7 Nutrients for Managing Autoimmune Disease
With more than 24 million Americans afflicted and no clear-cut causes or cures, autoimmune diseases continue to mystify medical professionals. (1)
However, research does support the theory that there may be a link between a persistent repair deficit and an autoimmune disease. This association exists due to the immune system’s key role in facilitating repair within the body. When the immune system is in high demand, its repair role is often the first to be sacrificed. This is because the body is not adequately armed with key antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other essential nutrients which aid the healing process. If the immune system is overburdened and under supported for extended periods, it may misfire and begin to attack the body itself rather than foreign invaders. This can lead to the development of autoimmune diseases.
There are 7 key nutrients you can take to support your body’s repair process and enhance immunity:
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that has major roles in the immune system, including preventing excessive immune responses, cleaning up sites of infection, enhancing immune cell function, and decreasing histaminic reactions. (2)
Some researchers even believe that vitamin C could eventually be used in future treatments for autoimmune diseases based on its ability to stabilize induced T-cells. (3)
Vitamin C is also a natural antiviral, which reduces the burden on the immune system and leaves it with more capacity for conducting the repair of all tissues.
Over decades, Dr. Brown has found that fully-buffered, fully-reduced L-ascorbate powder is one of the main repair nutrients. She generally recommends 3,000 to 5,000 mg per day. This form of vitamin C is easy on the stomach and highly bioavailable. Many individuals benefit from even higher levels of vitamin C, which can be increased gradually over time. Occasionally, an individual will need to begin this potent form of vitamin C slowly should they develop loose stool using only 3,000 mg a day. Learn how to find your daily dose of vitamin C here.
A crucial flavonoid, quercetin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that decrease inflammation in the body and protect it against reactive oxygen species. Also, similar to vitamin C, it can inhibit histaminic reactions. (4)
This is why we call vitamin C and quercetin the “dynamic duo” for allergy relief.
High-quality, high-purity quercetin dihydrate with pomegranate and grape seed OPC can greatly improve the body’s repair capacity. This is the safest and most bioavailable form of quercetin. Quercetin on its own is exceptionally anti-inflammatory, even more when combined with pomegranate (a potent antioxidant important for repair) and grape seed OPC (crucial for connective tissue repair and protection against cell stress).
Many have found success taking 1,000 to 3,000 mg of quercetin dihydrate per day.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to numerous ailments. (5) This is not surprising given that it influences more than 200 genes. (6)
We’ve also learned from the recent pandemic that vitamin D is specifically crucial for the immune system. For instance, vitamin D reduces inflammation, regulates immune function, and enhances the production of microbe-fighting proteins on immune cells. (7)
Because of its essential role in the immune system, vitamin D is also significant in autoimmune disease management. One large study of more than 25,000 people, found that those supplementing with 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day had a reduced incidence of autoimmune diseases — rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, polymyalgia rheumatica, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Graves’s disease — by 22%. (8)
Ideally, you want to take enough vitamin D to reach a 50 to 60 ng/mL blood level. Those not yet taking vitamin D might start with 2,000 IU a day for 4 to 8 weeks and then retest their vitamin D level. A simple blood spot test for vitamin D is now available for you to use from the comfort of your own home. Most individuals need much more than 2,000 IU to reach the 50 to 60 ng/mL level. If you want to learn more about how much vitamin D you need, see our blog here.
4. Omega-3 Fats
The omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, are key anti-inflammatories for autoimmune disease. Omega-3s can impact the immune system in many ways, including causing:
- Migration of key immune cells to sites of inflammation,
- Increased production of molecules that resolve the inflammation process, ultimately limiting tissue damage,
- Decreased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (9)
The aforementioned processes all impact levels of inflammation. Omega-3s seem to be particularly effective in managing rheumatoid arthritis. Results from 13 clinical trials show a decrease in symptoms, including joint pain, in participants who were given fish oil supplements. (10)
Dr. Brown finds that 3,000 mg per day of the omega-3s EPA and DHA generally result in a favorable omega-3 index of 7 to 8. She personally strives for an omega-3 index of 10. You can now test your omega-3 index at home using the Omega-3 Index+ At-Home Test Kit.
Magnesium is an important mineral that participates in many immune responses. For example, a study conducted by Swiss researchers found that immune T cells can get rid of abnormal or infected cells efficiently only when a lot of magnesium is present. (11)
Magnesium deficiency also increases cytokine levels, therefore, increasing inflammation. (12)
Severely low levels of serum magnesium were actually found to be associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism. (13)
You always want a professional-grade mix of alkalizing magnesium salts (such as magnesium citrate, glycinate, and ascorbate) for better absorption and tolerability. If magnesium gives you a loose stool, it is due to a cellular block to magnesium uptake. This can be corrected by taking 1 teaspoon of liquid choline citrate 2x per day with the magnesium. This liquid choline citrate will enhance magnesium uptake and help alkalize your chemistry. Watch Dr. Brown's video about magnesium uptake and choline citrate here.
6. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for decreasing inflammation in the body. This methyl-donor regulates inflammatory homocysteine. Insufficient methylation can lead to high levels of homocysteine and therefore increased systemic and vascular inflammation. (14)
Vitamin B12 may also modulate the immune system, specifically CD8+ cells and the natural killer cell system. (15) And it may play a role in maintaining and enhancing the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells. (16)
An intake of 2,000 mcg per day of the superior, activated form of vitamin B12, hydroxocobalamin is most effective and allows for maximum uptake. We suggest taking it in a lozenge form to guarantee maximum uptake. As vitamin B12 is found in meat, those consuming a mostly plant-based diet may need to make sure they are getting supplemental vitamin B12.
A great way to get many of these key nutrients is through a high-quality multivitamin/mineral. As many people are deficient in most vital nutrients, this is an effective way to not only get the nutrients listed above but other key micronutrients as well.
For instance, iron plays a role in the formation and growth of epithelial tissue; zinc aids in the structure and function of skin and mucosal cells; and selenium increases interferon production. Because these micronutrients are critical players in immune function, micronutrient deficiencies lead to higher rates of illness susceptibility and infection. (16)
Dr. Brown suggests using an activated, hypoallergenic professional-grade multivitamin/mineral high in B vitamins, bioavailable antioxidants, and other cofactors helpful for supporting immunity.
Give your immune system the support it needs!
With these powerful nutrients on your side, you can help alleviate both your immune system's burden and your autoimmune disease symptoms. Moreover, taking these crucial antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and more can even be used as a pre-emptive strategy to prevent the development of an autoimmune disease. Whether you're using these nutrients to manage your unpleasant symptoms, fend off autoimmune disease development, or just want to support your immune system, these nutrients have shown that they are key for combating repair deficit and optimizing health.
- NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2022. Autoimmune diseases. NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website. Accessed June 2022.
- Shaik-Dasthagirisaheb, Y. 2016. Relationship between vitamin C, mast cells and inflammation. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences 06.
- La Jolla Institute for Immunology. 2021. C is for vitamin C: A key ingredient for immune cell function. ScienceDaily 21, July 2021.
- Mlcek, J., et al. 2016. Quercetin and its anti-allergic immune response. Molecules 21(5):623.
- Aranow, C. 2011. Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of Investigative Medicine 59(6):881-886.
- Wellcome Trust. 2010. Vitamin D found to influence over 200 genes, highlighting links to disease. ScienceDaily 24, August 2010.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 2022. Vitamin D. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health The Nutrition Source website. Accessed July 2022.
- Hahn, J., et al. 2022. Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized trial. BMJ 2022:376.
- Calder, P. C. 2010. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients 2(3):355-374.
- Simopoulos, A. P. 2002. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 21(6):495-505.
- Lötscher, J., et al. 2022. Magnesium sensing via LFA-1 regulates CD8 + T cell effector function. Cell 185(4):585-602.
- Maier, J. A., et al. 2021. Magnesium and inflammation: Advances and perspectives. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology 115:37-44.
- Wang, K., et al. 2018. Severely low serum magnesium is associated with increased risks of positive anti-thyroglobulin antibody and hypothyroidism: A cross-sectional study. Scientific Reports 8:9904.
- Mikkelsen, K. and V. Apostolopoulos. 2019. Vitamin B12, folic acid, and the immune system. Pages 103-114 in Nutrition and Immunity, ed. M. Mahmoudi and N. Rezaei. Springer, Cham.
- Tamura, J., et al. 1999. Immunomodulation by vitamin B12: Augmentation of CD8+ T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cell activity in vitamin B12-deficient patients by methyl-B12 treatment. Clinical & Experimental Immunology 116(1):28-32.
- Gombart, A. F., et al.2020. A review of micronutrients and the immune system—Working in harmony to reduce the risk of infection. Nutrients 12(1):236.