Many have heard of the term ‘autoimmune disease’; but unless you (or someone you know) has been diagnosed with such a condition; the concept can become a little confusing to understand.
We’re going to break it down for you.
First, let’s break down the term itself…
Auto (automatic) & Immune (Immune system). Our immune response (in normal conditions) is a tightly regulated process that will mount necessary & protective responses against foreign invaders.
This response involves an array of cells such as lymphocytes (T-cells, B-cells and NK cells), neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages as well as immune signalling proteins (cytokines, antibodies, and complement proteins).
And they each have their own skills and protective mechanisms that are used to kill foreign bodies such as viruses and bacteria.
But as one; they are a force which ultimately mounts a strong response known as the inflammatory response.
Inflammation is a protective mechanism to localize and eliminate the injurious/infectious agent and to remove damaged tissue components so that the body can begin to heal.
So what happens in the incidence of autoimmune conditions?
Well.. the army of our immune system is triggered to go into ‘autopilot’ mode; and mounts a continuous response against the body’s own tissues. The army struggles to differentiate between foreign cells and cells that have been made safely within the body.
This automatic and continuous immune response also triggers a continuous inflammatory response and as we now know; inflammation is purposeful in the short term; but can be detrimental when prolonged.
So; what causes autoimmune conditions?
There is no one cause. But factors such as chronic stress, genetic susceptibility or gene mutations, defects in immune function, environmental risk exposures (toxins, chemicals, radiation), past or present microbial infections, gender and hormonal factors, intestinal dysbiosis and dietary factors can all play a role!
It is also important to know that there are many forms of autoimmune conditions ranging from joint and musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. Gout & Rheumatoid Arthritis), skin conditions, digestive concerns (e.g. Crohn’s Disease), hormone and endocrine conditions (e.g. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis), and metabolic conditions (e.g. Diabetes); and each will have their own beneficial treatment protocols.
However, as Naturopaths, we understand that the first step to treating autoimmune conditions is providing relief from the heightened inflammatory response.
What is in our anti-inflammatory toolbox?
Herbs (where do we start?!)
Here are some of our favourites..
- Devils Claw
- Eleutherococcus; aka Siberian Ginseng
- Korean Ginseng
- Gotu Kola
- Lion’s Mane
Omega 3’s (high dose Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
- Such as SPM’s (specialised pro-resolving mediators)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- B Vitamins
- Vitamin E
But it doesn’t stop there.
Autoimmune conditions are best managed in the long term by adjusting dietary and lifestyle factors, such as participating In a gentle (but regular) exercise regime, avoiding any toxic and pro-inflammatory habits (such as cigarette smoking and highly stressful environments) and implementing a diet that is low in pro-inflammatory dietary groups.
Please remember, when it comes to disease management each individual’s journey is different!
And you should always consult with your doctor or health practitioner before embarking on any path which may influence the state of your health.