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Autoimmunity Diseases and the Role of Your Diet

Autoimmunity and Your Diet

By LuAnn Scarton

luann scarton registered dietitian new directions nutrition counselingI met with Sandra initially to discuss the best diet for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  She was taking thyroid medication, but still felt exhausted, had joint pain, dry skin, and was losing her hair.  She began to realize that her diet might be playing a role in her autoimmunity symptoms.  She had read about thyroid and diet on the internet but didn’t know how or where to start.

How Autoimmune Diseases Work

Autoimmune diseases, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, occur when the immune system triggers an immune response to a perceived threat in an effort to clear a “foreign” invader.  The problem is the invader is not actually something “foreign”, but rather our own self tissue. E.g. thyroid, joints, or neurons.  In response, the immune system fires an inflammatory attack to destroy the tissue.  It releases inflammatory chemicals and antibodies along its path often causing undesirable and life altering symptoms.

While the cause of autoimmunity is spontaneous, we know that it is often associated with factors such as genetics, environment, infections, and multiple mechanisms of tissue destruction.  There are nearly 100 different types of autoimmune diseases affect nearly 24 million Americans with 75% of them being women (1,2).  Although conventional medical management is an important part of disease/symptom management, therapies that help address the underlying inflammatory response can often be a very helpful addition.

autoimmunity and dietSandra’s Solution and Elimination Diet

Sandra and I worked together to determine the best nutrition therapy suitable for her lifestyle, but still able to produce an improvement in her symptoms.  We found through a guided Elimination Diet which foods were problematic for her.  I helped her figure out ways to plan her meals and improve the overall nutritional quality of her diet.  We addressed important micronutrients, like her low Vitamin D levels and other nutritional approaches to decrease inflammation. Within a month, her symptoms were much improved.

Nutritional approaches for autoimmunity are unique. They focus on manipulation of targeted, anti-inflammatory nutrients and guided elimination diets that diminish an inflammatory response. Also a nutritional approach addresses therapeutic polyphenols as well as promotes healing of potential contributing and underlying deficits.  For example, we know there appears to be a causal relationship between low Vitamin D levels and risk of Multiple Sclerosis (3).

While there is a plethora of information on diet and autoimmunity available on the internet, it is critical to work with a nutritional professional who values the whole you.  Find a nutritionist that is knowledgeable about autoimmune disease and can uniquely assess the best nutritional approaches to manage your condition.  Nutrition is healing if done well, but can also be harmful if done improperly, unknowingly leading to further exacerbation of symptoms.

For more information on nutritional approaches please call our office at 724.934.3905. Our Nutrition Counselors are here to walk along side of your autoimmune condition and work with you on a solution.


  1. Fairweather, D., and Rose, N. R. (2004). Women and Autoimmune Diseases. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 10(11), 2005-2011. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1011.040367.
  2. Autoimmune Disease. (2012, November). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/autoimmune_diseases_508.pdf
  3. Sintzel, M. B., Rametta, M., and Reder, A. T. (2018). Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis: A comprehensive review.Neurology and Therapy, 7(1), 59-85. doi:10.1007/s40120-017-0086-4.