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6 Foods That Worsen Autoimmune Disease

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Nothing says betrayal than when your own immune system attacks your cells. 

While this may sound like an absurd fictional plot, it’s actually a real medical condition called autoimmune disease. And in dealing with this condition, you will have to stir clear from some foods and drinks. 

A person diagnosed with autoimmune disease attacks the body by mistake because the immune cells cannot tell the difference between a foreign invader and a healthy somatic cell. 

As a result, it causes mild to considerable damage to specific tissues and organs, such as the joints, epidermis, red blood cells, endocrine glands, muscles, and connective tissues. 

Unfortunately, the cure for autoimmune disease is yet to be discovered. However, if you are diagnosed with the condition, there are management plans involving medications, physical therapy, and several restrictions which encompass your diet. 

Foods such as red meat, dairy, pastry, and beverages containing caffeine and alcohol trigger systemic inflammation, aggravating the autoimmune disease. 

If you are struggling with this condition, check out the most common foods that worsen autoimmune diseases so you can avoid them altogether. 

But first, here’s everything you need to know about autoimmune disease and how your diet plays a crucial role in its management. 

What Is an Autoimmune Disease? 

Autoimmune disease refers to a set of disorders caused by a malfunction in the immune system. This flaw leads to the hyperactivity of the immune system prompting the immune cells to attack the body’s tissues causing more damage than help. 

In some cases, the immune system attacks the body’s cell instead of the pathogen or disease-causing entity, which aggravates the infection while weakening the body altogether. 

Likewise, an autoimmune disease can change the function of an organ or promote abnormal cell growth. 

You can think of it as self-sabotage but without the downright intention. Nevertheless, the very cause of the autoimmune disease is still unknown. 

However, research has strengthened the notion that most autoimmune diseases are multifactorial. Their risk of development involves both genetic and environmental triggers. 

For example, lupus (systematic lupus erythematosus or SLE), an autoimmune disease that targets various organs, has been known to be associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation

However, it also has a hereditary component which means if you have someone in your family line who has the autoimmune disease, the risk for you having it yourself is high. It even gets higher if you are frequently around UV radiation. 

In a nutshell, autoimmune disease is not a solitary condition. Instead, it’s a group of disorders involving the immune system attacking healthy body cells encompassing conditions such as the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Grave’s disease 
  • Hashimoto’s disease 
  • Vitiligo
  • Psoriasis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus 

Moreover, while the primary cause of the condition is still unknown, genetic and environmental factors may trigger autoimmune disease. But to which degree is still a question wide open for research. 

Now, you may wonder, where do diet and nutrition come into play when it comes to autoimmune disease? 

How Does Diet Affect Autoimmune Disease? 

Although diet per se does not necessarily become involved in the development of autoimmune disease, it does affect the severity and onset of the symptoms.

A 2014 study established that diet can potentially aggravate autoimmune disease, given that some food can modulate autoimmune responses. 

Recent reports linked the “Western Diet” composed of foods rich in fats, salt, and sugar to the rapid increase of autoimmune diseases worldwide. While this claim still requires further clinical research, the preliminary data support the possible association. 

Fast-food chains have drastically increased over the years, exposing a significant fraction of the population to unhealthy meals. 

Nevertheless, among the medical community, it comes as no surprise that diet can influence the state of a particular health condition. 

The gut microbiota, encompassing lots of good bacteria that process nutrients, have critical effects on the functions of the immune system. 

In the case of autoimmune disease, part of the management process is a prescribed anti-inflammatory diet. This is regularly included in the autoimmune protocol (AIP) prescribed to patients. 

Inflammation is an immune response that can go out of control among those who have been diagnosed with autoimmune disease.

Among the diets that adhere to the anti-inflammation principle is the Mediterranean diet. Moreover, the same diet is implemented among those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. 

However, if your doctor does not specifically prescribe a diet, chances are you will still be asked to limit or let go of food and edible products that could aggravate the autoimmune disease. 

6 Foods That Make Autoimmune Disease Worse 

With any other health condition, diet is a permanent inclusion in many treatments and management plans. 

After all, you get the essential nutrients from the food you eat, which in turn, makes or breaks your health, depending on how sufficient the supply is. 

Moreover, specific food components can also aggravate your condition or cause sudden flare-ups. 

That being said, autoimmune diseases also pose restrictions on several food and beverages. 

So, here are six of these foods that make the autoimmune disease worse.  

  1. Sugary Foods

Eating food high in sugar often causes a significant metabolic imbalance associated with obesity and diabetes. 

But research has also found that it affects autoimmune disease. 

A 2019 study highlighted how high sugar intake increases the production of TH17 (an inflammatory cell) in the nervous system of mice that have autoimmune encephalomyelitis. 

The said study results suggest the potential role of a low sugar diet in treating or managing an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s disease. 

  1. Red Meat

Lots of red meat in the market has a significant amount of saturated fats, triggering and worsening inflammation. 

However, a study published in 2021 further suggests that a high intake of red meat can be linked to the early onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

During the study, it was determined that RA patients who consume more red meat developed the condition younger than patients who have had low red meat intake.    

  1. Dairy

Cow milk and its derivatives can also activate inflammation. In Celiac disease, lactose intolerance is a common occurrence. 

Moreover, ongoing studies have pointed out the potential association of cow milk and other dairy products to other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. 

  1. Grain

Aside from dairy, gluten is another substance you will often hear about when it comes to Celiac disease or other food intolerances. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other types of grain. 

For those with autoimmune digestive diseases like Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, a gluten-free diet has been proven to minimize the symptoms of their health condition. 

Gluten is mistakenly identified as a threat that causes an inflammatory immune response along the intestinal lining. 

Frequent exposure to gluten leads to damage in the linings of the small intestine, which affects nutrient absorption. 

  1. Eggs

Eggs are always a big hit on the table, especially during breakfast. This is because they supply essential nutrients to the body. 

However, eggs also contain proteins and cholesterol, containing pro-inflammatory properties

Moreover, some egg proteins are also prone to molecular mimicry, appearing as harmful foreign substances.

  1. Nightshade Vegetables 

Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and other nightshade vegetables are off-limits for patients with autoimmune disease. This is because these vegetables contain compounds such as the toxic glycoalkaloids that cause the immune system to overreact and induce inflammation. 

In turn, this could lead to aggravated conditions such as the leaky gut. Therefore, people with autoimmune diseases opt to avoid these vegetables at all costs. 

How To Diagnose Autoimmune Diseases? 

Several blood tests are carried out to diagnose an autoimmune disease. But the most common tests are the following:

  1. Antinuclear Antibody (ANA)

The ANA blood test screens for antinuclear antibodies, which are known to attack the nucleus of a healthy somatic or body cell. Therefore, getting a positive result from an ANA blood test could indicate an autoimmune disease.

  1. Rheumatoid Factor (RF) Blood Test 

With the RF blood test, your blood sample will be evaluated for the rheumatoid factors, which attack healthy cells much like the antinuclear antibodies. But this time, they mostly go after the cells of the joints and glands.

  1. Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide (CCP) Antibody 

CCP antibodies are found to be in elevated levels, especially among those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – a type of autoimmune disease. Therefore, it is taken together with other tests to strengthen the diagnosis. 

  1. C-reactive Protein (CRP)

The CRP test is popularly used to measure inflammation as a whole. High CRP levels could suggest acute inflammation, commonly characterized by an autoimmune disease. 

Nevertheless, the CRP test results could suggest other conditions such as cardiovascular disorders. Therefore, if used in diagnosing autoimmune disease, it has to be taken with other specific tests. 

  1. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)

Like a CRP test, the ESR blood test also measures inflammatory activity in the body. More specific tests often follow this test as the ESR could also suggest other health conditions linked to inflammation. 

The Bottom Line 

Living with an autoimmune disease will restrict you in many ways. Most notably when it comes to your regular diet. 

However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So, it’s crucial to eliminate these foods that worsen autoimmune diseases. Instead, look for alternatives that could provide the same nutrients without causing you to flare up from your condition. 

On the other hand, if you’re experiencing symptoms of an autoimmune disease, see your doctor and start avoiding foods that induce inflammation. 

Check out various blood tests for autoimmune diseases here at Personalabs.  

Medically Approved By Dr. Edward Salko, MD

Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.

Dr. Salko’s career has specialized in family and emergency medicine. His passion is to provide clients with the tools they need in the most convenient way possible to allow them to take charge of their own healthcare. He has held a variety of positions in Kansas, Florida and Washington. Currently, in addition to his duties as Medical Director for Personalabs, he is a practicing emergency physician in Kennewick, Washington.

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