Autoimmunity is when the body fails to recognise parts of it as belonging to itself, so an immune response against the cells and tissues is instigated. When the body attacks itself in some form, this is called an autoimmune disease. Some examples of autoimmune disease include coeliac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. But what natural treatments are available? Read on to find out more.
Thunder God Vine (TGV), is an herbal treatment that is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
GLA is an omega 6 fatty acid that is found the oils of some plant seeds, such as evening primrose, borage, and blackcurrant. The body uses GLA to make substances that reduce inflammation.
Fish oil is high in two types of omega 3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA. Like GLA, the body uses omega 3 fatty acids in order to make substances that reduce inflammation in the body.
Valerian is traditionally used to treat sleep problems and anxiety disorders. An often neglected symptom of arthritis is disrupted sleep, and it is with this that valerian can help. Valerian can also help to relieve muscle and joint pain.
Glucosamine is found in the fluid around the joints. It can also be obtained from the shells of shrimp, lobster, and crabs, or made synthetically. Glucosamine is used by the body to make and repair cartilage, the firm yet flexible tissue that covers the end of the bones, stopping them from rubbing against each other and also absorbing the force of impact. Chondroitin is also found in the cartilage around the joints. When used as a supplement, it is obtained from sources such as shark and cattle. Both glucosamine and Chondroitin have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Nutrition is a factor in many autoimmune diseases, especially in coeliac disease. People with coeliac disease are unable to have any gluten in their diet at all – thus have to follow a strict diet that excludes many grains, especially wheat. For more information, please see the article on coeliac disease.
Certain types of autoimmune disease may be worsened by certain foods. Such foods that may pose a problem include the nightshade family of plants (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, etc), dairy, citrus, acidic foods, sweets, coffee, and animal protein. The foods that a person eats and how the digestive system handles are known to have an effect on the immune system. Certain fats, mainly from animal sources, can break down in the body into substances that can cause inflammation.
An allergy elimination diet may be used in the treatment of many autoimmune diseases. This is where the suspected foods are removed from the diet completely for a period of time, before being slowly reintroduced in order to find the culprit. Once the culprit is found, it is simply a matter of avoiding that food, or desensitising the body so that it does not have the same effect.
Acupuncture can be used to treat the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, such as pain, or as part of the treatment for the disease itself. Acupuncture aims to restore the flow of energy in the body by using fine needles in specially selected points to clear stagnant energy and blockages.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water for therapeutic purposes. Some forms of hydrotherapy include bathing in hot water, mineral baths, and water-jet massages. The aim of hydrotherapy is to benefit arthritis, circulation and other health issues while creating a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.
Lemon balm is used to relieve common symptoms of autoimmune disease such as headaches, rashes and anxiety, and it can also improve the health of the immune system in patients that suffer from immune diseases. Lemon balm treats anxiety, depression, palpitation, respiratory congestion, allergic reactions, menstrual pain, and nervousness. It can also mildly reduce thyroid hormone levels, and symptoms that are associated with hyperthyroidism. It promotes immune health by fighting bacteria and viruses, and it can reduce fever, spasms, flatulence, and cramps. It can also have energising effects on people that feel fatigued.
Vitamin D can help to inhibit pro-inflammatory processes by suppressing the enhanced activity of immune cells that are involved in an autoimmune reaction. Vitamin D supplementation may be helpful for Th1 mediated autoimmune disorders and can even be helpful for multiple sclerosis and diabetes type 1.