoimmune disorders generally have little to lose by giving it a try. However, it’s likely best to seek guidance from a qualified health professional to ensure you continue to meet your nutrient needs throughout all phases of this diet.

2. Vitamin D and Autoimmune Disease

Vitamin D is arguably one of the most powerful nutrients responsible for modulating and coordinating the immune system. In autoimmune disease, the immune system has a hard time differentiating self from non-self (foreign invaders). Vitamin D helps the immune system make this important distinction, which reduces autoimmune disease formation (pubmed).

Vitamin D deficiency is vastly common in our society due to sunscreen use and low amounts of sun exposure. On top of this, the average diet is severely lacking dietary sources of Vitamin D such as organ meats and certain fish.Sunlight is by far and away the most important factor in optimizing your vitamin D levels. Not only does skin exposure to sunlight help produce vitamin D in its sulfated form, which may have unique benefits to the body in addition to supplemental vitamin D.

Our ancestors frequently ate organ meats in their diets, such as liver, that were dense sources of vitamin D. Other great sources of dietary Vitamin D are wild fish like sockeye salmon and sardines.

3. Zinc

Zinc is another critical nutrient for healthy immune system function. Proper zinc levels help support the thymus gland and the formation of T helper cells, which are vital for coordination of the immune system (pubmed).

Studies have shown that chronically low zinc levels can result in atrophy of the thymus gland which leads to poor T helper cell maturation and an imbalance in the Th1 and Th2 branches of the immune system. It is this immune imbalance that contributes to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
The RDA for adult zinc intake is around 12mg per day. The top dietary source of zinc is by far oysters with about 29.75 mg per 3.5 ounce serving. The next best would be sprouted pumpkin seeds which have about 7.81 mg of zinc per 3.5 ounce serving. Finally, liver and pasture-raised lamb and beef are other great sources of dietary zinc.

4. Glutathione and Autoimmune Disease

Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the human body. It acts as an antioxidant on its own while also regulating other antioxidants in the body. In addition to antioxidant benefits, glutathione supports healthy detoxification. These actions will help lower inflammation drastically, which is a major factor in autoimmune conditions.

Glutathione has also been identified as playing a major role in white blood cell function and immune system regulation. For these reasons, glutathione has been identified a key nutrient in the battle against autoimmune disease (pubmed).

Boosting glutathione to optimal levels comes down to three things: diet, lifestyle, and supplementation. Top foods for boosting glutathione are non-denatured grass-fed whey protein, organ meats, sprouts, sulfurous foods (garlic, onions, cruciferous veggies), as well as herbs like turmeric, ginger, and milk thistle. These foods provide the building blocks for glutathione production in the body.

Next, there are several lifestyle factors that affect glutathione production. These include things like getting good sleep, adequate exercise, healthy sun exposure, and avoiding environmental toxins.

In terms of supplementation, there are things like selenium, N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC), and Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) which have all been shown to boost glutathione production in the body. 

Pure glutathione is destroyed by digestion while the acetylated glutathione form does a much better job at passing through the digestive tract and exerting its beneficial effects. Remember, these supplements are not at this time FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any autoimmune disease and should not be confused as such.

Whey Protein is technically a glutathione precursor. Whey protein get it’s own category because it’s so significant as one of the first and best ways to promote glutathione production in your body. Only a few years ago, the only reliable and simple way to boost GSH was to consume a good quality non-denatured whey protein powder. Cysteine tends to be the limiting factor in GSH production, and is found in good quality whey, making it strong healthy source of a good amino acid profile that boosts glutathione.

NAC or N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine is one of the most common pre-cursor supplements. Glutathione has a profound effect on liver detoxification. NAC is used clinically during overdose of acetaminophen glutathione enhancement in the emergency room can save your life.

As a supplement N-Acetyl-Cysteine is incredibly effective for a short boost to GSH levels, but it’s benefits have been decried by some due to it being more a brief GSH spike than a sustained increase.

5. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids play a very important role in reducing autoimmune disease. I find that in most cases of autoimmune disease, there is a significant imbalance of fatty acids in the body.

In the standard American diet, there is a high consumption of omega 6 fats from processed oils while omega 3 fatty acids are virtually absent. While all omega 6 fatty acids are not necessarily bad from the right sources, it’s important to increase omega 3 consumption to create a balanced ratio in the body.

An elevated omega 6 level relative to omega 3 is highly associated with the kind of systemic inflammation that is indicated in most autoimmune disorders (pubmed). 

Another really important dietary aspect to focus on is getting healthy fats in general. The Standard American Diet is full of problematic fat sources that are highly inflammatory. The following graphic is a good summary of which fats are best to include in your diet. 

When it comes to boosting your omega 3 levels there are really 2 ways to do this, through omega 3-rich foods and with a high-quality supplement. In general, it is important to focus on healthy fats in your diet from saturated fat, monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fats.

6. Probiotics and Autoimmune Disease

Prebiotics, probiotics and Postbiotics

Having a healthy bacterial balance is key to having a healthy digestive tract and proper immune function. Dysbiosis is also heavily associated with inflammation that can directly promote autoimmunity.

The microbiome connection to autoimmunity is even being investigated for clinical treatment of autoimmunity (pubmed).  

Unfortunately, modern day we have many things that really destroy the good bacteria in our gut. These are things like municipal tap water, pesticides in crops, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, processed foods, alcohol, and the list goes on. So the first priority is to really work on getting this microbiome destroying toxins out of our lives, then to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria.

7. Curcumin

There’s a lot of hype around curcumin these days, and for good reason! Curcumin comes from a highly concentrated extract of turmeric. It plays an important role in supporting a healthy inflammatory response, a healthy immune system, and healthy aging without the gut-damaging side effects of popular over-the-counter remedies. It can positively impact the expression of genes that regulate systemic inflammation, making it a great supplement for autoimmune disease (pubmed).

Similar to glutathione, even high-grade curcumin supplements are generally not well absorbed in your gut, and often metabolized by your liver before ever being utilized. Since curcumin is fat soluble, taking it in liposomal form provides your body with the lipids curcumin needs in order to enhance bioavailability. Liposomal Curcumin solves the problem of poor absorption by coating the curcumin with a thin layer of fat from medium-chain-triglyceride (MCT) oil.

Research shows that curcumin is one of the most powerful free-radical fighters in the world. Eliminating free radicals with the help of an autoimmune supplement such as curcumin is critical to support healthy immune function.

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a polyphenol commonly found in red wine, however supplemental forms are more potent. It’s known for its ability to support healthy aging and its effect on metabolism.

Resveratrol can also support heart health, which is essential because people with autoimmunity are more susceptible to heart disease. In fact, one study shows that women aged 35 – 44 who have lupus are 50 times more likely to have a heart attack than other women of similar age (pubmed).

Resveratrol helps protect the innermost layer of your arteries called your endothelium, and increases your endothelial production of nitric oxide, supporting balanced blood pressure. You can get all of the health effects of this autoimmune supplement without the downsides of red wine such as sugar, alcohol, sulfites, and histamines by taking a resveratrol supplement.

Research has shown that resveratrol can support your body’s immune function and inflammatory response.

Resveratrol is a great autoimmune supplement because it helps modulate your immune system by regulating the activity of a kind of white blood cells called natural killer cells. This helps balance your immune response if your immune system is overactive or suppressed (pubmed).

9. L-Glutamine

Glutamine is an important amino acid with many functions in the body. It is a building block of protein and critical part of the immune system.

What’s more, glutamine has a special role in intestinal health. Your body naturally produces this amino acid, and it is also found in many foods.

Like many other amino acids, it exists in two different forms: L-glutamine and D-glutamine.

They are almost identical but have a slightly different molecular arrangement (pubmed).

The form found in foods and supplements is L-glutamine. Some supplements list it as L-glutamine, but others simply use the broader term glutamine.

L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps seal the tight junctions in your gut. In addition to promoting optimal gut health, L-Glutamine supplements support thyroid and immune system function. L-Glutamine also tames sugar cravings and supports healthy weight maintenance.

Supporting your gut barrier integrity is critical to promote optimal immune function. When you have a compromised gut barrier, many inflammatory proteins can leak out into your bloodstream and trigger immune responses that can damage your cells. L-Glutamine is a great supplement for autoimmune disease as it can help repair the damage caused by leaky gut.



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