How to Manage Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Weight Gain & Loss
While weight tends to be impacted by diet, autoimmune diseases can also influence weight. Learn how such diseases can influence weight and tips to mitigate health risks.
When it comes to diseases that cause weight gain and loss, autoimmune diseases often make the list. Since these diseases often affect multiple systems in the body, it is not uncommon for autoimmune disease weight changes to occur.
The best weight loss for autoimmune disease will differ, but the good news is there are many proven methods that may work. Learn all about autoimmune diseases that cause weight gain, including tips for weight and disease management.
Why Do Autoimmune Diseases Cause Weight Gain or Loss?
Autoimmune diseases put the body into a state of inflammation where the immune system attacks its own cells. These cells are actually healthy and not normally a threat.
Usually, a combination of disease management, lifestyle factors, diet, and medication impacts weight. For instance, some medications may cause side effects like unusual tiredness and weakness - which may make it extra challenging to lose weight.
Which Autoimmune Diseases Cause Weight Gain or Loss?
By nature, autoimmune diseases involve multiple systems and weight loss or weight gain can be just one manifestation of many. It is important to note sudden changes in weight and bring them up with a medical professional.
Autoimmune diseases that can affect weight (and tips to manage weight) include autoimmune hepatitis, celiac disease, myasthenia gravis, type 1 diabetes, and more.
During autoimmune hepatitis, liver cells are attacked. Symptoms may become more severe over time. Unexplained weight loss can happen in cases of autoimmune hepatitis.
During celiac disease, the body sees gluten as a harmful substance. This leads to the body attacking its own gastrointestinal (GI) lining. Ultimately, unpleasant digestive symptoms and weight loss or gain can result.
In cases of myasthenia gravis, the body produces antibodies that lead to an attack on the proteins that make nerve and muscle communication possible. While this may not directly affect weight, it can cause difficulties with the following activities that can make eating more difficult:
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that often surfaces in adolescence or childhood. It's thought to be caused by genetics and other environmental factors.
This autoimmune disorder affects the way the body balances blood sugar, so it can definitely make weight management difficult when the disease itself is not properly managed.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA, as well as a specific kind of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis (AS), affects the joints by causing inflammation. Individuals can feel mild to severe levels of pain as well as other symptoms like stiffness, swelling, and discomfort.
Steroids are often prescribed as medication for management. However, steroid medications can also cause weight gain, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and other undesirable side effects.
Adrenal Insufficiency (i.e. Addison's disease)
Adrenal diseases, such as Addison's disease, affect the number of hormones produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones usually send the body hormone signals to help manage stress.
However, in this disease state, the body's weight can shift due to incorrect hormone levels happening in the body. Individuals usually develop symptoms slowly, including a decreased appetite and unintentional weight loss.
Thyroid Disease (i.e. Graves' Disease, Hashimoto's Disease)
Like adrenal diseases, thyroid disease causes an imbalance of hormones in the body. Too much or too little thyroid disease is produced, leading to either hypo- or hyperthyroidism.
For instance, Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.
Appetite, intake, and metabolism can be influenced by these diseases and ultimately lead to unintended weight loss or weight gain.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD, which includes both ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease, can be difficult to diagnose. When untreated, remission is difficult and digestive symptoms can worsen immensely. Diarrhea and malabsorption can cause weight loss.
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
Primary biliary cirrhosis occurs when the immune system attacks part of the liver system called the small bile ducts. This can lead to unexplained weight loss.
During sarcoidosis, it is common to have inflammation of the lungs and lymph glands. There are often symptoms in these regions, such as a cough or swollen lymph nodes. However, unexplained weight loss can also result.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Some with systemic lupus erythematosus only experience mild symptoms. Others have painful and uncomfortable gastrointestinal involvement as well as memory problems or confusion. These GI symptoms may affect eating behaviors, which can lead to weight gain or loss.
Tips For Autoimmune Disease & Weight Management
When it comes to autoimmune disease and weight management, there are many helpful tips and tricks for making a healthy weight possible.
Determine the Right Diagnosis
It may seem like a simple step, but receiving the correct diagnosis can make management easier. Often, autoimmune diseases can be misdiagnosed.
Finding a care team that is also a good fit can make all the difference.
Add a Dietitian to Your Healthcare Team
Dietitians can help provide guidance, especially when having difficulties with the diet. Instead of navigating nutrient deficiencies alone, dietitians can determine if there are any foods to eliminate while keeping the diet nutritionally complete.
Ask for Expert Advice
Exercising and other lifestyle factors can be made more difficult with disease. For example, arthritis can make it difficult to manage everyday tasks such as cooking or a fitness routine.
Expert therapists and other medical professionals can provide guidance when it comes to making everyday tasks easier.
Look at Lifestyle Factors
Exercise, stress, and sleep management can all affect the way the body works. With an autoimmune disease, it is extra important to manage these factors.
The body needs balanced movement, effective stress management, and sleep hygiene to function optimally.
A Final Word On Autoimmune Disease
Each autoimmune disease can manifest differently, but most cause inflammation that can ultimately cause weight gain. Painful symptoms can make movement and exercise difficult, but luckily there are manageable methods to stay at a healthy weight.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Type 1 diabetes. Mayo Clinic. Published March 27, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011.
Russell C. Autoimmune Disease & Weight Loss Resistance. Caitlin Russell Nutrition. Published May 16, 2019. https://russellnutrition.com/autoimmune-disease-weight-gain/#.
Waldman L. Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases. Very Well Health. Published May 7, 2021. https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmune-disease-symptoms-3232847.