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Nutritional Supplements for Autoimmune Disease

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders that occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissue in the body. These conditions can affect any part of the body and can cause a wide range of symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, skin rashes, and digestive problems.

Autoimmune diseases are a growing problem worldwide, affecting millions of people and causing significant morbidity. Conventional medicine usually treats autoimmune diseases with pharmaceuticals and immunosuppressive drugs, which, while often helpful, can have harmful side effects and only address the symptoms of the disease.

Nutritional Therapy and Functional Medicine provide a complementary approach to supporting autoimmune diseases by focusing on personalised, person-centred healthcare that identifies and addresses the underlying causes of disease rather than just treating symptoms.

In the case of autoimmune diseases, functional medicine recognises that the immune system plays a crucial role in the development of these conditions and seeks to identify and address imbalances in the immune system, as well as other systems in the body that may be contributing to the disease.

Some common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Psoriasis

  • Endometriosis

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Celiac disease

  • Graves disease

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Crohn's disease

  • Scleroderma

Supplements are an incredibly helpful tool in a Functional Medicine practitioner's toolkit, but which supplements to take as someone with an autoimmune condition is the million dollar question and one I get asked often by my clients!

There's often a lot of confusion among clients about what will be supportive versus what might be antagonistic to a person with autoimmunity.

Individuals with autoimmune disease have a unique immune system that is working differently to those without, and that means certain products recommended to the general population won't be suitable to a person with autoimmune disease, and worse, may even aggravate the condition, causing symptom flares. Read about supplements to avoid here.

Nonetheless, nutritional supplements can play an important role in managing the symptoms of autoimmune disease. Here are some of the benefits of nutritional supplements for people with autoimmune diseases:

  1. Reducing inflammation: Many autoimmune diseases are characterised by chronic inflammation, which can damage tissues and organs over time. Certain nutrients have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation in the body.

  2. Supporting immune function: While autoimmune diseases involve an overactive immune system, it's still important to support immune function in other ways. There are nutrients that can be essential for a healthy immune system and may help people with autoimmune diseases avoid infections and other complications.

  3. Improving nutrient deficiencies: People with autoimmune diseases may be at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies, especially if they have digestive problems that make it difficult to absorb nutrients from food, such as celiac disease. Nutritional supplements can help fill in the gaps and ensure that people with autoimmune diseases are getting all the nutrients they need to support their overall health.

So finding the right supplements is not only important because they can be an indispensable tool to help to alleviate symptoms, but also because choosing the right ones means you will not inadvertently trigger your condition.

Since autoimmune conditions are at an all-time high and are on the rise globally, understanding the best nutritional supplements is of great importance.

Support Your Immune System with Nutritional Supplements

As I explain in my blogpost Nutritional Therapy for Autoimmune Disease, Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue, creating a cycle of inflammation and further immune dysregulation; damaging tissues in the body, causing pain and loss of function.

Here Are Some Of The Most Common Autoimmune Conditions:

  • Endometriosis

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

  • Graves Disease

  • Psoriasis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Type 1 Diabetes

  • Coeliac Disease

There are multiple underlying factors that contribute to developing autoimmunity. In order to activate the autoimmune mechanism, it is understood that three things are required:

  1. Genetic predisposition

  2. Intestinal Permeability (aka Leaky Gut).

  3. An Environmental Trigger such as bacteria, virus, stress, trauma, inflammation, poor diet, toxins, and cross-reactivity to foods (there is a significant link between gluten, dairy, and autoimmunity)

No matter what particular organ or tissue is attacked, the common thread of immune dysregulation is the same. By supporting your immune system with the help of autoimmune supplements, you can help to alleviate symptoms and control your condition long-term.

4 Key Autoimmune Supplements

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in regulating the immune system. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Studies have shown that vitamin D may help reduce inflammation and improve immune function in people with autoimmune disorders.

Vitamin D Sources

  • From about April to the end of September, we can absorb vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. But between October and March we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight.

  • You can get vitamin D from certain food sources such as oily fish, red meat, liver, and egg yolks.

  • But it is recommended that individuals with autoimmune conditions use a supplement. Vitamin D supplements - together with omega-3 - have been found to lower the risk of autoimmune disease by 22%, researchers say.

You can find vitamin D supplements in capsule form, liquid (drops or spray), and liposomal forms.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory fats that are found in fish, and in certain plant foods like flaxseeds and chia seeds.

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Omega-3 Sources

  • Fish and seafood

  • Flaxseed

  • Chia seeds

  • Walnuts

  • Seaweed

You can find omega-3 supplements in soft-gel or liquid form.

3. Turmeric / Curcumin

Turmeric is a spice that contains a compound called curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Numerous studies have shown that supplementation with curcumin can alleviate the symptoms of many autoimmune diseases, with the main mechanisms in regulating immunity and inhibiting inflammation.

It has been found to improve symptoms in people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Turmeric Source Ideas

  • Try 1/2 tsp ground turmeric in porridge with ground ginger and cinnamon, grated apple and almond butter

  • Use fresh grated root in soups

  • Add fresh or ground turmeric to curries, stews, and marinades

Turmeric supplements are not generally well absorbed and often get metabolised by your liver before ever being used! That’s why I recommend individuals with autoimmune disease supplement with curcumin, and recommend the form of supplement be liposomal curcumin. Since curcumin is fat soluble, taking it in liposomal form provides your body with the lipids curcumin needs in order to enhance bioavailability.

4. Glutathione

Glutathione is the body's master antioxidant, which helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. It also plays a critical role in regulating the immune system.

Supplementation with glutathione may beneficial in people with autoimmune disorders, as altered glutathione concentrations play an important role in many chronic autoimmune conditions, which are induced and maintained by inflammatory/immunological response, mediated by oxidative stress reactions.

Glutathione Sources

Spinach, avocados, asparagus and okra are some of the richest dietary sources of glutathione. However, dietary glutathione is poorly absorbed by the human body.

You can find glutathione in capsule and liquid form.

Final Notes

It's important to note that while nutritional supplements can be helpful, they should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment.

While these supplements may be beneficial for people with autoimmune disorders, it's important to work with a healthcare practitioner before starting any new supplement regimen. They can help you determine the right dosage and ensure that the supplements won't interact with any medications you're taking.

Finally, not all nutritional supplements are created equal, so it's important to choose high-quality supplements from reputable brands and to follow recommended dosages.

Next Steps

Hi I'm Molly, I'm a UK-based Nutritional Therapist (DipION, mBANT, CNHC) and Self-Compassion Coach (MSc) serving my community in Harpenden and online. Here in my little online home, you'll discover the benefits of nutritional therapy and complementary therapies for autoimmune disease and chronic illness.

Want to understand more about nutrition for autoimmune diseases? Download my free recipe book and discover 12 Nutritionist-Certified Recipes to Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Autoimmunity & Chronic Illness.

If you’re ready to take the next step, please book a FREE mini consultation

In this appointment, we will discuss your goals, any symptoms that you would like to address and relevant medical history that you think I should know about.

Together, we will decide whether this is the right step for you.


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