By Dr. Jenna Dye,
An autoimmune disease is an illness in which the body attacks itself. Normally, the immune system is able to tell the difference between something foreign such as a virus or bacteria and its own cells. With an autoimmune disease the immune system is misdirected and begins to fight its own tissues. This results in an inflammatory process that can lead to a number of symptoms. Often times these symptoms can be non-specific and difficult to identify.
Autoimmune disease can affect many body systems such as the thyroid tissue in Grave’s Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the gastrointestinal system such as Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, the musculoskeletal system in Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the skin in Psoriasis, just to name a few.
Autoimmune disease can have a genetic component as well as be triggered by environmental factors such as stress, infections, hormonal influences, nutrient deficiencies, diet and lifestyle. Often times medications are given to suppress the immune system so that it lessens the attack on itself. In naturopathic medicine, the focus is to identify the root cause of the illness. Each person is treated individually and the goal for autoimmune disease to address the potential triggers for the inflammation.
Our gut and how we digest and absorb nutrients are a primary focus in most autoimmune diseases. Diet is a standard baseline. We focus on low inflammatory foods that include nutrient dense vegetables and fruits such as dark leafy greens and berries. These nutrient dense foods are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients that can inhibit the inflammatory pathways that are exacerbated in autoimmune disease. Foods high in healthy fats such as cold-water fatty fish, walnuts and avocados can help decrease inflammation. We also focus on diets low in processed foods, added sugars and refined carbohydrates. These types of foods can aggravate inflammation, thus making the attack on the body stronger. It is also important to stay away from any food sensitivities and allergies as these will produce more inflammation in the body. Common food sensitivities with autoimmune disease are foods such as dairy, wheat and eggs.
There is a strong correlation with stress and autoimmune diseases. Stress can come in many forms and, for someone with an autoimmune disease, it is essential to control the levels of stress. This can be physical, mental and emotional stress. Stress will negatively affect the immune system and can lead to more misfiring of those elements that flare up the autoimmune illness. Supporting the individual with lifestyle changes to reduce stressors is very important.
Foundational work is essential for anyone with an autoimmune disease or family history of autoimmune disease. Nutrient deficiencies are common and, if corrected, can protect and strengthen the immune system. Common deficiencies are Vitamin D, B Vitamins, magnesium, and many more. It is helpful to have these levels tested for proper supplementation.
With the focus on diet, lifestyle, nutrient deficiencies and supplementation it is possible to shift the immune response and go into remission. Continued naturopathic support is essential to prevent flare ups of the particular autoimmune disease. A naturopathic physician can individualize treatment for optimal support.
Dr. Jenna Dye is a licensed naturopathic physician. Her role is to support the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. Together with her patients, this is achieved by identifying and removing barriers that may be impacting health while creating a healing environment. For more information, visit drjennadye.com.