Autoimmune diseases encompass a range of conditions with one common factor: For some reason, your immune system is mistakenly attacking your own healthy tissue. And while there are dozens of different autoimmune diseases whose symptoms can vary, there are some commonalities in the early stages (fatigue, GI distress, and achy joints), which can help point you in the direction of a diagnosis. If you think you may have an autoimmune disease, reach out to your doctor ASAP.
If you end up getting diagnosed, here are some basic diet and lifestyle changes that can go a long way in helping you feel better.
Common signs and symptoms of autoimmune disease.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to diagnose autoimmune diseases is because people don’t know what to look for. And while the symptoms of different autoimmune diseases can vary greatly, there are often some commonalities – especially in the early stages of disease.
According to the NIH, the first symptoms of autoimmune disease often include fatigue, muscle aches, a low fever, and redness, heat, pain, and swelling in different areas of the body. Another sign that your symptoms may indicate an autoimmune disease: They come and go – recurring flare-ups followed by periods of improvement are relatively common. While it’s not always clear why they occur, here are some symptoms that are relatively common across several autoimmune diseases.
1. Digestive distress and abdominal pain.
GI issues can be very common across autoimmune diseases, says Amy Shah, MD. “We think autoimmunity is an issue of microbiome imbalance at least in part,” she explains. Right now, it’s not totally clear whether gut issues are an underlying cause or a symptom of autoimmune diseases, or a little of both.
2. Recurrent skin rashes.
These symptoms are most obvious with lupus, but recurring rashes can also occur with other autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease. The health of your gut microbiome (which may be compromised with an autoimmune disease) is also intimately connected with the health of your skin.
3. Joint and muscle aches.
These are particularly common in RA and lupus, but can occur with nearly any autoimmune disease, possibly due to increased inflammation throughout the body.
4. Redness, pain, and swelling.
Hot, puffy, and sore-to-the-touch skin can be a result of the increased systemic inflammation associated with various autoimmune diseases, most notably with RA and lupus.
5. Fever without an obvious infection.
Just as you’d experience a fever when your body launches an immune response against a virus, you may experience a fever when your body launches an immune response against itself.
6. Fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
Research shows that “profound and debilitating fatigue” (which can lead to poor concentration) is the main complaint among a range of autoimmune diseases, including lupus, MS, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and RA. It likely has to do with inflammation’s effect on processes that regulate energy levels, including oxygen and nutrient supply.
7. Weight gain or weight loss.
Impaired thyroid functioning, as seen in Grave’s and Hashimoto’s, along with chronic inflammation and an imbalance gut microbiome, which may underlie many if not all autoimmune diseases, can alter metabolism and result in unhealthy weight gain or weight loss.
8. Feeling overly hot or overly cold.
Thermoregulation, your body’s ability to maintain a healthy internal temperature, can be impaired with several autoimmune diseases, including Grave’s (people often feel hot), Hashimoto’s (people often feel cold), and MS (people tend to feel cold or hot more quickly than others). This can be a result of hormonal imbalances or impaired neurological functioning.
9. Hair loss.
Hair loss is a notable symptom of both Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and lupus; and with the autoimmune disease alopecia areata, the immune system specifically attacks the hair follicles.
10. Numbness or tingling in hands and feet.
Several autoimmune diseases, including lupus, RA, and Sjogren’s syndrome, are associated with peripheral neuropathy. When the immune system attacks its own tissue, nerve damage can result, which may trigger tingling, numbness, and prickling sensations.
11. Trouble getting pregnant.
Most autoimmune diseases affect women of childbearing years, and some research suggests autoimmunity is associated with impaired fertility. In particular, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis seems to be a common hidden cause of fertility struggles.
12. Symptoms that flare up and subside.
Changes in symptom severity (with periodic flare ups) are common with certain autoimmune diseases, including RA, and may be triggered by stress levels, dietary changes, and other lifestyle habits.
Diagnosing an autoimmune disease can be tricky, since no single blood test can give you a clear-cut yes or no answer. Typically, an autoimmune disease is diagnosed based on your clinical symptoms. Your doctor should do a comprehensive medical history, coupled with one or more blood tests.
The first blood test you’ll likely receive is an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This measures levels of antinuclear antibodies, the antibodies that attack healthy proteins within the nucleus of cells. A positive result means you might have an autoimmune disease, but it can’t tell you which one.
The ANA test is often followed up with another test that looks for specific autoantibodies. For example, if you have inexplicably achy joints, your doctor will likely run a rheumatoid factor (RF).
There’s no cure for autoimmune diseases, and most conventional treatments involve reducing pain and inflammation, and controlling your body’s overactive immune response with drugs such as immune-suppressing corticosteroids and NSAIDs like ibuprofen. However, these treatments don’t get to the root of your condition, and they come with a host of side effects.
So, if you’re concerned you may have an autoimmune disease, it can be wise to seek out a functional, integrative, or holistic physician to help determine your best course of treatment. Often, this type of treatment looks like a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes.
“Diet is very important here,” says Boham. “We remove common food allergies, often starting with the removal of gluten, since this is a common cause of autoimmunity. We also remove inflammatory foods and shift to an overall anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in whole foods and veggies, low in sugar and alcohol, and gluten- and dairy-free.”
In addition to switching to an anti-inflammatory diet and eliminating potentially irritating foods like gluten and dairy, integrative dietitian Ali Miller, R.D. says it is important to “.. support the diversity of your microbiome with probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and pickles.”
Supplements such as digestive enzymes, probiotics, zinc, vitamin A, and glutamine may help further heal and balance the gut, says Boham.
Cloves are a pungent spice found in savory dishes, desserts, and drinks. Ground or whole cloves often flavor sauces and rice dishes. Cloves are used along with cinnamon and nutmeg in sweet dishes and in drinks such as mulled wine, cider, or chai.
Cloves are a spice made from the flower buds of an evergreen tree called the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum). Clove flower buds are harvested in their immature state and then dried. Whole cloves are shaped like a small, reddish-brown spike, usually around 1 centimeter in length, with a bulbous top. Cloves can be used whole or ground, and they have a very strong, pungent flavor and aroma.
Cloves are grown in India and Madagascar, but Indonesia is most closely associated with the production of cloves. The clove trade was so lucrative that an island chain once known as the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia), was ceded by the British to the Dutch in exchange for a faraway settlement then known as New Amsterdam. The Dutch swapped Manhattan for cloves!
The flavor of cloves comes from the compound eugenol. A test-tube study found that eugenol stopped oxidative damage caused by free radicals five times more effectively than vitamin E, another potent antioxidant.
Cloves have been shown to have antimicrobial properties, meaning they can help stop the growth of microorganisms like bacteria. One test-tube study showed that clove essential oil killed three common types of bacteria, including E. coli, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
The antibacterial properties of cloves could help promote oral health. In one test-tube study, the compounds extracted from cloves were found to stop the growth of two types of bacteria that contribute to gum disease. Another study in 40 people tested the effects of an herbal mouthwash consisting of tea tree oil, cloves, and basil. After using the herbal mouthwash for 21 days, they showed improvements in gum health, as well as the amount of plaque and bacteria in the mouth.
Cloves contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One teaspoon of ground cloves contains:
- Calories: 6
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Manganese: 55% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 2% of the DV
Manganese is an essential mineral for maintaining brain function and building strong bones.
The eugenol found in cloves has also been shown to have anticancer properties. One test-tube study found that clove extract helped stop the growth of tumors and promoted cell death in cancer cells. Another test-tube study observed similar results, showing that concentrated amounts of clove oil caused cell death in 80% of esophageal cancer cells. A test-tube study found that eugenol promoted cell death in cervical cancer cells. An animal study showed that the eugenol found in cloves also helped reverse signs of liver cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver.
Cloves are also high in antioxidants, which may help prevent liver disease due to their ability to help decrease oxidative stress.
Research shows that the compounds found in cloves may help keep blood sugar under control. An animal study found that clove extract helped moderate blood sugar increases in mice with diabetes. Another animal study looked at the effects of clove extract and nigericin, a compound found in cloves, both on human muscle cells and in mice with diabetes. Cloves and nigericin were found to increase the uptake of sugar from the blood into cells, increase the secretion of insulin, and improve the function of cells that produce insulin.
Some of the compounds in cloves have been shown to help preserve bone mass in animal studies. An animal study found that clove extract high in eugenol improved several markers of osteoporosis and increased bone density and strength. Manganese is a mineral that’s involved in the formation of bone and incredibly important to bone health.
Some research indicates that the compounds found in cloves could help treat stomach ulcers. Also known as peptic ulcers, stomach ulcers are painful sores that form in the lining of the stomach, duodenum, or esophagus. They’re most commonly caused by reductions in the protective lining of the stomach, which are due to factors like stress, infection, and genetics. In one animal study, essential oil from cloves was shown to increase the production of gastric mucus. Gastric mucus functions as a barrier and helps prevent erosion of the stomach lining from digestive acids. Another animal study found that clove extract has effects similar to those of several anti-ulcer medications.
How to Buy
Cloves can be found in small jars in the spice section of the supermarket. You will see both the whole cloves and ground cloves. But you might be able to find them offered for a lower cost in the Hispanic food section, where they are labeled as clavos de olor, or simply clavos. International grocery stores also often sell cloves for far less than you will them in the supermarket. Some specialty markets offer Penang cloves, which are gourmet cloves that are individually selected by hand to ensure that each one is flawlessly shaped.
How to Store
Cloves should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a cool and dark place. Whole cloves will retain their potency longer than ground cloves, remaining fresh for about a year compared to three months for ground cloves.
How to Cook
Whole or ground cloves are used to flavor sauces, soups and rice dishes, notably a number of traditional Indian dishes, and it’s one of the components of garam masala. Whole cloves are either removed before serving or picked out of the dish. Even when cooked, whole cloves have a very hard, woody texture.
Cloves can be used whole or ground.
Vegan Mole Poblano Enchiladas
Mole Poblano Paste
- 7 Ancho chiles
- 6 Mulato Chiles
- 6 Pasilla Chiles
- 3 Chipotle chiles dried
- 1 Onion, small
- 2-3 Roma tomatoes
- 3 cloves Garlic
- ⅔ cup Raisins
- ¾ cup Raw peanuts, unsalted
- ⅔ cup Almonds
- ⅓ cup Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- ⅓ cup Sesame seeds
- 2 Corn tortillas, cut into fourths
- 1 Bolillo, a couple of days old, sliced (savory bread) You can use any French bread, Italian bread, or sub sandwich bread instead.
- 1 Ripe plantain, peeled sliced
- 1 stick Ceylon cinnamon broken into pieces
- 3 Whole cloves
- ½ tsp. Anise seed
- ½ cone Piloncillo – If you can’t find piloncillo, you can substitute it by weight with dark brown sugar and molasses – 1 cup dark brown sugar + 2 teaspoons of molasses.
- 1 tablet Mexican chocolate (Ibarra) 38 ounces
- 1 L Water or vegetable stock – 4.2 cups
- 2 Vegetable bouillon cubes (optional)
- 1 tsp. Black peppercorns
- Olive oil or avocado oil
- Corn Tortillas
- 8 oz. Mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ Onion, thinly sliced
Garnish for Enchilada
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Crumbled tofu
- Thin onion slices
MOLE POBLANO PASTE
Clean, and remove the seeds and stems from the dried chiles. Use a cast iron pan set to medium heat toast the chiles. Be careful not to burn them or the sauce will be bitter. Once they are lightly toasted submerge them in a pot full of boiling water and let soak for 20 minutes.
While the chiles are soaking, bring a medium pot of water to a simmer and add the tomato, onion, and garlic. Simmer for about 6-7 minutes or until the tomates begin to lose their skins and the onion is tender. Drain and set aside.
Once the chiles are soft and pliable, place them in the blender with 1 cup of water or some of the soaking liquid. Blend until smooth. Strain and set aside.
Heat a large sautê pan to medium-high heat and add vegetable oil. Fry the raisins, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, tortilla, bolillo, and plantain one at a time until deep golden brown, almost burnt!
Place all of the fried ingredients in the blender with the cinnamon stick, clove, anise seed, black peppercorns, and sesame seeds. Add 1 cup of water and blend. Add as much water as necessary to get your blender to process all of the ingredients into a smooth thick sauce. Strain and set aside.
In a large pot set to medium heat, add ½ cup of water, piloncillo, vegetable bouillon and Mexican chocolate. Stir constantly until it dissolves.
Add the chile mixture and the nut-bread mixture, and mix well to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed.
Continue mixing constantly with a wooden spoon and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes and recheck seasoning. Let cool in pot. Now it is ready to use or store.
MOLE POBLANO ENCHILADAS
Place 1 cup of the mole paste in a medium sauce pot. Add ½ cup of water or vegetable stock and bring to a low simmer. Stir to incorporate. Add more liquid if necesary to get the right consistency.
In a large sauté pan, sauté the onions and mushrooms until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Soften your corn tortillas by heating them briefly in the oven or microwave until the roll easily.
Fill the tortillas with the mushroom mixture and roll. Place on a plate and pour mole sauce on top of them.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and top with sliced onions, avocado and crumbled tofu.
The recipe makes mole paste, which you can freeze for later use. To use the paste all you need to do is add enough vegetable stock to get it to the right consistency and let it simmer for a couple of minutes, then serve.
You can make enchiladas with this or serve it over potatoes or zucchini with rice.
If you want to make this without oil you can toast the ingredients, that were meant to be fried, in the oven until a dark golden brown.
Many of these chilies can be found on Amazon if you cannot find them in your local stores.