Autoimmune conditions can be very tricky to manage. Most every aspect of a patient’s lifestyle can have potential positive or negative effects on whether symptoms are in a flared-up state, or are relatively calm. Diet plays a huge part in managing autoimmune conditions and there are many beneficial modifications we make with patients that can help them live a better daily quality of life. Two recent preliminary studies seem to back up what we know can help most autoimmune conditions.
Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are well known to be beneficial in supporting healthy immune system function. Deficiencies in either of these can be a potential aggravator to a system that is already not working as it should be. The two studies looked at these nutrients in relation to the autoimmune condition lupus, where the body can produce inflammation and antibodies against many different organ systems, including the joints, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form. People who ate more omega-3’s appeared to be less symptomatic, and those with low vitamin D levels may be putting their kidneys at risk!
With the omega-3’s, researchers looked at the diets of 456 SLE patients through a survey. In general, those who ate more omega-3’s (and less omega-6’s) scored lower on a measure of lupus “disease activity”. They also rated their sleep quality as better. Inflammation is a major trigger of autoimmune conditions, so increasing the healthy O-3’s while limiting the pro-inflammatory O-6’s may have accounted for some of the perceived benefits. Foods such as tree nuts, chia seeds, salmon and tuna are good sources of your healthy omega-3’s. Vegetable oils contain much of the O-6’s found in the average diet and are best kept limited.
For the vitamin D study, nearly 1,400 patients with SLE had their blood levels of the nutrient measured. 30 ng/mL is the lowest end of normal, and roughly 27% had levels below 20! (50-70 ng/mL could be considered an optimally healthy range.) Based on this, researchers looked at possible complication correlations and found that patients with low vitamin D had a 66 percent higher risk of severe kidney damage compared to those with normal levels. Vitamin D is an important immune system modulator, but it also helps reduce protein in the urine (which is a predictor of future kidney damage). The lower levels may have been a contributing factor in this relationship.
While neither study actually proves that the respective nutrients are the sole causative factor in the correlations (both were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Diego in November), it never hurts to pay attention to trends that may help keep you healthier and free from symptoms. For the 1.5 million Americans who have lupus (mainly women), it may be a missing piece in their fight to helping keep their body in balance and not attacking itself. For the average person, vitamin D and omega-3’s are some of the basic supplements that we recommend as most diets are low in these nutrients, and the benefits of maintaining optimal levels are just too many. And if you have any autoimmune condition (Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis/eczema, etc.) they become even more important!
If you don’t know where your levels lie, we can test and help you assess whether you may need to add one or both to your daily routines. And if you don’t have a plan (other than medications) on how to minimize the symptoms of your autoimmune challenges, we can work with you on that as well. Just give us a call and get scheduled for your Discovery Day and learn what more you could be doing to help you live a better quality of life!