Healing Foods: Eating to Beat Autoimmune Diseases
Photo: bhofack2/Getty Images
It’s been estimated that at least two million Canadians of all ages are living with some kind of autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system – designed to protect us from infection – attacks its own tissues or organs as though they’re the enemy.
Lupus, one of the best known autoimmune conditions, currently affects 50,000 Canadians. Other diseases include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. The prevalence of autoimmune disease is rising in the developed world.
Researchers suspect links to our modern-day living, including a higher consumption of processed foods. There’s increasing evidence that what you put on your plate can affect your body’s inflammatory response. Eating for autoimmune disease means choosing foods that stimulate your appetite without overstimulating your immune system.
Some studies have found low levels of antioxidants or high levels of oxidative stress in people with multiple sclerosis and with autoimmune liver disease. Cranberries are a magnificent way to increase your antioxidant intake. (Just be sure to avoid options loaded with sugar.) Cranberries are extremely high in polyphenols, which have valuable antioxidant properties. They also have other health benefits, such as potentially staving off urinary tract infections and helping to prevent various types of cancer. In a 2016 experiment at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland, people who drank cranberry juice sweetened with sucralose for eight weeks had lower cardiovascular risk markers in their blood compared to those who drank a similar-tasting beverage.
A steaming bowl of bone broth may help control autoimmune disease. That’s according to the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP), which was developed by a Canadian with a doctorate in medical biophysics and has been gaining in popularity. The AIP focuses in part on avoiding foods that are known to stimulate or activate the immune system, like tomatoes. It incorporates other foods that supply a range of nutrients without putting the immune system into overdrive. A promising 2017 study in California found that the AIP improved symptoms in many people with inflammatory bowel disease. Bone broth, depending on the recipe, contains a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as collagen.
Spinach and its leafy cousin, Swiss chard, are rich sources of beta-carotene. They’re also high in magnesium. Both these nutrients get a shout-out on the Dietary Inflammatory Index, a list of anti-inflammatory food components developed in 2014 by two American epidemiologists. The science behind it is somewhat inconsistent – it was put together after the researchers took into account almost 2,000 different kinds of food studies – but it certainly won’t hurt you to eat more of these leafy greens, which also contain lutein, vitamin K and fibre.