What to Eat When You Have Mixed Connective Tissue Disease

Dietary Recommendations for Better Management

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Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is an autoimmune disorder. It typically sets in during adolescence or adulthood and is more common in women.

People with MCTD experience a combination of lupus, scleroderma, and myositis symptoms. Along with anti-inflammatory medications, dietary choices that suppress inflammation can help prevent flare-ups.

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Benefits

There is no official consensus on the best way to eat for MCTD. However, looking at the recommendations for lupus and other autoimmune disorders provides some insight into which foods are most beneficial and what should be avoided.

For instance, individuals with lupus are at higher risk for the following conditions:

Luckily, many of the dietary guidelines to address these individual issues overlap with each other. For example, consuming omega-3 fatty acids, adequate calcium, and vitamin D helps support heart, kidney, and bone health.

Emerging science on diet and autoimmune disorders suggests that focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, along with avoiding sodium and highly-processed foods, goes a long way to promote healthy gut bacteria that reduce inflammation and chronic diseases.

How It Works

Finding a balance of unprocessed foods that support a healthy heart and a diverse gut microbiome can help you feel your best with MCTD.

Duration

The nutritional changes that you make for MCTD stand to benefit your complete health. View these steps as a lifestyle change rather than a short-term plan. Once you have an autoimmune disorder, it can be challenging to predict what will trigger a flare-up.

Day-to-day stressors or catching a cold can cause your immune system to shift into overdrive. Maintaining a nutritious baseline will give your body the best defense against unexpected setbacks.

What to Eat

Eating well with an autoimmune disease means making heart-healthy food choices that are low in sodium and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Incorporating lots of prebiotic fiber foods and avoiding specific "immune-boosting" ingredients helps to support a calm and effective immune system.

Compliant Foods
  • Homemade soups and stews

  • Steel-cut oats

  • Asparagus

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Ground flaxseed

  • Salmon

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Alfalfa sprouts

  • Garlic

  • Echinacea teas/supplements

  • Canned soups that are high in sodium

  • Salty snack foods

  • Processed meats (bacon, jerky, salami, cold cuts)

Ground flaxseeds: There are two reasons to include flaxseeds in your meal plan. These tiny seeds offer a dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3s and serve as a prebiotic for digestion and immunity. Grinding flaxseeds helps release their beneficial nutrients.

Homemade soups and stews: Learning to prepare soups at home will help you avoid high-sodium canned products and gives you a chance to throw in a variety of nutritious vegetables.

Processed meats: Processed meats are loaded with sodium and solid fat which are known to exacerbate autoimmune issues. Choosing fresh protein instead (especially heart-healthy salmon) benefits your condition instead of promoting it.

Recommended Timing

Some studies suggest that calorie restriction and fasting help prevent autoimmune disorders but may not be beneficial in treating them once the condition is established. Meal timing appears to impact gut bacteria and longevity. The research is promising, yet still too young to apply specific recommendations to MCTD management.

Cooking Tips

Learning to cook at home is an essential skill for those with MCTD because it opens up a wider range of unprocessed food options. Fortunately, it's possible to reduce your intake of processed items without becoming a gourmet cook.

Finding simple recipes and food preparation tips can help you make easy meals like salads, soups, fruit and yogurt parfaits, or homemade cereal bars. By preparing these items at home you can cut back on sodium and other preservatives.

Furthermore, unprocessed foods tend to be higher in prebiotic fibers that feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. By shifting your eating habits to involve more grocery shopping and home cooking versus restaurant meals and vending machine snacks, you can help cultivate an internal microbiome that favors lower systemic inflammation.

Modifications

Everyone's body is different, especially when it comes to digestion and metabolism. It's possible that certain changes that benefit someone else aren't necessary for you. For instance, gluten may trigger inflammation in those with gluten sensitivity but not others.

Keeping a food diary or experimenting with an elimination diet (under the supervision of your doctor or a registered dietitian) can help you pinpoint the nuances of your condition and determine your optimal diet for MCTD.

Considerations

Most doctors advise patients with autoimmune disorders to consume a balanced meal plan composed of roughly 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 30% fat.

Other than perhaps avoiding garlic and sodium, the dietary recommendations for managing autoimmunity translate easily into everyday life. With a little extra effort to choose fresh foods and read nutrition labels, it's easy to make small changes that will benefit your health.

High-fiber foods, like apples, oatmeal, and bananas, are a good source of prebiotics and make an inexpensive and convenient snack or breakfast food. If you have friends or relatives who are working on eating healthier for weight management. heart health, or diabetes, there's a good chance they'll be able to relate to your dietary goals for MCTD.

Once you adjust to eating less-processed foods, there's a good chance you'll notice additional benefits, such as clearer skin, more energy, and better digestion. Combining your dietary improvements with an added focus on physical activity and proper sleep can help promote a greater sense of overall well-being.

Dietary Restrictions

There are no defined dietary restrictions for individuals with MCTD but research suggests that you may want to avoid the following items:

  • Alfalfa sprouts: Considered a "superfood" for most people, individuals with lupus or related autoimmune diseases (like MCTD) should avoid alfalfa sprouts. The amino acid, L-canavanine, boosts the immune system which can spiral into an autoimmune flare-up.
  • Garlic: Similarly, garlic has multiple components that enhance the body's white blood cell response and may aggravate an already overactive immune system.
  • Echinacea: Commonly sold as a dietary supplement to fight off colds, echinacea is not recommended for people with autoimmune disease. Check the label on items like herbal teas to screen for echinacea and avoid adding supplements to your regimen without consulting your rheumatologist first.

A Word From Verywell

Healthy eating is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to chronic conditions like MCTD. Regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and finding useful ways to reduce stress can help your body weather the ups and downs of autoimmunity.

Sometimes even when you're doing everything right, flare-ups occur without warning. Work closely with your rheumatologist to manage your symptoms using a combination of lifestyle factors and medication.

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Article Sources
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