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Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Millions of people around the world live with autoimmune disorders, which is why it’s so important that our understanding of these disorders continues to grow rapidly. A growing body of research suggests that chronic illness responds best to a multifaceted methodology of diet and lifestyle changes that include a focus on anti-inflammatory nutrition, moderate exercise, adequate and plentiful sleep, and reasonably reducing stress. This approach to managing autoimmune disease has been termed ‘the Autoimmune Protocol’ (AIP) and may be the key to successfully managing autoimmune disorder symptoms.

What you eat matters. What we put into our bodies has a significant impact on our health – even for those of us considered generally healthy. Processed foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats can contribute to the onset of autoimmune symptoms. But even some ‘good-for-you’ foods may affect gut flora and result in the recurrence of autoimmune symptoms.

To allow the body to heal from the effects of autoimmune symptoms, it is important to stick to nutritionally dense foods, but more importantly, avoid ingredients that promote inflammation and hence immune activation. Such items include:

  • Processed vegetable oils: corn, canola (rapeseed), palm kernel, peanut, safflower, sunflower and soybean oil

  • Processed food chemicals: artificial colours and flavours, emulsifiers (carrageenan, cellulose gum, guar gum, xanthan gum, lecithin), monosodium glutamate (aka MSG), nitrates/nitrites (naturally occurring are ok), phosphoric acid, propylene glycol, textured vegetable protein (aka TVP), trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as margarine), yeast extract, and any chemical on a label you don't recognize or can’t pronounce.

  • Problematic sugars and sweeteners: agave/agave nectar, barley malt, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, caramel, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup (really, any corn syrup), crystalline fructose, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, inulin, lactose, monk fruit, maltose, maltodextrin, rice syrups, sorghum syrups, sucrose/sucralose, and of course, refined sugar

Instead, replace for:

  • Olive oil (at room temperature) or avocado oil when cooking (due to high smoke point and low trans/saturated fats

  • Vegetables such as beets, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and kale

  • Fruits as a sweet treat, such as apples, figs, grapes, and melons

  • Sweeteners such as stevia or erythritol (if you have no gastrointestinal issues)

When you eat matters. Just as important as what we put into our bodies when we put nutrition into our bodies also matters. According to recent studies [1], disruptions to our eating and fasting cycles can contribute to an imbalance in gut microbiota and an increase in inflammatory responses.

  • Try to avoid forcing eating when feeling stressed.

  • Avoid eating late at night, before bed, or during the night.

  • Stick to regular mealtimes instead of grazing throughout the day.

Exercise to improve your gut biome. Many autoimmune disorders are stress-triggered. Regular aerobic exercise has been recommended for decades as a natural and healthy way to reduce stress and cortisol levels while increasing feel-good endorphins. Exercise can help to manage the symptoms of chronic illness. But beyond merely symptom management or de-stressing, exercise can improve your gut biome (which we know to be a key factor in the development of autoimmunity). In a recent study [2], scientists studied participants just beginning an exercise regimen. For several weeks during active exercise, the researchers discovered the increased presence of microbes that produce short-chain fatty acids – the acids that help repair damage from inflammation, fight insulin resistance, and help boost metabolism. The presence of these microbes was significantly diminished after participants stopped exercising regularly. Manage your lifestyle. Our constantly-connected sleep-deprived lifestyles are doing more harm than good – especially to our microbiota – and may be contributing factors, along with diet, to the development of autoimmune disorder symptoms. To mitigate these symptoms, it is important to get plenty of sleep and eliminate as much unnecessary stress from daily life.

  • Mindfulness meditation – meditation has been shown to reduce stress, give us a deeper sense of well-being, and help regulate circadian rhythms. It’s also been shown to change our microbiome.

  • Digital detox – being constantly connected not only exposes us to excessive amounts of light but keeps our stress levels up. At least an hour before bedtime, turn off all electronic devices and turn down the lights.

Get outside – fresh air and natural light can help restore natural circadian cycles and help reduce stress. Connecting barefoot with the grass, also known as grounding, “reduces pain and alters the numbers of circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes, and also affects various circulating chemical factors related to inflammation” [3]. For more help with supporting your gut health, achieving a balanced lifestyle/diet, or general health guidance in autoimmunity, please feel free to schedule an appointment online with Dr. Courtney Homberg, Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto, or by calling the clinic at 647-351-7282 today! References: [1] [2] [3]

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