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Auto-Immune Diseases and Inflammation

Several recent articles suggest that inflammation associated with a faulty diet, lack of exercise, overweight and lack of vitamin D increases risk for autoimmune diseases. There is no strong evidence yet to show that any diet will cure auto-immune disease.

Examples of auto-immune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, many nerve damaging disease and more than 140 other diseases, many with fancy names that suggest their inflammatory symptoms.

Inflammation
When germs get into your body, your immunity is supposed to produce cells and chemicals that attack and kill the germs to keep them from spreading through your body. The same thing happens when you are injured. Your immunity releases exactly the same cells and proteins that it releases when you have an infection, to help heal the injured tissue. As soon as the germs are gone, or your tissue heals, your immunity is supposed to dampen down. However, if your immunity stays active, it can use the same cells and chemicals to attack you and:
• punch holes in your arteries to form plaques and clots that can eventually cause a heart attack
• damage cartilage in your joints to cause arthritis
• attack the genetic material in your DNA to cause cancers
• prevent your cells from responding to insulin to cause diabetes, and so forth.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune illness in which your own immune system attacks different parts of the body, mostly your joints and especially your hands and fingers. At present doctors treat rheumatoid arthritis with drugs that suppress your immunity, but these drugs also increase risk for viral and bacterial infections and even certain cancers. Although there is no evidence that an anti-inflammatory diet will cure rheumatoid arthritis, there is accumulating evidence that it can help to reduce risk for developing the disease.

The latest data from the Nurses' Health Study, on almost 150,000 women who were under 55 years old when they started in the study and were followed for more than 20 years, showed that healthier eating patterns reduced risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis (Ann Rheum Dis. Jan 30, 2017). Another study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who ate an anti-inflammatory diet had reduced joint pains (Arthritis Care and Research. April 3, 2017). Eating blueberries and spinach reduced symptoms, while sugar added to fruits and drinks increased the severity of their joint pains. Increased risk was associated with sugar-sweetened beverages (including fruit juice), red and processed meat, trans fat and salt. Reduced risk was associated with eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, long-chain omega-3 fat and polyunsaturated fat. Also associated with decreased risk for rheumatoid arthritis were reducing body fat, reducing calorie intake and avoidance of smoking. These are the same healthful factors in reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

How Anti-Inflammatoy Foods Help to Prevent Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which an overactive immunity prevents your cells from responding to insulin so your blood sugar levels keep on rising higher and higher to damage every cell in your body. Soluble fiber in fruits, vegetables, nuts and other plant foods cannot be absorbed in your upper intestinal tract, so it passes to your colon where specific bacteria break down the soluble fiber into short-chain fatty acids such as acetates and butyrates. Researchers in Australia have shown that soluble fiber dampens down your immunity to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and high blood sugar and help to control diabetes (Nature-Immunology. March 28, 2017). Soluble fiber also can help you to lose weight and overweight markedly increases risk for diabetes. Several studies show that giving the stool of fat mice to skinny mice can make them fat and giving the stool of skinny mice to obese mice can make them thin. The authors feel that soluble fiber in plants dampen down your immunity to help prevent heart attacks, food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma.

My Recommendations
Everyone, whether healthy or sick, should try to eat as close to an anti-inflammatory diet as possible:
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are deep green, orange, yellow, and purple
• Eat lots of healthful monounsaturated fats in olives, avocados and peanuts
• Eat lots of polyunsaturated fats in nuts and seeds such as beans, sunflower seeds and flax seeds
• Replace some of the animal protein in your diet with plant proteins from beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy beans and so forth
• Eat un-ground whole grains such as wheat berries, rye berries, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, oats, corn and barley
• Restrict processed meats and meat from mammals
• Restrict ground-up grains in bakery products, pasta and other foods made with flour
• Avoid added sugars in drinks and foods
Other components of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle:
• try to exercise every day (with your doctor's consent)
• avoid being overweight, particularly in your belly
• keep hydroxy vitamin D levels above 30 ng/ml

April 9th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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