Autoimmune diseases are a collection of disorders characterised by the immune system mistakenly attacking and damaging healthy cells and tissues in the body. Some examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and certain thyroid conditions. There are over a hundred types of autoimmune diseases, with new ones being discovered all the time[i][ii].
While some autoimmune diseases are organ-specific and target only one part of the body, others can affect multiple organs and systems. For instance, Type 1 diabetes specifically damages the pancreas, while other autoimmune conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known as lupus, can impact the entire body[iii].
Autoimmune diseases are the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the industrialised world, thought to be surpassed only by cancer and heart disease[iv].
From a naturopathic perspective, autoimmunity is viewed as a complex condition that involves a disruption of the body's natural balance and self-regulation. Naturopathic practitioners aim to identify and address the underlying causes of autoimmunity, such as chronic inflammation, gut health, environmental toxins, and stress[v]. Development of autoimmune diseases may also relate to infections, both active and previous[vi]. There is a correlation between early environmental factors associated with dysbiosis (unhealthy gut bacteria) and immune conditions, including autoimmunity[vii].
The proposed reasons behind chronic inflammation from a naturopathic angle include genetic susceptibility to triggers, an abundance of inflammatory precursors such as a high arachidonic acid (AA) or glycating diet, and a deficiency of antioxidant phytochemicals[viii].
Autoimmune diseases often run for a prolonged period of time before they manifest clinically, which could indicate that they do not arise spontaneously. A significant number of individuals, exceeding 10 million, test positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) years before experiencing any symptoms (ANA testing is a valuable tool in the diagnostic process of autoimmune diseases. It helps identify those who may have an autoimmune condition). This suggests the involvement of external environmental factors that can either suppress or enhance the disease progression over time[ix].
Autoimmune diseases and the consumption of certain food additives are both on the rise at the same time. Many autoimmune diseases are associated with problems in the tight junctions of the intestine. Certain additives commonly found in processed foods, such as glucose, salt, solvents, emulsifiers, gluten, microbial transglutaminase, and nanoparticles, can cause the tight junctions in the intestine to become more permeable. When foreign substances from the gut enter the bloodstream, they can trigger the immune system's response and potentially lead to the development or worsening of autoimmune diseases[x]. Read more below on functional testing options available.
Dietary changes: A nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation and support immune function. Naturopathic practitioners may recommend specific dietary changes, such as eliminating gluten, dairy, and other common allergens[xi].
Nutritional supplements: Certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients may help support immune function and reduce inflammation[xii]. Read on to see our recommended supplements.
Mind-body therapies: Stress can exacerbate autoimmunity, so mind-body therapies such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture may be recommended to help reduce stress and promote relaxation[xvi].
In the management of autoimmune diseases, nutritional therapy plays a crucial role by supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, and promoting overall health and well-being. Autoimmune diseases are often marked by chronic inflammation and immune system dysfunction, and dietary interventions can help address these underlying issues[xvii].
Nutritional therapy typically involves customised dietary modifications, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle changes that are designed to meet the specific needs and health goals of the individual. By addressing nutrient deficiencies and promoting a nutrient-dense diet, nutritional therapy can enhance the body's natural healing processes and optimise immune function. This can lead to a reduction in autoimmune symptoms and an improvement in quality of life.
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet for autoimmunity, some dietary approaches may be helpful in reducing inflammation and supporting immune function. It’s best to work with a nutritional therapist to ensure you are making the right dietary changes for your specific condition and under expert supervision. This applies in particular to elimination and anti-inflammatory diets.
Anti-inflammatory diet: An anti-inflammatory diet emphasises whole, nutrient-dense foods that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids[xviii][xix][xx].
Elimination diet: An elimination diet involves removing certain foods or food groups from the diet for a period of time to identify potential triggers of inflammation and autoimmune symptoms. Common triggers include gluten, dairy, soy, and nightshade vegetables[xxi][xxii][xxiii].
Mediterranean diet: The Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil. It has been associated with a lower risk of autoimmune diseases and may be beneficial for reducing inflammation and improving immune function[xxiv].
Gut healing diet: The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in immune function, and imbalances in gut bacteria have been linked to the development of autoimmune diseases. A gut-healing diet focuses on foods that support gut health, such as fermented foods, prebiotic fibres, and bone broth[xxv][xxvi].
Viridian Vitamin D3 Spray 2000iu - Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a critical role in immune function and has been shown to reduce inflammation. Supplementing with vitamin D may be helpful for individuals with autoimmune diseases who have low levels of this nutrient[xxvii][xxviii].
Cytoplan Vegan Omega 3 Liquid or Bare Biology Life & Soul Omega 3 Fish Oil Liquid -Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce autoimmune symptoms. Supplementing with omega-3s, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil, may be helpful for individuals with autoimmune diseases[xxix][xxx].
Viridian Synerbio Daily High Strength Probiotic - Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and play a role in immune function. Supplementing with probiotics may help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria and reduce inflammation in autoimmune diseases[xxxi][xxxii].
Viridian Curcumin Extract - Organic Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric that has anti-inflammatory properties. Supplementing with curcumin may help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in autoimmune diseases[xxxiii].
Terranova Vitamin B12 500ug Complex (Methylcobalamin) - Vitamin B12 is important for nerve function, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell production. Deficiency can be common in individuals with autoimmune diseases, and supplementing with vitamin B12 may be beneficial[xxxiv][xxxv].
Complete Thyroid Panel - A complete thyroid panel is a blood test that measures the levels of various hormones that are produced by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism, energy levels, and body temperature, and imbalances in thyroid hormones can lead to a range of symptoms and health problems.
Intestinal Permeability Profile / Comprehensive stool analysis: This evaluates the digestive system and can identify imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, and malabsorption of nutrients. Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in gut bacteria, can contribute to autoimmune diseases by altering the immune system's response and increasing inflammation[xxxvi].
Food Sensitivity Test (Dietary Antigen Test): Food sensitivities can trigger immune reactions and contribute to inflammation and autoimmune symptoms. Food sensitivity testing can identify specific foods that may be contributing to symptoms and guide dietary interventions[xxxvii].
Metabolomix Plus Advanced - Nutritional testing: This type of testing evaluates nutrient deficiencies and imbalances that can contribute to autoimmune diseases. Identifying deficiencies in nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron, can guide targeted nutritional interventions[xxxviii].
Complete Hormone Panel - DUTCH Test: Imbalances in hormones, such as cortisol and thyroid hormones, can contribute to autoimmune diseases. Hormone testing can identify imbalances and guide treatment interventions[xxxix].
Autoimmune antibody testing: This type of testing evaluates for specific antibodies that are associated with autoimmune diseases. Identifying specific antibodies can help with diagnosis[xl].
Alternative therapies may also be effective in managing autoimmune diseases by reducing stress, improving immune function, and managing symptoms. These therapies provide additional support for the body's natural healing processes.
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