Nourish to Thrive | What to Eat on an Autoimmune + Sjogren’s Diet

While there’s no definitive diet for Sjogren’s Syndrome, an anti-inflammatory diet may help. Learn what foods to eat to help you thrive with Sjogren’s & other autoimmune diseases.

Sjogren's Diet | What to eat with autoimmune disease image with health food.

This post on what to eat for a Sjogren’s diet is near and dear to my heart, as I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome 16 years ago. I’ve learned a lot through research, plus trial and error, about what to eat for Sjogren’s. My goal, with this post, is to encourage and empower you to explore the potential benefits of nutrition as a compliment to other medical therapies, so you can thrive with Sjogren’s and other autoimmune diseases too.

Please note, this post is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. You should always consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you.

April is #SjogrensAwarnessMonth

Sjögren’s Syndrome {pronounced SHOW-grins} is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. Hallmark symptoms of Sjögren’s include dry eyes & dry mouth, along with joint pain and fatigue.

My Sjogren’s story is a little different, as I didn’t develop the hallmark dry eyes and mouth. Instead, my primary symptom was neuropathy, plus severe muscle aches, body rashes, exercise intolerance, and extreme fatigue. In addition to these symptoms, Sjögren’s can lead to organ dysfunction. And, those affected have an higher than average risk of developing lymphoma.

Even though it is relatively unheard of, Sjögren’s is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, affecting upward of 4 million Americans, mostly women. {Tennis superstar Venus Williams has Sjögren’s}.

And, because symptoms often overlap with other autoimmune diseases, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome usually takes 3+ years to be diagnosed.

As I share in my story, I feel INCREDIBLY fortunate to be in good health despite being diagnosed with Sjögren’s. But, many women {and men} suffer from extremely debilitating symptoms that greatly impact their daily living and quality of life.

Why Autoimmune + Sjogren’s Awareness are SO Important

  • The NIH {National Institutes of Health} estimates up to 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. This is slightly more than those with heart disease {up to 22 million}. And, ~ 2 1/2 times more than those with cancer {up to 9 million}.
  • Despite this statistic, NIH funding for research for Sjögren’s and other autoimmune diseases {$591 million in 2003} falls way behind that for heart disease {$2.4 billion} and cancer {$6.1 billion}.
  • BOTTOM LINE: We need more research, both traditional and complimentary, so better treatment options are available to help people affected with Sjögren’s and other autoimmune conditions thrive and live their healthiest lives.
  • More awareness also brings more compassion. Most people living with an autoimmune disease will tell you their friends & family, although well-intentioned, just don’t “get it”. Or even worse, may not even believe they really are sick. The stress from this can add to symptoms and make things even worse.
  • My hope is that as more and more people learn about Sjögren’s Sydrome and other autoimmune diseases, there will be more collaboration amongst health care professionals working with this population. And, that this will lead to more funding to find better treatments for those affected.

What to Eat on an Autoimmune + Sjogren’s Diet

The best foods with prebiotics and probiotics to boost your health!

It’s not hard to imagine that, with lack of funding in general, there is very little in the way of research on the best diet for Sjogren’s and other autoimmune diseases. Having dealt with this first hand, I want to empower people to find the diet that works best for them. No one diet fits all.

No. 1 | Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The Mediterranean Diet and the MIND Diet are two diets that are not only anti-inflammatory, but also are delicious too!

  • Eat more of these foods. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, olives/olive oil, avocado, fatty fish {i.e. wild salmon}, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Include these foods in moderation. Eggs, poultry, cheese, & yogurt.
  • Limit these foods. Refined grains, sweets, trans fats, and red or processed meat.

In addition, choose whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible.

Although research is preliminary, food additives, like sugars, salt, emulsifiers {i.e polysorbate-80}, and microbial tranglutaminase, are being studied for their potential role in the development of autoimmune disease.

Tip! When buying ready to eat foods, read ingredient labels, and choose foods with ingredients that you would cook with at home.

Try My Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan!

Make healthy easy, by signing up for my anti-inflammatory diet meal plans! Featuring easy recipes & delicious whole foods, it’s designed to maximize energy, promote healthy digestion, and reduce inflammation. Try it for FREE for 3-days, no credit card required.

This delicious & refreshing quinoa salad {gluten free, vegan, low FODMAP option} is packed with detox friendly veggies, brain friendly blueberries, + protein & fiber rich chickpeas & almonds. Top it off with your favorite dressing, for a super nourishing plant powered salad!

No. 2 | Test for celiac disease, try a gluten free diet…

Although no research suggests a gluten-free diet will help all autoimmune diseases, following a gluten-free diet has done wonders for my health. Studies do show that celiac disease is far more common in Sjögren’s {up to 15%} than in the general population {~1%}. And, many other autoimmune diseases are associated with celiac disease. This includes Addison’s Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Autoimmune Thyroid Disease, and more.

In addition, a very small study conducted in Sweden showed a possible link with Sjögren’s syndrome and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Hopefully more studies will be done on gluten intolerance /sensitivity and autoimmune disease in the near future.

Bottom Line: It is my personal opinion that anyone diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, consider testing for celiac disease.

It’s also VERY important to test for celiac disease BEFORE trying a gluten-free diet. This is because gluten needs to be in your diet for results to be accurate.

In my case, my blood test was negative, but positive for HLA-DQ2, a genetic marker for celiac disease. It’s important to note that 30-40% of the U.S. population carries this gene, so having it doesn’t rule in celiac disease. On the flip side, if you don’t have any genetic markers for celiac, you can be over 99% sure you will never develop it.

Because there is no current FDA approved test for gluten sensitivity, you test for it by 1st ruling our celiac disease or wheat allergy. Next, try a gluten free diet for at least a month, or longer. After that, add gluten back in to your diet, and see if symptoms return.

If you do decide to try a gluten-free diet trial after testing for celiac, I highly recommend you work with a dietitian who specializes in gluten-free diets. S(he) can help you optimize your nutrition, and make sure you get all the nutrients you need.

I would love to work with you, either virtually, or in person if you live in San Diego. Or, if you prefer to work with someone near you, I am more than happy to make a referral!

No. 3 | Check for other food sensitivities…

Leaky Gut Syndrome, aka increased intestinal permeability, and food sensitivities often go hand-in-hand. Historically, leaky gut has been dismissed by most mainstream healthcare professionals. Recently, however, more physicians and clinicians, both alternative and conventional, are acknowledging that leaky gut syndrome is a real diagnosis.

Much of the research on leaky gut syndrome focuses on zonulin, a protein that regulates intestinal permeability. Zonulin secretion is modulated by not only gluten, but also alcohol, infectious organisms, systemic inflammation, & stress.

Several autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis, have been linked with leaky gut syndrome.

In addition, non IgE-mediated food hypersensitivity and intolerance have been linked with leaky gut syndrome.

Although research is limited, I have found the MRT food sensitivity test plus a customized elimination diet to be extremely helpful for my autoimmune clients. Especially those that don’t fully respond to an anti-inflammatory or gluten-free diet.

No. 4 | Nourish your gut microbiome…

Gut health and the microbiome (microbes, both helpful and harmful, including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that reside in our bodies), is a key area of research currently underway. Not only for overall health, but also for autoimmune disorders.

Researchers have begun investigating microbiome alterations in Sjogren’s Syndrome, not only in the GI tract, but in the eyes and mouth as well. And, preliminary studies suggest microbiome dysbiosis may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of Sjogren’s.

This is a very exciting area of research! So, stay tuned for more on the role of prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements that may help regulate intestinal permeability, inflammation, and immune dysregulation in Sjogren’s and other autoimmune diseases.

Learn more: The Best Foods with Probiotics and Prebiotics to Boost Your Health

No. 5 | Choose supplements wisely…

Lastly, although I utilize a “food first” approach with nutrition therapy, certain dietary supplements may be helpful in managing Sjögren’s syndrome and other autoimmune conditions. Like diet, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to supplementation.

Two supplements I usually start with, include vitamin D, which research suggests may provide protection against autoimmune disease, and omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. In adition, probiotics and prebiotics may support gut health as well.

If you need help choosing which supplements to take, please get in touch! Often times I find my clients are taking too many supplements, many of which overlap. This can lead to an excess of certain nutrients, and can be potentially harmful. I offer a supplement consultation where I take your health history, current diet, medications, and current supplement use all into consideration, to come up with a supplement plan to best help you.

Re-cap: What to Eat on an Autoimmune or Sjogren’s Diet

  1. Start with an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or MIND diet. You may also want to try my gluten free, anti-inflammatory meal plan ~ it’s an easy & delicious way to get started with the anti-inflammatory diet!
  2. Choose whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible.
  3. When buying ready to eat foods, read ingredient labels, and choose foods with ingredients that you would cook with at home.
  4. Consider testing for celiac disease, especially if you plan on trying a gluten-free diet {get tested 1st!}. Even if your celiac test comes back negative, consider a 1+ month trial of a gluten-free diet. I have been following a gluten-free diet for over 8 years, and would love to help get you started on a nourishing AND delicious gluten-free diet. Contact me for more information, or to set up a consult.
  5. Consider testing for other potential food sensitivities. I offer the MRT {Mediator Release Test}. Please get in touch with me for a free screening to see if food sensitivity testing may be a good idea for you.
  6. Choose food first, but consider supplementation, including vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and more, if needed. I offer supplement consultations with access to my professional grade dispensary. You can get in touch with me here to set up a consultation.

Autoimmune & Sjogren’s Diet | Wrapping it all up…

The information provided here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. However, it is my hope that after reading this post, you feel empowered to find the best dietary strategy to help with your autoimmune disease, or share this information with a friend or loved one who is suffering.

Don’t give up! I speak from experience, along with a lot of optimism, and persistence, that you can THRIVE with an autoimmune disease!

If you would like to share your experience living with an autoimmune disease, I would LOVE for you to leave a comment. Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about my integrative nutrition coaching services, please get in touch with me. I would love to work with you!

References & Further Reading: Sjogren’s Diet + Autoimmune Disease