The exact cause of autoimmunity is unclear, but research suggests a mixture of genetic and environmental factors are to blame. Of these various environmental factors, experts point to diet as a likely key component.

With autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly perceives the body's own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. There are more than 80 such diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Collectively, these conditions affect more than 24 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

While management techniques vary from one individual's condition to another, evidence indicates diet can contribute to autoimmune problems, and appropriate dietary changes can help many patients find relief.

How diet affects the immune system

Sunni Patel, a health coach and founder of Dish, Dash, Deets, said all cells—including ones in the immune system—have specific