Autoimmune Conditions – Bringing Back the Balance

Natural therapies for autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune conditions or autoimmune disease is where your body mounts an immune attack against itself. Some common autoimmune conditions include Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus (SLE), Psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

What is an autoimmune condition?

Perhaps you or someone you know has been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and you are wondering exactly what this means. ‘Auto’ is the Latin word for ‘self’ and ‘autoimmune’ essentially means that your body mounts an immune response against itself.

These conditions are characterised by inflammation and destruction of body tissues by the body’s own immune system – commonly experienced as pain, swelling and a wide variety of symptoms depending upon what areas of the body are affected. Some common autoimmune conditions include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Lupus (SLE).
  • Psoriasis.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Why does the body attack itself?

The role of your immune system is to protect you from potentially harmful invaders such as bacteria, viruses, toxins and allergens. In response to such invaders, your immune system sends out T cells (your main infection-fighting cells) to help destroy the invading cells. T regulatory cells are special cells that act like traffic controllers. They oversee how many and what type of T cells are released and help keep your immune system in check.

In addition, inflammation results in further local tissue damage, which can affect the functioning of specific organs. For example, in ulcerative colitis the gut lining is attacked and damaged, resulting in poor digestive function and abdominal pain.

Since the majority of the immune system is housed in the gut, a healthy balance of beneficial microbiota (bacteria) in your digestive system is important for a well regulated immune system.  Poor diet, stress and some medications can lead to imbalances in gut bacteria, which is a common feature in people with autoimmune conditions.

Related: Why your health problems may have started in the gut 

Autoimmune Condition Treatment Considerations

Vitamin D is a fundamental nutrient for autoimmunity, as it is required for the production of healthy T regulatory cells. Correcting vitamin D deficiency can help support an appropriate immune response, thereby reducing the number of symptom ‘flare ups’.

Regular, low-impact exercise not only releases pain-killing endorphins, but also helps combat the fatigue associated with autoimmune conditions.

Diet is key to supporting healthy gut microbiota – eat plenty of whole, unprocessed foods, including wholegrains and fibre, to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA – found in fish oils, these act as an ‘off’ switch to help resolve unchecked inflammation. Fish oils may provide not only symptomatic relief of pain, but can also help reduce inflammation-driven tissue damage; allowing the affected organs to return to normal functioning.

Beneficial bacteria, in the form of probiotics, can help re-educate the immune system by restoring the balance of microbes that influence the immune response. For example, the use of probiotics in cases of ulcerative colitis can reduce local gut pain and inflammation, improve digestive function, and ultimately reduce the number of “flare ups” experienced.

This advice is for general purposes only. Please book an appointment for individualised assessment and treatment.

Dr Peter Holsman is a qualified Medical Practitioner, Naturopath and Professional Speaker based in Melbourne. An expert in his field with over 30 years experience, he specialises in treating people with fatigue related illnesses including digestive problems, anxiety, stress, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, menopause, thyroid and adrenal hormone concerns.