Autoimmunity and You

Auto immune conditions are increasingly becoming the most complex, and costly, health related conditions to treat. As incidence rates sky-rocket, immune system over activation, or auto immunity, is becoming the common thread that ties together conditions as diverse as:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis,
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis,
  • Crohn’s Disease,
  • Ulcerative Colitis,
  • Lupus,
  • Psoriasis, and,
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

While western medicine often struggles with treatment of auto immune conditions, falling back on steroids or NSAID, natural and nutritional medicine has many solutions that can help.

What are auto immune conditions

While the exact symptoms of autoimmune diseases will vary they all function in much the same way; your own immune cells begin attacking and destroying your own body tissues. It is this immune reaction that is responsible for the near universal auto immune symptoms of pain, inflammation and fatigue.

Further symptoms will manifest depending on the form of auto immune condition. If you’re affected by rheumatoid arthritis the immune system will target the cells of the joints adding stiff sore joints and loss of mobility, in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis it attacks the thyroid gland leading to problems with weight regulation, skin and energy levels, while in Chron’s disease it attacks cells of the digestive system leading to problems including mal-absorption and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It sounds unusual, but all the different, diverse symptoms of these conditions can effectively be prevented by fixing the underlying problem that has put the immune system on red alert.

Taking the immune system off red alert and allowing normal immune function to resume will also improve energy levels and fatigue. The hyper activity of the immune response increases the bodies energy requirement leading to the constant low-grade fatigue.

Statistics of Auto immunity

lifetime autoimmune incidence
lifetime autoimmune incidence

Auto immune conditions are far more common than many of us would like to think.

If you have an auto immune condition, you are not alone! Auto immune conditions is on the rise. One study from the US suggested that one in 12 women and one in 20 men will develop some form of auto immune condition at some time in their life. Auto immune conditions are in fact one of the most frequent reasons that someone will come to see a Naturopath.

Unfortunately, as you might have noticed and, as the numbers bear out, women are two to three times as likely to develop an autoimmune condition as men.

Calming An Inflamed Immune System

While the common thread of auto immune disorders is an immune system with an identity crisis, it is harder to say what triggers this situation in the first place. In our clinic we have had enormous success with auto immune conditions using our auto immunity recovery program. This four step process offers symptomatic relief of auto immune condition symptoms and correct the underlying immune imbalance.

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Step 1 – Eliminate Auto Immune Triggers

You might be wondering what food has to do with arthritic joints or your skin? Quite a lot as it turns out!

The screening tools we use in our clinic can help to identify signs of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome involves partially digested protein fragments, escaping through holes in the mucosal membrane of the stomach and small intestine leading to immune activation.

Three major foods are responsible for causing most of the damage leading to leaky gut syndrome. These are:

  • wheat and other gluten containing grains (barley, spelt, contaminated oats, etc.)
  • cow’s milk and other products containing casein
  • non fermented soy products.

Although not a complete treatment strategy, simply avoiding trigger foods can give amazing results in as little as two to three weeks.

Step 2 – Restoring Cell Integrity

In auto immune conditions, it’s not just the gut that is leaky! High levels of inflammation associated with auto immunity lead to increased oxidative stress, or damage caused by free radicals. This damages cell membranes and releases, or leaks, a rogue enzyme that breaks down other cells in the body, making them a key target for your immune system to attack as invaders.

Step two involves providing the right nutrients to help the body repair and rebuild damaged cells, while also consuming antioxidant rich foods, to “mop up” metabolic waste products that lead to oxidative stress.

The cell membranes damaged by free radicals consist largely of poly unsaturated fatty acids. A diet high in good fats from oily fish, olives, and avocados, ensures necessary fatty acids to rebuild cell membranes.

We recommend supplementing with a high strength, liquid fish oil, that is free of heavy metals and petro chemicals. This provides a concentrated source of the two most important essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These have been well researched and are highly effective in reducing inflammation associated with auto-immune conditions.

Step 3 – Fixing Digestive Permeability

We touched on digestive permeability in step one with the removal of common trigger foods. While removing these foods can offer significant improvement in symptoms of your auto immune condition, it is important to repair the damage these foods have caused.

Fixing digestive permeability is not a simple process. It is important to remove pathogenic micro-organisms to prevent damage from re-occurring. At this point we recommend clients undertake an integrated detoxification program. This focusses on:

  • reducing populations of harmful or bad bacteria, parasites, and fungi, though dietary change and herbs,
  • recolonising with good bacteria using specific probiotic strains,
  • repairing and resealing mucous membranes of the small and large intestine using nutrients like L-glutamine and herbs such as golden seal and aloe vera.

Step 4 – Re-balancing the Immune Response & Reducing Inflammation

Steps 1 and 2 will have us working towards removing the underlying cause of your auto-immune condition, however these are not overnight solutions. With the correct nutritional foundations in place it is time to re-balance the immune response and reduce inflammation. While traditional pharmaceutical, or medical, options will use immune suppressants, these have some obvious, undesirable side effects: the only thing worse than a hyper active immune system is a sleeping immune system!

Fortunately, there are many natural herbal medicine formulas that have ideal immune balancing and anti-inflammatory properties. These herbs work with the body to naturally cut immune system hyper activity without shutting down the immune system. In our clinic we use a number of herbs specific to the specific symptoms. Some of the more common herbs include:

Polypodium (Polypodium leucotomos) – beneficial in modulating the immune reaction in skin based conditions such as psoriasis. Studies have shown that as high as 90% of people affected by psoriasis had improvement in symptoms with treatment by polypodium (Padilla, H. C., et al);

Boswellia – a general purpose anti-inflammatory that has shown particularly favorable results with Chron’s disease (Gerhardt, H., et al);

Andrographis – like Boswellia, andrographis is another potent anti-inflammatory. Andrographis has been particularly effective for rheumatoid arthritis with study participants reporting significant reduction in painful joints, swollen joints and pain (Burgos, R. A., et al).

Phellodendron (Berberine) – in addition to anti inflammatory, Phellodendron is also an immuno suppressant which reduces over activation of the immune system.

Hemidesmus – this herb is used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine for immuno suppressive and anti inflammatory effects in auto immunity. It is also an anti microbial and a pain killer.

Take Charge of Your Health Now

Having an autoimmune disease should not prevent you from living a full, active life. Our Naturopathic team can tell you about dietary changes, lifestyle advice, and supplements to help you.

Do something about your health now and start enjoying life!

So whether auto immunity is affecting your joints, digestive system, skin or hormonal system, there’s no need to just put up with it. Natural and alternative medicine can help!

Resources Consulted

Burgos, R. A., et al. ‘Efficacy of an Andrographis paniculata composition for the relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: a prospective randomized placebo-controlled trial.’ Clin Rheumatology 28.8 (2009):931–946

Gerhardt, H., et al. ‘Therapy of active Crohn’s disease with Boswellia serrata extract H 15.’ Z Gastroenterol 39 (2001):11–17

Padilla, H. C., et al. ‘A new agent (hydrophilic fraction of Polypodium leucotomos) for management of psoriasis.’ International Journal of Dermatology 13(5) (1974):276–282