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The common thread of lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, placque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and Crohn's disease is inflammation. Diet makes both more and less difference in managing these diseases than you might think, although there are some simple guidelines that help most people.

The thing to understand about inflammatory autoimmune diseases is that whether or not the body creates inflammation depends on the balance of some key nutrients as well as the absolute amounts. One pair of nutrients of considerable importance to managing inflammation is the n-6 essential fatty acids counterbalanced by the n-3 essential fatty acids. The n-6 essential fatty acids become the building blocks of inflammatory compounds. The n-3 essential fatty acids become the building blocks of the compounds that "put the brakes" on inflammation.

Did you notice anything about n-6's and n-3's just from this information? The important thing to understand is that both kinds of fatty acids are essential. This means that your body has to have them, and it can't make them. We have to get these nutrients from food.

Why would something that causes inflammation be essential to human health? Inflammation is not always a bad thing. Inflammation drives the remodeling and repair of damaged tissues. It is essential for the operation of the immune system. If there were no inflammation, there would quickly be no life as microorganisms took over the body or injuries became impossible to repair.

The problem isn't that we don't all get these nutrients in our diets. The problem is that we get lots and lots of the n-6 essential fatty acids, which cause inflammation, and not enough of the n-3 essential fatty acids, which stop it. Our bodies don't need a lot of either kind of fatty acid. Nobody needs more than about two grams (two teaspoons, if you could make a pure n-6 fatty acid) of n-6's a day. We really only need one gram of n-3's. However, we often get 40 grams of n-6's and only about half a gram of n-3's.

Where do you obtain these essential nutrients?

  • N-6's are found in almost all plant oils in greater abundance than n-3's. If you are trying to use almost any plant oil other than flaxseed oil to get plant-sourced n-3's, then you are just sending your system further and further out of balance.
  • N-3's are found in abundance in fish oil, krill oil, and marine algae oils (which aren't typically harvested from the ocean any more, but grow in huge sterile tanks). A tiny amount of fish oil or microalgae oil (it's not 100 percent n-3's) is enough, just the equivalent of two or three capsules a day.
  • You can avoid overdoing the inflammatory fats by avoiding anything made with lard, refined coconut oil (unrefined coconut oil is OK), soybean oil, canola oil, and so on. 
  • It also helps not to overdo meat, butter, cheese, and certainly not sugar. These substances accelerate the transformation of n-6 essential fatty acids into inflammatory compounds. Remove them from your diet, and you will probably feel better, although tiny amounts now and then (no more often than one serving of one such item once a week) are usually OK. That is, they are OK unless you just can't control yourself after you eat a Twinkie or a chocolate cookie or a corn dog. Then you probably need to avoid these kinds of foods altogether.

What about fiber? There is also a key to using fiber effectively. For inflammatory diseases, fiber is useful as food for bacteria that produce anti-inflammatory compounds. If you don't have the probiotic bacteria in your system, it doesn't do any good to consume the fiber. That's why it can be helpful to take a probiotic supplement or to eat small amounts of yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods, especially after you have had to take an antibiotic.

 

There are some diets that get dramatic results for some people, but they are usually stricter than can be maintained long term. Still, even a day of good diet can make a difference in how you feel, so try to avoid sugar and fat, make sure you are taking care of your friendly bacteria, and take an n-3 fatty acid supplement such as fish oil or microalgae oil, up to three capsules a day.

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