Four Key Nutrients That Can Help Turn Off the Autoimmune Process
If you are struggling with an autoimmune disease, then you have an overreactive immune system that is mistakenly attacking your (self) tissues. Since we work with patients with a broad spectrum of autoimmune conditions, we have noticed that there are a few key nutrients that are vital for keeping your immune system healthy and working well. While whole foods are always the best way to get your nutrients, sometimes extra help is needed, especially when chronic illnesses are depleting the body’s nutritional reserves. In this blog, we will talk about vitamin D, glutathione, curcumin, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help to balance and calm down an overactive immune response and stop tissue damage. They do this through their action on a little-known immune cell type: T regulatory cells, or Treg cells.
What are Treg cells?
Regulatory T cells, also known as Treg cells, are immune cells that play an important role in controlling the immune response to self and foreign antigens. Treg cells also help prevent autoimmune diseases and help to suppress overreactive, and possiblly harmful, actions by other immune cells, known as T helper cells. T cells are produced in the bone marrow. While these immune cells have a dynamic role in our body – here is a summary of Treg cell function.
The Function of Treg Cells:
- Support balance between Th1, Th2, and Th17 helper T cells, which all play a role in tissue damage and the autoimmune response
- Prevent autoimmune disease
- Suppress allergies
- Mediate maternal-fetal immune tolerance
- Regulate oral tolerance
- Protects commensal bacteria
Treg cells and immune nutrition
With increasingly unhealthy lifestyle patterns and eating the standard American diet (SAD), the prevalence of autoimmune diseases has increased. Eating a diet that involves too many empty calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats can affect both the immune response and the microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract. A Western diet affects gut microbial balance, increases chronic inflammation, and harms metabolic status. Consuming a healthy diet with colorful vegetables, fruits, whole foods, and free of sugar supports the growth of good bacteria, which helps increase Treg induction of Th17 cell development in the intestine and encourages a healthy immune response in the gut.
For those with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, celiac, Crohn’s, and multiple sclerosis, among others – changing your diet and adding important immune supplements with key nutrients will have you feeling better in your healing journey. Functional medicine addresses clinical imbalances with nutrition with the belief that prevention is best. Besides, diet and inflammation are connected to chronic disease – this includes autoimmune diseases, allergies, and asthma. By increasing Treg cells you can improve your overall immune response, reduce chronic inflammation, and prevent autoimmune disease, or at least calm down autoimmune attacks.
Supplements for Immune Support
Inflammation is known to be a factor in many chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases. Also, most people diagnosed with autoimmune diseases have vitamin D and glutathione deficiencies. Diet plays a part as well, especially a SAD (standard American diet), which is found to be higher in omega 6 fatty acids (think corn and vegetable oils). Changes in diet and lifestyle can be a great start to living a healthier life and calming down autoimmune diseases, but supplementation is a good way to quickly begin balancing while making these changes.
Often called the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is a pro-hormone and is produced in your body. It requires exposure to natural sunlight and proper synthesis via the skin, as well as an absence of genetic VDR SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms, or mutations, in the vitamin D receptor on cells). Many people find they are vitamin D deficient because it is difficult to keep up with the level of vitamin D production that their bodies need. More vitamin D is needed when people spend most of their days indoors, sit in the shade, wear sunscreen, or have a darker complexion. Inflammation and stress increases a person’s need for vitamin D. Therefore, most people do not get enough vitamin D from sunshine or food and they need to supplement.
We often hear that vitamin D is important for immune function – you may have even heard recently that it can be helpful with COVID-19. One of the reasons is because vitamin D may help increase Treg circulation and function – although further studies are needed for those with autoimmune diseases.
The quality of vitamin D is important, as well as the form you take. A major role of vitamin D is to make sure you have enough calcium in your blood. Vitamin K2 is usually combined with vitamin D because the two vitamins work together- in synergy– to maintain healthy calcium metabolism. Vitamin K2 directs calcium accumulation to your bones and reduces it in your blood vessels, where it doesn’t belong. Finally, we recommend that our patients take a liquid form of liposomal vitamin D with vitamin K2. This is because vitamins D and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Liposomes are tiny spheres of fat that can carry these vitamins through your body so they are better absorbed. That means these nutrients can get to work quickly promoting a healthy immune response.
Glutathione is produced naturally in the body. Known as the master antioxidant, glutathione is compromised of three amino acids (glutamine, glycine, and cysteine) and can be found in plants, animals, fungi, and some bacteria.
Glutathione has the following benefits:
- Detoxification properties
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Helps to improve psoriasis
- Reduces cell damage
- Supports Treg cell function
- Helps with insulin resistance in older people
- Reduces Parkinson’s disease symptoms
- May help with autoimmune diseases
Low levels of glutathione can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor nutrition, stress, aging, and environmental toxins. Toxins, such as heavy metals and chemicals, can cause an imbalance in the immune system and deplete glutathione levels. Add to that the chronic inflammation common in autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or celiac disease, as well as oxidative stress, which damages cellular mitochondria- and glutathione becomes an essential supplement to start feeling better.
Curcumin is a medicinal polyphenol found in turmeric, a plant used in Asian food, which has a warm bitter taste and beautiful yellow color. A potent anti-inflammatory and bioactive property, curcumin has been traditionally used for thousands of years. This medicinal herb has long been known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial actions.
It is best taken in liquid form combined with an extract from black pepper called Bioperine. This is because research has found that when curcumin is combined with black pepper it increases bioavailability by 2000%.
Curcumin helps to detoxify heavy metals and free radicals, which can deplete Treg cells. Furthermore, curcumin has been found to improve immune health by helping to increase the number of Treg cells and providing anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that the human body must get from food as they cannot be made in the body. They are primarily found in fish, but also can be found in some nuts and seeds. There are three main omega-3s, EPA ( eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Omega-3 fats are crucial for cell membranes, benefit the heart and brain, and support immune function. The EPA to DHA ratio is recommended to be 2:1.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential and used for energy. Although many Americans eat too many omega-6s, like corn and vegetable oils, there are still healthy omega-6s available, such as sunflower oil and seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
It is recommended that you eat omega-3 and omega-6 together in a ratio in your diet as 4:1 and not the 10:1, which is common in the standard American diet. Taking 1-2 grams of fish oil daily is an excellent way to balance the two, enjoy the anti-inflammatory benefits, and support a healthy immune response.
Finally, studies show that the interaction between omega-3 and T cells can benefit autoimmune diseases. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contain immune regulatory functions and have a range of benefits for many different immune cells in our body:
- Regulates the production and secretion of cytokines in macrophages (which play a fundamental role in the immune system)
- Anti-inflammatory properties on macrophages
- Inhibit migration of neutrophils
- Influences free radical production
- Increases the frequency of neutrophils
- Modulates T cell activation
Autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis are a sign that the immune system is in overdrive and needs to be healed and rebalanced. There are nine major underlying factors in autoimmune diseases, and one of these is nutrition. Most people with autoimmunity are deficient in the basic nutrients needed to regulate the immune system. We have found that addressing underlying triggers of autoimmunity, along with restoring patients’ levels of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, glutathione, and curcumin, calms the immune response and turns off the autoimmune attack on self tissues.