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. That being said, nutrient deficiencies need to be addressed to ensure optimal health. If you are deficient in any or all of these key nutrients, your immune system is at risk to go haywire. It could attack your body’s own tissues and lead you down what I call the autoimmune spectrum, from experiencing uncomfortable symptoms to developing a full-blown autoimmune disease.
That’s why when a patient with an autoimmune condition came to me for help, I not only checked to see whether infections, toxins, and stress might be sabotaging their immune system, I also checked for key nutrients they might be lacking. Restoring optimal levels of these nutrients, whether you use food or a supplement such as my Multivitamin, is an important step in reversing autoimmune disease. It may also prevent another autoimmune condition from developing.
Nutrient Deficiencies & Autoimmunity
Here are the six nutrient deficiencies that research has linked to autoimmune disease, and that I most commonly saw 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 less than optimal. This is particularly problematic for autoimmune patients because vitamin D plays a critical role in your immune system. It modulates your autoimmune response by stimulating regulatory T cells, which are responsible for differentiating between dangerous invaders and “self” cells. Vitamin D also supports the immune system against viral and bacterial infections that can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions.
2. Omega 3s
Because our modern diet tends to contain more polyunsaturated vegetable oils instead of the healthy oils found in fatty fish, many Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that Omega-3 oils can support an appropriate inflammatory response and your immune system.1
3. B vitamins
B vitamins do more than just provide energy for our cells. They also impact 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, impacting your immune system.
Selenium may be a little-known mineral, however, research shows that it is essential for modulating immune and inflammatory responses.2 It is also a vital nutrient for supporting thyroid function. 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. People with zinc deficiencies may need additional support to modulate their immune system response. 3
Magnesium, which is important for immune function and heart health, is a mineral most people are chronically lacking due to high-stress levels and high-sugar diets (sugar impacts magnesium levels). This deficiency can lead to increased production of proinflammatory cytokines, which can have a negative impact on the immune response.4
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 are typically 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 an immune response, they also lead to a leaky gut.
A Leaky Gut
We know from Dr. Alessio Fasano’s research the role leaky gut plays in autoimmune conditions. 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. So even if they’re getting plenty of vitamins and minerals in their diet, they may become deficient in them. This can lead to 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 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 seafood, 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 also support your inflammatory response and 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 what’s missing. Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. This can be done with a digestive enzyme supplement 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 Leaky Gut Revive ™.
You can learn more about the 4R Approach in this post.
Add High-Quality Supplements
Although optimizing your diet, and repairing your gut goes a long way, you may need to add supplements as well. The unfortunate truth is that our nutrient-depleted soil, high-stress lifestyles, and toxic environments make it difficult to get all 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. My Complete Omega-3 Softgels are pharmaceutical grade, GMP certified, and 3rd-party tested. We do this to ensure it is the purest, highest-potency fish oil supplement available on the market today.
- B vitamins: The best source for this is my multivitamin. It 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 methylation.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in your body. Unfortunately, magnesium is depleted daily by exercise, stress, and toxic foods such as coffee and alcohol. Magnesium citrate is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium, which is why I incorporated it into my Colon Comfort formula. I combined magnesium citrate with botanicals such as apple cider vinegar, ginger, and artichoke to support digestive health and promote a healthy metabolism.
With a few simple steps, you can drastically improve your nutrient intake and take back control of your health.