What is an auto-immune disease and how does it develop?

The body produces antibodies to ward off intruders. An auto-immune disease is an immune response in which the body mistakes its own tissue for a harmful substance attacks itself.

Toxins, infections, viruses or inflammation can cause genes to be expressed or turned on. There is also a strong link between gluten intolerance and auto-immune disease.


The aetiology of autoimmune disease is often multifactorial and include genetics, the environment, hormones and immunological triggers.

At least 50% of autoimmune disorders have an unknown trigger but physical and psychological stress is implicated in the development of autoimmune disease and 80% of patients have reported uncommon emotional stress.

They can affect many different organs but common ones include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves disease which affect the thyroid, Type I Diabetes Mellitus which affects the pancreas and leads to lifelong need for insulin dependence, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematous and Multiple Sclerosis.

There is considerable evidence implicating infection in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease, for example, the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) has been linked with Multiple Sclerosis.

Klebsiella has been implicated in the development of Ankylosing Spondylitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis has been linked with EBV, Rubella, Hepatitis B and Proteus Mirabilis and lastly Mumps, Rubella and Cytomegalovirus have all been linked with the development of Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

Consequently, I would always look to screen my patients for underlying viral infections if this is something that comes up in their health history.

Treatment of autoimmune disease should always include stress management to prevent stress-related immune imbalance and the main treatment aim should be to reduce systemic inflammation which is what causes the body to attack itself.

Signs of autoimmune diseases to look out for

Common signs and symptoms or combinations of these symptoms that would alert me to investigate further for an auto-immune conditions include:

1. Joint or muscle pain
2. Weight loss, intolerance to cold, rapid heartbeat and anxiety
3. Recurrent rashes, particularly if it appeared as a butterfly-shaped red rash across the nose or cheeks
4. Difficulty concentrating, feeling fatigued,
5. Blood or mucus in stool, abdominal pain or diarrhoea

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How to treat autoimmune disease naturopathically

When I discuss these symptoms with my patients when we go through their health history, I often recommend immediately that we do a stool test because getting the gut bacteria correct is absolutely crucial (80% of your immune system lies in the gut after all).

Further relevant testing might include food intolerance testing to ascertain what foods might be causing an antigenic reaction but until this is done I would ask my clients to cut out the most common antigenic foods that might be causing an inflammatory reaction in the gut.

I also make recommendations for them to request a number of tests from their GP.

If further testing shows up an auto-immune condition (and in my clinic, for my clients most weeks they do!), fear not, once we know what you are dealing with and we can work out what the root cause might be, it is possible with the right diet and naturopathic protocol to stop your immune system from attacking itself.

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