Nutrition Instead of Drugs to Treat Autoimmune Diseases

According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune diseases affect 23.5 million Americans, and the prevalence is rising. Autoimmune diseases are one of the top ten leading causes of death for women under the age of 64. The direct costs of autoimmune diseases are estimated to be around $100 billion per year.1

Unfortunately, the most common methods of treating autoimmune diseases are fraught with serious side effects:

  • Rheumatologists commonly prescribe immunosuppressive drugs for patients with autoimmune diseases. These drugs decrease the immune response by damaging the immune system itself. When the immune system is suppressed, the body is much more susceptible to other infections and cannot repair damaged tissue.
  • Cytotoxic (toxic to cells) and chemotherapeutic agents are the active part of immunosuppressive drugs, and this treatment is similar to undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. These cytotoxic agents are potentially dangerous – for example, the FDA has issued a warning for Remicide, a drug commonly used to treat autoimmune disorders, linking it with an increased risk of lymphoma, leukopenia, and opportunistic infections with fatal outcomes.2
  • Immunosuppressive drugs greatly increase cancer risk. A 10-year study of patients undergoing immunosuppressive drug treatment found that the patients had a 400% increase in cancer risk.3
  • Drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are also strongly associated with a wide spectrum of hepatotoxic effects and drug-induced liver disease.4

Fortunately, numerous studies have shown proper nutrition to be an effective and safe treatment for autoimmune diseases. 5,6,7,8,9 Proper nutrition removes toxins while simultaneously providing nutrients that normalize malfunctioning immune responses. Also s fasting is an effective adjunct to a high nutrient diet for autoimmune sufferers. I previously reported numerous case studies documenting the contribution of fasting to remission of autoimmune disease in published case reports.10 Autoimmune diseases, similar to cancer and heart disease, are primarily a result of inadequate early-life nutrition. While it is always preferable to prevent these diseases through diet in the first place, recovery through proper nutrition and intermittent fasting is possible in most cases.

By transitioning to a high nutrient plant-based diet and uncovering hidden food sensitivities, many of my patients who once suffered from autoimmune diseases have made significant improvements or have recovered and are free of illness as well as toxic side effects of the drugs . Read about Elisa’s recovery from lupus accompanied with debilitating headaches and fatigue; Laurie’s freedom from MS flare-ups; and many more stories of people who overcame autoimmune diseases with a high nutrient diet. Forfurther information, read my Healthy Times Newsletter on the Nutritional Care of Autoimmune Diseases. (available in the member center)

Dr. Fuhrman


1. AARDA. “Autoimmune Statistics.” American Autoimmune Related Disease Association. 2011. (accessed February 2011).
2. FDA. “Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blockers (marketed as Remicade, Enbrel, Humira, Cimzia, and Simponi) August 2009.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2009. (accessed February 2011).
3. Asten P, Bar1. rett J, Symmons D. Risk of developing certain malignancies is related to duration of immunosuppressive drug exposure in patients with rheumatic diseases. J Rheumatol 1999 Aug; 26(8):1705-14
4. Aithal GP; Medscape. Hepatotoxicity related to antirheumatic drugs. Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2011 Jan 25. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 21263458.
5. Kjeldsen-Kragh J, Hvatum M, Haugen M, Forre O, Scott H. Antibodies against dietary antigens in rheumatoid arthritis patents treated with fasting and a one-year vegetarian diet. Clin Exp Rheumatol 1995;13(2):167-172.
6. Nenonen M, Törrönen R, Häkkinen AS, et al. Antioxidants in vegan diet and rheumatic disorders. Toxicology. 2000;155(1-3):45-53.
7. Müller H, de Toledo FW, Resch KL, et al. Fasting followed by vegetarian diet in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Scand J Rheumatol. 2001;30(1):1-10.
8. McDougall J, Bruce B, Spiller G, et al. Effects of a very low-fat, vegan diet in subjects with rheumatoid arthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8(1):71-75.
9. Darlington LG, Ramsey NW, Mansfield JR. Placebocontrolled, blind study of dietary manipulation therapy in rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet 1986;1(8475):236-238.
10. Fuhrman J, Sarter B, Calabro DJ. Brief case reports of medically supervised,water-only fasting associated with remission of autoimmune disease. Altern Ther Health Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;8(4):112, 110-1.

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