The latest issue of Vitamin Research News offers several suggestions for nutritional supplements for patients with autoimmune conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and systemic lupus erythematosus were the primary focus. There are many different autoimmune disorders that are treated with the same drugs (mostly corticosteroids). Nutrition researchers look for dietary factors that can benefit patients with immune dysfunction in general. DHEA, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are the top recommendations in the current report.
When I checked the references, I found much favorable data on DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). This adrenal hormone is the precursor for the production of a variety of other molecules in the body, including androgens, estrogens, and both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory hormones. Low concentrations of DHEA have been found in the blood in patients with Sjogren's syndrome, eczema and dermatitis skin rashes, and asthma. For lupus, a review article summarizing the results of seven randomized controlled trials reported DHEA has a “modest but clinically significant impact on health related quality of life”.
Since autoimmune disorders affect women more than men, it seems reasonable to study the effects of sex hormones on the immune system. A recent review article reports “significant immune modulatory function” for DHEA. The plant-derived version is available as a dietary supplement.
Vitamin D is well known for its potential protection from multiple sclerosis, which is more common in parts of the world that receive little sunlight. There is less data about the effects of this vitamin on other autoimmune conditions, but concerns about skin cancer may increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized for health benefits. Dietary sources include fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. You can buy fish oil capsules or other omega-3 capsules at any store that has a health food aisle.
For my own nutritional support, I eat ground flax seeds and take multivitamins. I don't take DHEA, but I will definitely keep it in mind if I develop an autoimmune condition.
Zabriskie N, “Autoimmune disorders: Natural support for overactive immune systems”, Vitamin Research News, 2010 June; 24(6): 1-5.
Hazeldine J et al, “Dehydroepiandrosterone as a regulator of immune cell function”, J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 May; 120(2-3): 127-36.
Kasperska-Zajac A et al, “Dehydroepiandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate in atopic allergy and chronic urticaria”, Inflammation. 2008 Jun; 31(3): 141-5.
Crosbie D et al, “ Dehydroepiandrosterone for systemic lupus erythematosus”, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Oct 17;(4):CD005114.
Porola P et al, “The influence of sex steroids on Sjogren's syndrome”, Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Jun; 1108: 426-32.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.