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How Inflammation Leads to Autoimmune Disease

Inflammation is our body’s way of protecting itself in order to remove harmful toxins, irritants, or pathogens. Inflammation is thought to be a contributing factor in many diseases including, but not limited to, arthritis, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, GI disorders, and more.


The typical Western diet is characterized by a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, high intake of protein and sugar, and excess salt intake with frequent consumption of processed foods that have little fiber. All of these foods contribute to inflammation and promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

Signs you may have chronic inflammation:

  • Ongoing, irritating pain in the body (especially in the joints)
  • Allergies or asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Uncontrolled blood sugar
  • Ulcers
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Constant fatigue or lethargy
  • Skin problems or red, bloodshot eyes

Autoimmune Disease Is Becoming More Common

Chronic inflammation begins to overburden the immune system and sets it on overdrive. It is easy for this to progress into an autoimmune condition where the system meant to keep you healthy and fight off invaders, is now attacking your own body.


Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, Type I Diabetes, and celiac disease: what do all these diseases have in common? They all involve the body’s immune system attacking the body itself rather than foreign invaders. The term for this is “autoimmunity”.

What Is Autoimmunity?

Autoimmunity and autoimmune disease are common and are becoming ever more common. And if you have one autoimmune disorder, you are more likely to develop other autoimmune disorders on top of the first one.


It is estimated that the incidence of autoimmune illness in the US is between 3 and 11%. Some people put that number even higher if you include other diseases where the cause may include autoimmunity.


The immune system is highly complex, intricate and usually well-balanced. It knows what to attack and what to leave alone. Scientists are trying to figure out how it distinguishes self from other. When it gets confused, it attacks self, and that is what autoimmunity is. At this point, it is not completely clear what causes autoimmunity, but we have some suspects.

The SAD, Gluten, Candida and Foods that Increase Inflammation

Autoimmune disease also appears to be highly correlated with sensitivity to the proteins gluten and gliadin. These are found in wheat, barley, and rye. Most people who are diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder should go on a gluten/gliadin-free diet for 2-3 months to see if they feel any better.


Gluten and gliadin sensitivity seems to be increasing in our population, and one possible reason for this may be overgrowth of Candida (commonly called “yeast”) in the intestinal tract related to the use of antibiotics.


We all have some Candida in our bodies, but when bacterial flora (which normally inhibits the growth of Candida), gets compromised by the antibiotics, then Candida can flourish and cause problems, including an increased risk of gluten or gliadin sensitivity. A Dutch study in 2003 suggested that Candida albicans may stimulate antibodies to gluten and antibodies that are markers for celiac disease, and some others as well.


The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be very monotonous and is very heavy in gluten and gliadin. Just ask anyone who tries to go gluten-free and says, “there’s nothing I can eat!” That, of course, is very far from the truth, but shows how dependent many people are on gluten-containing foods.


Getting off gluten/gliadin as well as all dairy products can move autoimmune disease sufferers further down the road to recovery.

Additional foods that promote inflammation and should be avoided:

  • Corn and Soybean oils
  • Pasteurized dairy
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Conventional meat
  • Sugars
  • Trans fats

Environmental Factors Contributing to Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases

A recent new study shows that autoimmune diseases are on the rise. It is not exactly clear why, but environmental toxins are highly suspected as a major contributor. Specific chemicals being implicated include PFOA (also called C8), fluoride, perchlorate, mercury, lead, and other metals.


If you test tissue of anyone, you will find at least trace amounts of all these substances. In addition to that, our world produces over 1,000 new chemicals per year that our bodies have never before seen or been exposed to. This means that whenever these chemicals come into our bodies, our detoxification system has to try and get rid of them. Usually, it does a pretty good job, but sometimes these toxins end up staying in us permanently and can wreak havoc.

Reversing the Effects of Inflammation and Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases

Diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have been positively impacted by anti-inflammatory foods and supplements such as fruits and vegetables, vitamin E, curcumin, and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in antioxidants also reduce cellular damage caused by inflammation.


The Mediterranean diet contains many anti-inflammatory foods and is known for touting high consumption of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and moderate consumption of protein (primarily fish and seafood). Research has shown individuals who follow this diet have lower cholesterol, triglycerides and reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The diet also has been linked to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet:

  • Fruits (apple, lemon, avocado, coconut, berries, etc.)
  • Allium vegetables (chives, garlic, onions, scallions, and shallots)
  • Green foods (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, spinach, etc.)
  • Root vegetables (sweet potato, parsnip, turnip, radish etc.)
  • Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha)

For more information on a healthy immune system, find a Forum Health provider near you.