Can An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Help Control Autoimmune-Driven Uveitis?

What is uveitis?

Uveitis is a group of inflammatory diseases that occur inside the eye, affecting the uvea and other tissues like the retina, retinal blood vessels, optic nerve, and vitreous humor. This sight-threatening condition involves recurrent intraocular inflammation, so it may cause temporary or permanent visual impairment and complications that may be hard to cure.

Uveitis affects only 38 persons for every 100,000 of the American population or more than 2 million people worldwide. Although it is a rare disease, uveitis is the third leading cause of blindness worldwide among the working-age population of developed countries. Despite advances in research and therapeutics, the prevalence of blindness secondary to this disease has not been reduced in the last three decades.


Causes of uveitis

In developing countries, infections are the leading cause of uveitis. Some known infections associated with this disease are histoplasmosis, shingles, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis. 

In developed countries like the United States, this disease occurs as a co-manifestation of other autoimmune disorders such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, and ulcerative colitis. The immune system, which routinely helps the body fight against infectious agents, can become dysregulated, which may lead to an autoimmune attack. Autoimmune diseases often come systemic, which means that it may involve the attack of different organs, including various parts of the eye. 

Other factors could be toxin exposure and medication side effects.

For more information on uveitis, check Uveitis.

How is diet important in controlling autoimmune-driven uveitis?

Some of the common symptoms that uveitis patients experience are eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, and blurred vision. These signs often come on suddenly and get worse very fast. In order to avoid these, it is important to look into different factors that can help control this disease.

Since uveitis has many potential causes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense to control it. According to a vast range of studies, lifestyle factors like smoking, gut microbiome, physical activities, and diet are important for immune-mediated uveitis patients.

The gut is an important organ that plays a specific role in various immunological responses. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight foreign agents in the body, are majorly distributed in the intestinal mucosal system. Therefore, human nutrient intake or diet is crucially linked to the immune system. In a 2014 study, researchers found a close link between a Western diet (typically consisting of French fries, high-fat dairy products, processed meats, and energy drinks) and a rising incidence of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

Another immune privilege site is the eye. While traditionally regarded as separated from the immune system, recent studies showed that the gut-eye axis exists for some ocular diseases, including autoimmune-driven uveitis, glaucoma, dry eye, and age-related macular degeneration. 

Therefore, it is important to keep the immune response and inflammation under control through an anti-inflammatory diet. This type of diet does not follow strict rules on calories or portion sizes but is about eating a variety of foods rich in anti-inflammatory phytochemical compounds and avoiding foods that can trigger inflammation in the body. It can also help boost energy levels, increase fiber intake for a healthy gut, and improve vitamin and mineral reserves in the body.


Examples of anti-inflammatory diet for autoimmune-driven uveitis patients

As per the current recommendation by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the following nutrients should be taken to keep a healthy eye and to slow down the progression of eye disease:

  • 500 mg of vitamin C (sources: oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, grapefruit, kiwifruit, red and green peppers, and broccoli)
  • 400 IU of vitamin E (healthy sources include olive oil, avocadoes, almonds, and sunflower seeds)
  • 10 mg of lutein (sources: green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and swiss chard)
  • 2 mg of zeaxanthin (sources: green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and swiss chard)
  • 80 mg of zinc oxide (usually in the form of a supplement)
  • 2 mg of copper oxide (usually in the form of a supplement)

Examples of foods that are known to interfere with the inflammatory processes of the body, prevent cellular stresses, and promote a healthy gut microbiome to help control uveitis are the following:

  • Fruits (ex. organic berries, pineapple)
  • Vegetables (ex., broccoli, beets, bok choy, celery)
  • High-fiber whole grains (ex. brown rice, quinoa, oats, corn, buckwheat, barley)
  • Legumes
  • Polyunsaturated omega-3 fats (ex., walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring)
  • Spices (ex., turmeric, ginger)

A combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diets called the MIND diet uses these groups of foods in its meal plans. In a 2015 cohort study of 923 adults, it significantly decreased Alzheimer’s disease incidence to 53% for those who followed the diet the most closely and 35% for those who did moderately.

In addition to eating anti-inflammatory foods, finding what specific foods cause inflammation is an excellent point to look into. Some of these foods include:

  • Processed high-fat meats like hotdogs, sausage, and bacon
  • Fried foods
  • Refined carbohydrates like white rice, bread, and pasta
  • Sodas, juice drinks, and iced teas
  • Dairy products
  • Gluten-containing foods like wheat, flour, soy sauce, and wheat starch
  • Full-fat cream and butter
  • Hydrogenated fats and oils
  • Excess alcohol

Among these inflammation-causing foods, gluten is the most highlighted component in an anti-inflammatory diet. It contains arabinoxylan oligosaccharide, a prebiotic carbohydrate known to stimulate the activity of bifidobacteria in the colon. A change in the activity or amount of these bacteria in the gut has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases.

The anti-inflammatory diet is flexible, meaning one may plan their meals as long as the above foods are incorporated. Those not used to meal planning or cooking may seek guidance from a registered dietitian for the meal plan and portion sizes.

Along with the diet, other healthy lifestyle factors like avoiding stress, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly must also be incorporated to affect the body’s immune response positively.

NOTICE TO USERS is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on