A healthy immune system can recognize the difference between the body and foreign invaders.
But in the case of autoimmune diseases, the immune system starts mistaking normal, healthy cells as foreign and attacks parts of one’s own body.
Over 80 conditions have been recognized as autoimmune diseases including:
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
- Celiac Disease
- Thyroid Disease
Each one has its own unique symptoms, depending on the body part(s) that the immune system attacks.
Most autoimmune diseases begin with the same early warning sign symptoms, such as:
- Low energy
- Swelling, redness, heat
- Mental fog and/or difficulty focusing
- Skin rash and/or breakouts
The general characteristic of autoimmunity is chronic inflammation.
Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose, since these early symptoms are generalized. The severity of symptoms also varies and flare-ups and remissions are common (and commonly frustrating!) in people with an autoimmune disease.
Healthcare professionals don’t know exactly what causes most autoimmune diseases either. Some have a genetic predisposition, meaning having a family history may increase your risk of getting that disease.
Research has identified several other few factors believed to contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
Contributing factors to autoimmune diseases include:
→ Western Diet – A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and trans fats is believed to promote inflammation, damage the lining of the small intestine, and weaken immune system function. In contrast, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids has the opposite effect on the body.
→ Compromised Gut Health (i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome) – Diet, alcohol use, stress, and antibiotics all affect the microbiome – the bacteria that lives in your gut. Healthy gut bacteria are key to keeping the immune system in check.
→ Exposure to Toxins – Includes environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke, heavy metals, chemicals in personal care products, and residue on foods like pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
→ Bacterial/Viral Infections – This is one of the most potent environmental triggers for autoimmune disease.
→ Hormones – Women seem to develop more Autoimmune Diseases compared to men, especially during their reproductive years. This may be due to hormonal imbalances and/or an excess of estrogen, known as Estrogen Dominance.
→ Early Psychological Trauma – Psychological stress in childhood has been shown to increase the risk for autoimmune disease.
Treatments for autoimmune diseases are not curative, but focus is on minimizing uncomfortable symptoms and decreasing the frequency of severe flare-ups.
A combination of treatments may help autoimmune diseases:
Medication – targeted at managing pain, reducing inflammation, and suppressing immune system activity.
Alternative therapies – acupuncture, chiropractic, and natural remedies may be used to manage symptoms.
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) – A diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and meat to reduce inflammation. It’s thought to be similar to the Paleo Diet, but more strict.
How can naturopathic medicine help?
Naturopathic treatment will usually include diet and lifestyle modifications and targeted supplementation with the following goals in mind:
- Regulating inflammation
- Reducing oxidative stress
- Identifying and reducing exposure to chronic infection
- Supporting the affected organ/tissue
- Supporting stress resilience
Adding anti-inflammatory antioxidant-rich spices to your diet may help decrease inflammation and promote a healthy gut. Turmeric and ginger contain powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that are safe for most people to consume regularly.
Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea
- 1 small turmeric root, peeled and sliced
- 2-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced
- 1 whole lemon, sliced
- Place ingredients in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat.
- Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and let tea steep another 5 minutes.
- Strain tea and enjoy hot or cold.