Autoimmune Disease is defined as an inappropriate reaction of the immune system to the body’s own tissues. It is characterized by a loss of discrimination of self from non-self tissues and leads to an ongoing and often severe inflammatory response.
Women outnumber men when it comes to autoimmune disease. 78% of all cases of autoimmune disease are women.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren syndrome, Hashimoto thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, polymyositis, scleroderma, Addison disease, vitiligo, pernicious anemia, glomerulonephritis, and pulmonary fibrosis.
In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis women are 7 times more likely to contract the condition than men.
Despite extensive investigation, no consistent pattern regarding the cause of autoimmunity has emerged.
Some possibilities include:
- Genetic / inherited
- Infection with organisms that have a similar molecular signature to body tissues, leading to confusion of the immune system (molecular mimicry),
- Chemicals or infections that alter self-antigens
- In addition, an article in Metabolic Healing found that Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is associated with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome. Recent studies have found strong associations between EBV and autoimmune thyroid.
- Nutritional and environmental factors such as heavy metals, nutritional deficiencies
- Gastro-Intestinal Permeability (‘leaky gut’)
Diet and Lifestyle Considerations for Autoimmune Disease
- Eliminate all food allergens from the diet. The most common allergenic foods are dairy, soy, citrus, peanuts, wheat, fish, eggs, corn, food colorings, and additives. An elimination/challenge trial may be helpful in uncovering sensitivities, or an IgG ELISA food allergy test may be used. Remove suspected allergens from the diet for at least two weeks. Re-introduce foods at the rate of one food every three days. Watch for reactions which may include gastrointestinal upset, mood changes, headaches, and exacerbation of asthma. Warning: Do not challenge peanuts, or any other food, if there is a history of anaphylaxis.
- Reduce pro-inflammatory foods in the diet including saturated fats (meats, especially poultry, and dairy), refined foods, and sugar. Patients sensitive to antibiotics should eat only organic meats to avoid antibiotic residues.
- A small percentage of people respond dramatically to a diet free of nightshades. They include peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and white potatoes. A month-long trial is recommended.
- Emphasise foods high in essential fatty acids such as oily fish and nuts/seeds
- Eat a minimally processed diet rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and bioflavonoids
- Protein is essential for connective tissue support and should be consumed regularly
- Nutrients to support digestive health including fiber and yogurt should be consumed if tolerated to enhance beneficial bacterial levels
- Stress management techniques should be implemented
Integrative Treatments for Autoimmune Disease
In order to obtain optimal results, the patient might consider a holistic approach that integrates several treatments to address biochemical, physiological, energetic, emotional and/or spiritual imbalances. These treatments can include Allopathic Medicine, Complementary Medicine, Biomedicine, Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, Functional Medicine, Orthomolecular Medicine, Energy Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Naturopathy, Ayurvedic, muscular-skeletal support, Psychology and more. It’s important that treatments are overseen by experienced and certified practitioners who are able to work in teams (see below for where to find one).
Nutritional & Environmental Medicine Overview for Autoimmune Disease
Nutritional & Environmental practitioners focus on cellular health by optimizing nutrient uptake while minimizing toxic exposure. Biomedicine, Functional Medicine and Orthomolecular Medicine are all subsets. The overall goal is to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which are key drivers in chronic modern disease (e.g. asthma is inflammation of the lungs, arthritis is inflammation of the joints, eczema is inflammation of the skin, IBS involves inflammation of the gut and ADHD and Autism include inflammation of the brain). A combined approach of diet, lifestyle and natural therapies supports the body’s innate ability to heal and prevent disease by maintaining homeostasis (balance).
It is recommended that a patient consult a certified practitioner to assess their symptoms and case history and explore their individual need to:
- Screen for food sensitivities and allergies
- Implement dietary intervention geared to the individual (e.g. GAPS, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, FodMAPS, Evolutionary, low oxalate/salicylate, Ketogenic)
- Supplement with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and probiotics
- Improve gastrointestinal health to support the vagus nerve and brain and immune function
- Support neurotransmitter function
- Supply fat-soluble nutrients for brain structure and function
- Reduce toxicity and heavy metal accumulation
- Minimise infections (e.g. bacteria, yeast, virus, parasites) to reduce immune response and nutritional deficiencies that can impact on mental and physical health
- Regulate blood glucose and establish healthy eating habits
- Use energy healing (acupuncture, homeopathy, kinesiology, Emotional Freedom Technique)
Where can I find a certified practitioner?Finding a well-trained Integrative and/or Functional practitioner requires research but is a vital step in treating complex and chronic illness.
Below are links to lists of practitioners worldwide. We recommend you research the scope, expertise and experience of any practitioners you are considering.
U.S. & GlobalInstitute of Functional Medicine
Integrative Medicine for Mental Health
Medical Academy of Paediatric Special Needs (MAPS)
Australia & New ZealandMindd Foundation
The Australian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine (ACNEM)
UKThe British Society for Ecological Medicine
Disclaimer: Mindd Foundation does not endorse any specific individuals listed and makes no representations, warranties, nor guarantees and assumes no responsibility for any services provided. Mindd Foundation expressly disclaims all liability for damages of any kind as a result of using any products or services provided by those listed.