The Alternatives- Diet and Nutrition Part 2

An Autoimmune Refresher

In part one we discussed the importance of a healthy diet.

Although this is an important factor for overall health, it is one that tends to be brushed aside or overlooked. I made it the first part of the series for a reason. A healthy diet (that contains nutrient dense real foods and limited amounts of refined sugars, sodium and processed food products) is the foundation for the rest of the treatments we are going to discuss. Dietary changes specific to autoimmune disease should build upon the healthy diet you should already have in place. Without taking this step first, everything else becomes much less effective.

In a way, it’s like laundry. You have dirty clothes, and you want to get them clean. You decide to put them in the wash machine, but use dirty water with extra soap. Get the picture? The water is like the healthy eating, and the soap is the “extra” boost the specific autoimmune “diet” can provide. Sure, you can do it, and your clothes will probably be cleaner than when you started, BUT if you had used both the soap and the clean water, what a difference THAT would have made! If you haven’t had a chance to review part one, please take the time to go back, read, and review the primary research cited in the links. Understanding the science of and how-to’s behind adoption of a healthy diet is the first step!

Before we delve into part two, lets take a minute to revisit the way autoimmune diseases like JA work. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:

When an intruder invades your body—like a cold virus or bacteria on a thorn that pricks your skin—your immune system protects you. It tries to identify, kill and eliminate the invaders that might hurt you. But sometimes problems with your immune system cause it to mistake your body’s own healthy cells as invaders and then repeatedly attacks them. This is called an autoimmune disease. (“Autoimmune” means immunity against the self.)”

While no one knows exactly what causes this response, the result is inflammation, in whatever part of the body that has been targeted. NAIMS goes on to say:

 “The acquired (or adaptive) immune system develops as a person grows. It “remembers” invaders so that it can fight them if they come back. When the immune system is working properly, foreign invaders provoke the body to activate immune cells against the invaders and to produce proteins called antibodies that attach to the invaders so that they can be recognized and destroyed. The more primitive innate (or inborn) immune system activates white blood cells to destroy invaders, without using antibodies.

Autoimmune diseases refer to problems with the acquired immune system’s reactions. In an autoimmune reaction, antibodies and immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack them.”

The Role of Allergies and Elimination Diets

In a similar manner, when the body is allergic to something, the body attacks the ingested substance (either inhaled, consumed or otherwise absorbed into the body) with a vengeance. This chain of events can cause a hyper-reaction of the immune system, resulting in anything from mild discomfort to total failure (like anaphylaxis or death in the most severe cases)

Many hospitals combine allergy, immunology and rheumatology in the same department, as all of these areas deal with immune system response. Recent research are finding more links between allergy and rheumatology, therefore, it would stand to reason that food allergies should be something that parents should give a bit more attention.

Understanding that all autoimmune diseases are an over-reaction of the body’s immune system means that anything we can do (with the doctor’s blessing, of course) to calm the immune system would be of some benefit. Avoiding an allergic response (even mild ones like seasonal allergies or those caused from issues with food) can help to keep the system a bit calmer. After my own children were tested for food allergies, we found a few surprises. I believe avoiding these foods have kept them more comfortable on several levels, although many were so mild that we were unaware of them prior to testing! Knowing that ingesting these foods could stimulate an autoimmune response was enough four our family to make adjustments in their diet.

Avoiding “allergic” foods (unique to each case) is another small way that food choices can positively impact JA and overall health. Ask your pediatrician (or allergist if you have one) if testing for food allergies would be beneficial for your child. Don’t forget to advocate, and back up your request with objective, scientific reasoning. They will be more apt to consider it when you have an evidence-based reason versus a hunch!

Speaking of food allergies, you may have heard of or been tempted to try an elimination diet for the very reasons I stated above. Unless it has been recommended by your child’s doctor, I would discourage taking that path. According to the Mayo clinic, the top 8 allergic foods are:

* Milk

* Eggs


*Tree Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts)


* Shellfish



A true elimination diet takes a long time (a minimum of 3 weeks to three months with no cheating) and as you can see, truly eliminating all these could be extremely difficult, and possibly unnecessary with a simple allergy test. Children especially need a good nutritional balance to grow properly, and eliminating entire groups of foods could make this balance difficult to obtain, as well difficult to enforce (not to mention the logistical hardship it could cause.)

Focusing on a healthy nutrient dense diet, free of potential allergens in your child’s unique case is the first big step in creating the optimal eating plan for Juvenile Arthritis. Stay tuned for the next step in part 3 where we will cover inflammatory foods and anti-inflammatory diets.


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