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Know your foods, The Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet!

Artichoke (above) encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, while avocados, nuts and seeds, and berries reduce inflammation.

photos: Pixabay

About 23.5 million Americans, including my husband, and millions more people worldwide, suffer from an autoimmune condition - and their numbers are growing, though researchers don't know why.

You have probably heard of the most common autoimmune diseases - including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, coeliac

disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease - but you might be unaware that there are more than 80 named but lesser-known types.

Through working as a nutritionist and living with my husband, I have learned the importance of diet in battling these disorders.

A healthy immune system can plainly distinguish between a foreign invader and its own body.

When something inhibits the immune system's ability to decipher what is safe and what is dangerous to the body, the immune system can attack its own healthy cells and tissues believing they are threatening. This self-attack is an autoimmune condition.

What causes an immune system to attack its own healthy cells is still largely unknown, but the US National Institutes of Health says "there is a growing consensus that autoimmune diseases probably result from interactions between genetic and environmental factors".

There are studies that show that certain genes can predispose a person to autoimmune diseases, and this is why many such diseases show up in one family, as they do in my husbands family, where vasculitis, rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia all reside.

But having the gene doesn't guarantee someone will get the disease. There must also be an environmental trigger. Kwown triggers are infections, exposure to environmental toxins, allergens, or stress and lack of sleep.

Autoimmune conditions are like embers of a fire that never fully burn out. After the initial blaze, they can flare up again and again.

Studies suggest that a healthy lifestyle can help keep the immune system balanced, while less healthy situations can trigger the immune system to overreact.

For instance, low vitamin D levels have been shown to risk factor for multiple sclerosis.

Obesity has been linked to many autoimmune diseases, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Stress and anxiety have been shown to cause all kinds of autoimmune flares.

On the other hand, anti-inflammatory dietary choices can lessen rheumatoid arthritis. Ingesting the right nutrients, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and sleeping regularly can help prevent an autoimmune flare.

"It is current knowledge that nutrition, the intestinal microbiota, the gut mucosal immune system, and autoimmune pathology are deeply intertwined", according to a 2014 study, titled "Role of 'Western Diet' in Inflammatory Autoimmune Disease" and published in the journal Current Allergy and Asthma Reports.

In other words, what we eat and the health of our digestive tract are directly connected to our autoimmune system.

Other studies suggest that autoimmune issues can be managed by healing a damaged gut.

Think of the gut as the front line of defence in any army. It is the first location that foreign and potentially dangerous substances deeply interact with our bodies. This is why almost 70 per cent of our immune system lies in and around our gut so that it can react when allergic or toxic things enter our systems. Since the gut is so directly tied to the immune system, it seems important to keep yours healthy.

You can do this by cutting out foods that inflame the gut, limiting unnecessary medications that can alter the bacteria balance in the gut and consuming probiotics (such as artichokes and asparagus), probiotics (such as kimchi and miso) and bone broth to build a healthy mix of bacteria.

When my husband was diagnosed, his doctors checked for underlying infections and allergies. When they didn't find a specific trigger, he went on a strict anti-inflammatory diet for eight weeks.

He took fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc, and he did yoga, exercised regularly and got a lot more sleep than he usually did. These actions helped his body heal.

We will never know what sparked the wildfire, but we are thankful to know what tames it.

The Washington Post

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