When the body is exposed to a pathogen it produces antibodies in order to detect and fight that pathogen. The problem occurs when the immune system becomes “too strong” and mistakes its own body for the pathogen it is or once was fighting. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakes healthy cells in the body for a pathogen or infection. These conditions are classified by the location at which they occur in the body.
Inflammatory bowel diseases–Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
Conventionally, autoimmune diseases are treated with anti-inflammatory medications, chemotherapeutics and potent immunosuppressive agents. While these may help to slow down the disease process and provide relief from symptoms, they often have harsh and unwanted side effects including leukemia and lymphoma. In addition, these agents do not address the root cause of the disease.
New research suggests that integrative and naturopathic approaches can help to significantly improve symptoms and even reverse the autoimmune disease process. These treatments include focusing on diet and lifestyle changes, supplements to modulate the immune system and decrease systemic inflammation, identifying the root cause of the autoimmune process, and focusing on optimizing organ function.
Infections and Autoimmune Disease
Most autoimmune diseases are triggered by an infection that the body was trying to eradicate. This process, known as molecular mimicry, occurs when a foreign antigen from a pathogen shares structural similarities with self-antigens, resulting in the body fighting the self-antigen. By finding and treating the infection early, we can help to limit the autoimmune process. In addition, autoimmune diseases can cause the immune system to be suppressed making patients more susceptible to opportunistic infections. These infections may cause general symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, muscle weakness, etc. and exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. By finding and treating hidden infections, many patients experience a decrease in symptoms and improved quality of life.
GI Health and Autoimmune Disease
Recent studies suggest that intestinal permeability, aka “leaky gut”, can exacerbate autoimmunity in patients who are already genetically susceptible. Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions in the GI tract leak proteins found in the food. This causes the immune system to negatively react towards that food when it is eaten. This can cause a variety of symptoms and altered immune function. Research also suggests that intestinal parasites and the GI microbiome play a key role in the development and severity of autoimmune disease processes.
Make an appointment at Live Well Wellness Center today to experience the difference that naturopathic medicine can offer.