Ishi khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”
Our immune system protects us from various diseases. However, at times it goes on an overdrive and attacks the body itself, leading to tissue destruction and degenerative diseases referred to as autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune disorders include multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, type-1 diabetes mellitus, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, Graves’ disease, chronic thyroiditis, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, Autoimmune problems have a strong genetic predisposition but triggers may include excessive sun, infections, drugs, or other conditions — such as pregnancy — that stress the body.
Whether diet influences autoimmunity has been the subject of many unresolved debates. Interestingly, growing evidence indicates a role of diet in preventing, delaying or reversing the expression of genetically determined autoimmune diseases.
As the gut is a major site of many complex interactions which control immunity, it is the largest interface between an individual and his environment and, therefore, provides the largest exposure for immune building micro-organisms and exposure to toxins and allergens. Strengthening the age-old adage, we are what we eat. This suggests an important role of probiotics and pre-biotics in autoimmunity. Scientists explored the role of pre-biotic and probiotic supplementation in young infants to promote good bacteria and concluded that they were beneficial in the prevention of eczema. However, the effects in the treatment of eczema were less convincing.
Maternal diets during pregnancy and breast feeding too have been found to influence autoimmune processes. Breast feeding also emerges as a potentially protective factor for prevention of allergies and celiac disease.
Over the past years, evidence has supported a major role for specific dietary factors including vitamin D, vitamin A, selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, glutamine (an amino acid) and flavanols (plant chemicals which protect against disease) in influencing autoimmune diseases. Interestingly, deficiency of vitamin D has now been associated with increased autoimmunity and increased susceptibility to infections. Associations between vitamin D and autoimmune diseases have been confirmed in multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Recent studies also indicate that vitamin A is a potent immuno-regulator and can be instrumental in prevention of intestinal inflammation and autoimmunity.
Dietary modification has shown its greatest beneficial effect when started prior to or immediately after the onset of disease. Optimum but balanced food intake maintains healthy growth and disease-free lifespan.