Common Nutrient Deficiencies as a Cause of Autoimmune Disease
If you’re wondering what are the causes of autoimmune diseases, nutrient deficiencies are at the top of the list, but it’s not as simple as that.
In some cases, the lack of key nutrients—either from not getting enough in the diet or absorption issues—doesn’t outright cause autoimmune diseases, but makes your symptoms worse. And there’s another possibility: your autoimmune disease itself can cause you to be deficient in nutrients—even if you’re eating what you think is a perfect diet.
Let’s take a look at what causes nutrient deficiencies in people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders, as well as the best supplements for autoimmune diseases.
Causes for Autoimmune Vitamin Deficiency
Even if you’re eating a perfect diet filled with healthy foods and excellent nutrition for autoimmune disease, you may not be getting all of the nutritional benefits your body actually needs. It’s not enough to consume a healthy diet if your body can’t digest the food well or absorb the nutrients. You may be taking supplements for autoimmune diseases, but are you taking the right forms? Here are the most common causes of nutrient and vitamin deficiencies that I see in autoimmune patients:
Autoimmune patients often have leaky gut (or intestinal permeability), which interferes with absorption of nutrients in the intestinal tract. I’ve noticed that a lot of times people are taking vitamin D supplements for many years, and they’re taking good doses like 5,000 units per day, yet their blood levels are still low. One reason for this is if a person’s gut is not working properly, then it is nearly impossible to absorb the nutrient. In this case, it’s best to work with a functional medicine provider to heal your gut in order to improve nutrient absorption.
You’re Using Up a Nutrient Too Quickly
Your body may need more of a particular nutrient. The vitamin D example mentioned above is a good case in point. Sometimes a person is taking a good dose of vitamin D every day but it isn’t enough to meet the body’s unique needs. They may be using it up faster than they can take it. Vitamin D is needed for hundreds of different processes in the body. In fueling those processes, vitamin D can get used up very quickly, especially if the body is working overtime with an autoimmune disease.
The same is true for other nutrients, as well. In protecting itself against mental stress, the body often depletes levels of essential nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, and niacin. For example, in one study, researchers measured magnesium concentrations inside the cell before and immediately after a four-week final-term examination in college students, and found that magnesium concentrations were decreased while the students were under stress.
Not Taking the Right Form of a Nutrient
Some people can’t handle certain forms of nutrients. Sometimes this has to do with genetics. A person may need a certain form of a nutrient for their body to use it effectively or they might need to combine the nutrient with something else.
An example of not being able to make use of a particular form of a nutrient is what happens when you have a mutation in the MTHFR gene. MTHFR is short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. MTHFR is an enzyme that helps the body break down the amino acid homocysteine. It is part of a critical biochemical process used by every cell called methylation. Mutations in the MTHFR gene are linked to rheumatoid arthritis, as well as depression, heart disease, poor pregnancy outcomes, and many other health concerns. This mutation is really common. About 25% of people of Hispanic origin and 10% to 15% of Caucasians have mutations on both of their MTHFR genes.
MTHFR mutations make it harder for your body to use folic acid supplements. In people with these mutations, taking folic acid supplements won’t raise folate levels in blood. Instead, people with MTHFR mutations need a special type of folate supplement known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid (5-MTHF), which is more bioavailable to the body in people with the MTHFR mutations.
Deficiencies of enzymes can create nutritional deficiencies. If a person isn’t making enough digestive or pancreatic enzymes, or the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO), which is involved in histamine breakdown, this can affect nutrient absorption. For example, pancreatic enzyme deficiency causes deficiencies of zinc and vitamins A, D, K, and E.
It’s also common for autoimmune patients to produce lower amounts of DAO. Vitamin B6 is used in the breakdown of histamine. It’s often low in people with histamine intolerance, and when vitamin B6 levels are too low, the body can’t make enough DAO.
Best Vitamins For Autoimmune Disease
The most common nutrient deficiency in autoimmune patients is of basic vitamins and minerals. You can remedy this by taking a good multivitamin that contains the active form of folate 5-MTHF as well as a full complement of B vitamins and other essential nutrients like vitamin A, zinc, chromium, and selenium. If you have the MTHFR mutation, you will also need methylated forms of other nutrients like methylcobalamin (vitamin B12). Ensuring you get enough B vitamins is important because they’re involved in stress management, detoxification, and hormone metabolism, to name a few of their benefits.
Other Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Autoimmune Patients
A lot of people become depleted in glutathione when they have chronic stress or inflammation in their body. Anybody who has a chronic illness usually has lower glutathione stores or lower glutathione production. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body. We make it ourselves, but sometimes we need the cofactors for it or we need to give patients a small amount of glutathione initially in order to get their levels up to optimal.
Magnesium Deficiency and Autoimmune Disease
Most people benefit from more magnesium. Magnesium is dramatically depleted under stress or even with blood sugar problems. It’s definitely a multi-tasking mineral that’s involved in 300 different metabolic processes, so it gets used up readily. It can help with pain, inflammation, and better bowel movements. People use it both topically and orally for muscle pain. Magnesium also promotes better sleep and helps with stress management.
Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Our ancient ancestors ate a diet that contained a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1:1 whereas modern Western-style diets have a ratio of 15:1 to 16:1. Eating a diet that is closer to the 1:1 ratio of our ancestors leads to many health benefits and reductions in diseases, including autoimmune diseases. For example, a ratio of 2:1 to 3:1 suppressed inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients. You can improve your ratio by taking fish oil or krill oil supplements and eating fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Autoimmune Disease
Vitamin D receptors are found in many cell types, including immune cells like antigen-presenting-cells, T cells, B cells, and monocytes. Vitamin D supports immune function, especially in regards to autoimmunity. It can regulate inflammatory responses in autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes.
There’s also a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and rheumatoid arthritis. So as far as what vitamins are good for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, as well as other autoimmune disorders, vitamin D is one I recommend to all my autoimmune patients.
How To Know If You’re Nutrient Deficient
As a functional medicine provider, I can find out whether nutrient deficiencies are causing or worsening your autoimmune disease. Sign up for a free 15-minute discovery consultation with the Caplan Health Institute so we can talk about your health concerns and ways that we can resolve them.
If you come on board as a patient, I can order the right tests to find out if you have any nutrient deficiencies and genetic susceptibilities such as the MTHFR mutation. I can also pinpoint the reason why you’re deficient—whether it’s because of poor absorption, not getting enough in the diet, enzyme deficiencies, or if your body needs more of a nutrient. I can let you know what form of nutrients are best for you, such as whether a liquid vitamin might be superior to a capsule for better absorption.
Depending on your test results, we’ll address your nutrient and vitamin deficiencies in order to give you more energy, less autoimmune-related pain, and a new outlook on life.