The incidence of autoimmune conditions (where the immune system becomes unbalanced and mistakenly attacks the body tissues) has risen dramatically over the past few decades. These kinds of conditions can be debilitating and severely impact a person's quality of life. Autoimmune conditions are generally more common in women than in men.
The chronic nature of these diseases mean that conventional medicine uses an approach that is aimed at suppressing symptoms, often by way of strong medications that produce significant side-effects.
Common Autoimmune Conditions & Their Associated Symptoms:
- Hashimoto’s Disease affects the thyroid gland, and eventually the sufferer may experience symptoms of low thyroid function, such as weight gain, fatigue, depression, sluggish digestion and hormonal issues such as irregular periods.
- Graves’ Disease also affects the thyroid gland, however it results in an over-active thyroid. A thyroid that is running too fast can cause symptoms such as palpitations, diarrhea, anxiety/nervousness and bulging eyes.
- Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition where the cells that produce pigments in the skin are affected. It generally starts with abnormal white patches of skin that can grow and appear in other parts of the body.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the joints, resulting in pain, heat and swelling. It differs from osteoarthritis ('wear and tear arthritis') as it affects both sides of the body equally, and usually strikes the smaller joints of the body first.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a condition that can affect multiple parts of the body, including the skin and joints. Flares are often accompanied by a distinctive 'butterfly' shaped rash across the cheeks.
- Type 1 Diabetes is the result of the immune system attacking the glands of the pancreas that are responsible for helping you process carbohydrates or sugars from the food that you eat.
- Crohn's Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that results in diarrhea, pain, fatigue, and difficulty absorbing nutrients from the foods that you eat.
- Ulcerative Colitis is also an inflammatory bowel disease that results in ulceration of the lower parts of the digestive tract. It can cause abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, as well as affecting your capacity to absorb nutrients.
- Coeliac Disease is an abnormal response to gluten (a protein contained in certain grains such as wheat,rye and barley). Over time, the parts of the digestive tract that are responsible for absorbing nutrients from your food are damaged, which affects your body's ability to absorb nutrients, and can lead to fatigue and malnutrition.
- Psoriasis affects the skin, resulting in patches of extremely dry, scaly skin which can itch or burn. Psoriasis can also affect the joints, causing stiffness and pain.
What Does Naturopathic Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases Involve?
If you suffer from an autoimmune condition, I will first take a detailed history of your condition, as well as assessing for factors that may have played a role in the development and progression of your symptoms. Whilst autoimmune conditions can differ greatly in the area of the body that they affect the over-reactive immune system is the root cause and therefore what we focus on.
The goal of naturopathic treatment is to reduce 'flares' of the condition (a tendency for periods of exacerbation of symptoms) and prevention of further damage to the body.
- Improving gut health (70% of the immune system is located in the gut, and a disruption of the gut bacteria has been established as a contributing factor to autoimmune conditions). This provides a foundation for healthy immune function, absorption of nutrients and overall wellbeing.
- Addressing and managing stress levels, which are often a trigger for the development of autoimmune conditions.
- Looking at possible nutritional improvements (using food as medicine), such as including anti-inflammatory foods and those that improve gut health in the diet.
- Carefully selected herbal medicines to suit each particular case, which may include herbs that are high in antioxidants and those with pain-relieving properties.