Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Autoimmune diseases
This is the latest handout I give to my own patients. It has information from some of the latest medical research regarding foods to eat and avoid in order to hopefully decrease inflammation in the body. It talks about anti-inflammatory foods to eat, which to avoid, intermittent fasting, prebiotics (such as resistant starches), and probiotics. As per the Lupus Secrets, do this along with taking your medications, exercising regularly, getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night, and protecting yourself from ultraviolet light.
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There is growing evidence that eating a diet high in foods that decrease inflammation, while avoiding, or minimizing foods that increase inflammation, can help autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. One of the latest studies from the University of California, San Diego Medical Center showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients had significantly better disease control when sticking to this type of diet. Lupus studies show that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids can help disease activity in people with lupus as well as mice with lupus. Lupus mice also have better disease control when they eat a diet rich in "resistant starches." Resistant starches as discussed in the probiotics section below. Note that the Mediterranean diet has many of these anti-inflammatory recommendations. You can find information on the internet or ask your doctor for a copy of our Mediterranean diet.
Eat omega-3 fatty acids. Limit omega-6 fatty acids
Increase intake of:
Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, avocado, sesame seeds, tahini seeds)
Green leaf vegetables (such as arugula, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, brussel sprouts)
Anti-inflammatory vegetables (onion, carrots, pumpkin; eat garlic in moderation)
Enzymatic fruits (pineapples, mangos, papaya)
Anti-inflammatory spices (turmeric, black pepper)
Decrease intake of:
Omega-6 fatty acids (reduce meat intake to turkey or chicken twice weekly; eat more fish as noted above; avoid or at least limit red meats, fried foods, butter)
Should you avoid nightshade plant foods? Avoid gluten?
Controversial diet changes
Some experts recommend the following changes, while others do not due to insufficient data). One reason I am skeptical of this is because tomatoes are rich in lycopenes, a strong anti-oxidant (so, it seems like they should be healthy rather than harmful). This is one of those areas that needs more study.:
Decrease the intake of nightshade (solanaceae) vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes) if you believe this. Personally, I would still eat them. However, like with any foods, if you predictably flare by eating them, then you should avoid them.
Decrease the intake of gluten products (instead of wheat bread and pasta, switch to rye bread, corn tortillas, quinoa/beet/bean/ or chickpea pasta). However, most experts recommend avoiding gluten only if you truly have celiac sprue (gluten hypersensitivity).
*** NOTE: These recommendations are not for people who have celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, or gluten sensitivity. Though these are lower in gluten than wheat breads and pastas, some (such as rye) can contain gluten.
Fasting has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body in numerous studies. Some lupus mice studies also show that fasting decreases lupus disease activity. Numerous animal models show that animals that eat a highly restricted diet live longer.
One easy way to fast is to do something called intermittent fasting. This form of fasting also lowers insulin spikes (so may decrease the risk of diabetes), causes weight loss, and may help extend life span.
An easy way to do intermittent fasting is to only start eating in the late afternoon, then stop when you go to bed. You only want to eat 8 or less hours a day, complete fasting for at least 16 hours (including your 8 hours of sleep). You are only allowed water, black tea, and black coffee while fasting. Go to YouTube to watch some helpful videos about intermittent fasting.
If you have diabetes, discuss with your doctor before doing intermittent fasting (especially if you are on insulin).
You should also exercise regularly to get the full benefits of intermittent fasting.
The microbiome in autoimmune diseases:
We have trillions of bacteria living on and inside of us; all together it is called our "microbiome." The insides of our intestines and gastrointestinal tract contain the largest immune system organ of our body, and the constant interactions of the microbiome bacteria and our immune system can either cause beneficial effects when we have good (beneficial) bacteria in our microbiome, or abnormal effects that can actually cause increase autoimmune disease. Studies of the microbiome and autoimmune diseases such as RA and lupus are in its infancy. Many studies have been performed in animals with lupus and RA, and smaller studies have been done in humans. We have so much to learn, but we do realize that having good bacteria that decrease autoimmunity, and getting rid of bad bacteria that increase autoimmunity are very important. Here are some recommended practices that you can do that may help you.
1. Take great care of your oral health! Poor dental health can actually cause RA and make it worse, and now there is evidence that it can do the same with lupus (in fact, one study showed that treatment of periodontal disease in lupus patients improved their lupus disease activity significantly. Make sure and do the following:
- Floss every day (flossing picks are very handy to use)
- Brush twice a day
- If you have dry mouth, talk to your doctor about how to improve the much needed saliva in your mouth to increase good bacteria and decrease the bad.
- DO NOT SMOKE! (this is why smokers lose their teeth at a much younger age than nonsmokers)
- Chew on gum that contains xylitol (or use Xylimelts, or use mouth wash that contains xylitol eg TheraBreath Maximum Strength)
- Get your teeth cleaned every 6 months (every 3-4 months if you have dry mouth)
2. Improving the microbiome in the gut has less medical evidence behind it. It is probably important to do, but we lack good large studies in humans. However, increasing the amount of resistant starches in your diet may be beneficial.
- Resistant starches include cold oat meal (eg overnight oats), potato starch, green banana starch, potatoes that are cold after being cooked, and lentils
- These types of starches aren't digested well until the get into the large intestine where they begin to ferment. Then beneficial bacteria use these starches for food and interact favorably with the immune system and also decrease the numbers of bacteria that cause immune system problems
- Including a serving of resistant starches in your diet daily is probably a good idea.
Probiotics in autoimmune diseases:
Probiotics are live bacteria, touted to have beneficial effects by living within our intestinal system and interacting with our immune system. While probiotic supplements have been shown to have some benefit for gastrointestinal problems (such as irritable bowel syndrome), no human studies have proven benefit for autoimmune disorders yet. In fact, in animal research, some autoimmune disorders improve with some probiotic organisms while others actually worsen. Therefore, we do not recommend any probiotic supplements. Probiotics may be beneficial for the microbiome as above.
However, many foods are rich in natural probiotics, and thus far, there are no studies suggesting that any of these foods make autoimmune disorders worse. Therefore, you may want to consider the possibility of consuming a daily portion of any of the following probiotic rich foods:
Probiotic rich foods
Kimchi (fermented, nonpasteurized)
Miso soup (warm, not boilded)
Sauerkraut, fermented, nonpasteurized (warm, not cooked too hot)
Fermented, nonpasteurized pickles
Dark chocolate (just a little, and NOT milk chocolate)
Cold green peas on salads
Natto (very healthy, but takes an acquired taste)
Cottage cheese containing live cultures (eg "Good Culture" and "Horizon organic")
Soft, aged cheeses (especially gouda; but also parmesan, cheddar and swiss; the longer the aging, the higher the probiotic content)
Bustamante MF, et al. Contemp Clin Trials Commun 2020
Guma M, et al. Trial of diet to improve RA and impact on the microbiome. Presented at ACR Convergence 11/9/2020.
Zegarra-Ruiz DF, El Beidaq A, Iñiguez AJ, et al. A Diet-Sensitive Commensal Lactobacillus Strain Mediates TLR7-Dependent Systemic Autoimmunity. Cell Host Microbe. 2019;25(1):113-127.e6. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2018.11.009
written by Donald Thomas, MD
Note that Dr. Thomas' posts are for informational purposes only, and are not meant to be specific medical advice for individuals. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider with any questions regarding your own medical situation.
DONALD THOMAS, MD