6 Key Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to Autoimmunity
April 8th, 2018
Your immune system is a complex machine, and it can’t function properly without the right fuel. There are six key nutrients that I consider to be the premium fuel for your immune system. If you are deficient in any or all of these key nutrients, your immune system is at risk to go haywire, attacking your body’s own tissues and leading to autoimmunity.
That’s why when a patient with an autoimmune condition comes to me for help, I not only check to see whether infections, toxins, and stress might be sabotaging their immune system, I also check for key nutrients they might be lacking. Restoring optimal levels of these nutrients is an important step in reversing autoimmune disease, and also preventing another autoimmune condition from developing.
6 Key Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to Autoimmunity
Here are the six nutrient deficiencies that research has linked to autoimmune disease, and that I most commonly see in my autoimmune patients.
1. Vitamin D
Even if you live in a warm climate and get plenty of sunlight, your vitamin D levels could be below optimal. This is particularly problematic for autoimmune patients because vitamin D plays a critical role in your immune system. It regulates and prevents autoimmunity by stimulating regulatory T cells, which are responsible for differentiating between dangerous invaders and “self” cells. When vitamin D stimulates these cells, it teaches your immune system to not attack your body’s own tissues, otherwise known as tolerance of self.
Vitamin D also supports your ability to fight off viral and bacterial infections that can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions.
2. Omega 3s
Because our modern day diet tends to contain more polyunsaturated vegetable oils instead of quality animal fats, many Americans are deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that omega 3 oils enhance B cell activation and select antibody production, which can lower the inflammatory response and help your immune system fight off pathogens.1
3. B vitamins
B vitamins do more than just provide energy for our cells. They also control immune function, hormones, mood, sleep, nerves, circulation, and digestion. Vitamin B12, for example, supports the production of white blood cells, which are essential components of the immune system. When you are low in B12, your white blood cell count is lowered, which weakens your immune system and makes it more likely to mistakenly attack your own cells.
Selenium may be a little-known mineral, however research shows that it is essential for regulating excessive immune responses and chronic inflammation in autoimmune diseases.2 It is also a vital nutrient for proper thyroid function, and studies have shown that Hashimoto’s patients who increased their selenium intake were able to decrease their thyroid antibodies by nearly 64%!3 I talk more about this in my book, The Thyroid Connection.
Zinc affects multiple aspects of your immune system, from your skin barrier to gene regulation within lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). In fact, zinc is essential for the production of white blood cells and studies show that people with zinc deficiency are more susceptible to pathogens.4
Magnesium, which is important for immune function and heart health, is a mineral most people are chronically low in due to high levels of stress and high-sugar diets (sugar depletes magnesium levels). Magnesium deficiency has been shown to cause an increased production of proinflammatory cytokines, which raise your overall level of inflammation, contributing to autoimmunity.5
What Causes Nutrient Deficiencies in Autoimmune Patients?
Now that we know which nutrients play a critical role in the immune system, let’s look at why autoimmune patients are often low in them.
A Nutrient-Poor and Inflammatory Diet
This one is pretty obvious–if you aren’t eating these nutrients, your body won’t have enough of them. If you haven’t started following any of The Myers Way® protocols, you’re likely eating lots of white flour products, refined sugars, and processed foods. While these foods may taste good, they are completely devoid of nutrients, and what little vitamins they offer typically have to be added synthetically.
In addition to nutrient-poor, processed foods, a diet high in inflammatory foods can also cause nutrient deficiencies. These inflammatory foods, including gluten and dairy, grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, nightshades, eggs, sugar, and caffeine, not only stimulate your immune system, they also cause leaky gut.
A Leaky Gut
We know from Dr. Alessio Fasano’s research that virtually all autoimmune patients have a leaky gut. What you may not know is that when your gut is leaky, the junctions in the intestinal walls that keep your GI lining tight become “loose” allowing food proteins, bacteria, yeast, and viruses to enter the bloodstream. Additionally, some people have blunted villi — the small hair-like projections that absorb nutrients — which means they can’t absorb foods properly and become deficient in vitamins and minerals, even if they’re getting plenty of them in their diet. This causes a wave of inflammation that triggers or worsens autoimmunity.
Common gene mutations such as MTHFR significantly reduce your ability to convert certain nutrients that contribute to methylation, including B vitamins, choline, folate, and more. VDR mutations can cause low vitamin D, and mutations that control Sulfation, a liver detoxification pathway, can cause zinc deficiency. If you have one or more of these gene mutations, then you might be getting plenty of nutrients from your diet or supplements, yet your body simply isn’t able to optimally utilize them.
How to Prevent or Overcome Nutrient Deficiencies
Restoring optimal levels of these key nutrients can be done! By upping your dietary intake and addressing the underlying causes of your deficiencies, you can replenish your levels and strengthen your immune system. Here’s what to remember.
Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
Getting your nutrients through food is always the ideal route, so you’ll want to add plenty of these foods to your diet:
- Vitamin D: fatty fish, grass-fed or pasture-raised proteins, and organ meats
- Selenium: garlic, turkey, liver, and red meat
- Magnesium: dark leafy greens such as spinach and chard, figs, fish, avocado, and bananas
- Zinc: oysters and seafoods, grass-fed beef and lamb
- Omega 3: grass-fed meats, fatty fish, flax and chia oil
- B vitamins: leafy greens, animal proteins, fresh and dried fruits, seafood, avocados
My new cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, contains over 150 recipes featuring foods that are packed with the nutrients you need to overcome autoimmunity. From Omega 3-rich Honey-Ginger Glazed Salmon to magnesium-dense Zucchini Noodles with Spinach-Kale Pesto, these recipes were specially designed to make autoimmune-friendly cooking easy and delicious! More than just a cookbook, it also lays out the four pillars of The Myers Way® to help you optimize your diet and lifestyle for preventing or reversing autoimmunity.
Repair Your Gut
Repairing your gut is one of the most important steps to take in your autoimmune journey. It will not only improve your ability to absorb nutrients, it will dramatically reduce your inflammation and calm your immune system.
I recommend using the 4R approach to repair your gut:
- Remove the bad. Get rid of gut infections and toss all toxic and inflammatory foods.
- Restore the good. Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and nutrient absorption, such as digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCL).
- Reinoculate with healthy bacteria. Reestablish a healthy gut flora using probiotics.
- Repair your gut. Rebuild the mucosal lining of your gut with L-glutamine and collagen (or bone broth).
You can learn more about the 4R Approach in this post.
Learn About Your Unique Genetic Needs
If you’re curious about your genes and how they can cause nutrient deficiencies, you can order a genetic test through 23andme.com. They send you a kit to collect a saliva DNA sample, and then they provide you with basic genetic information and all of your raw data. You can then enter your raw data into one of several third-party tools to translate it into a report that shows you which genetic mutations you have, and what that means for your health. Livewello is one option, as is Genetic Genie.
Add In High-Quality Supplements
Although optimizing your diet, repairing your gut, and eating for your genetics go a long way, you may need to add in supplements as well. The unfortunate truth is that our nutrient-depleted soil, high-stress lifestyles, and toxic environments make it very difficult to get all of our nutrients from food alone. Fortunately, high-quality supplements can step in to fill the gap.
Here are the supplements I recommend that everyone with autoimmunity take on a daily basis:
- Multivitamin: A daily multivitamin to build a foundation of optimal health. The one I carry in my store contains the full recommended levels of selenium, magnesium, and zinc.
- Vitamin D: When supplementing with vitamin D, be sure to choose one that combines D3 (the active form of vitamin D) with vitamin K2 because these nutrients are complementary and work together for proper immune, brain, hormone, and bone health. The K2 also prevents calcium buildup in your heart from the use of vitamin D.
- Omega 3: Often, Omega 3 supplements come from fatty fish which can be high in mercury. When supplementing make sure that the Omega 3 supplement you choose is from a reputable source that verifies through a 3rd party that they have no detectable mercury in their product.
- B vitamins: The best source for this is my Vitamin B Complex which contains all eight B vitamins in a form that is easily absorbable. If you have one or two MTHFR mutations, my Methylation Support includes pre-methylated B vitamins and other important nutrients needed for for methylation.