Our immune system is a marvel of nature, standing like a sentinel, protecting our health. When a foreign body invades, it springs into action to eliminate the threat. Sometimes, though, for reasons science doesn't understand yet, the immune system turns on us and attacks healthy tissues and cells. When this happens, we have autoimmune disorders. What are autoimmune disorders and are there any natural treatments for them?
What are Autoimmune Disorders?
In order to understand autoimmune disorders, you need to first understand how the immune system works. A network of organs and cells in the body, the immune system recognises the presence of foreign "bodies" and releases "antibodies" and T lymphocytes (T cells) to ward them off. These antibodies and T cells don't recognise these foreign "invaders" until after the body has been exposed to them once. This is why vaccinations are considered to be effective against disease. When a weak or inactive form of a virus or bacteria is introduced to the body once, the immune system recognises it when it appears again and eliminates it before it can cause disease.
Sometimes, the immune system attacks healthy, normal cells and tissues and causes autoimmune disorder (or disease). There are two types of autoimmune disorders:
- Systemic autoimmune disorders attack several organs at once. A couple of the most commonly known systemic autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
- Localised autoimmune disorders are those that single out a particular tissue or organ. Some of these include Type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis and Addison's disease. One of the most common localised autoimmune diseases is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a disease that strikes the thyroid gland, causing inflammation ("-itis") and hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid function).
While the causes of autoimmune disorders are unknown, studies have shown that women of child bearing years are most susceptible to them. Genetic (hereditary) and environmental factors also seem to play a role in them.
There is no known cure for autoimmune disorders. Instead, conventional medical treatments focus on relief from the symptoms of the specific disorders. Anti-inflammatory drugs are most commonly used, because inflammation occurs in most autoimmune diseases. Other conventional treatments include replacement therapies, such as insulin for diabetes and thyroid hormone replacement for thyroid related disorders. In severe cases, surgery is used. More recently, immune system suppressants have been used.
Natural Treatments for Autoimmune Disorders
Natural therapists use a variety of treatments to address autoimmune disorders:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners use herbs, acupuncture and acupressure to restore the body's energetic balance and by extension, restore the immune system to its proper function.
- Herbalists prescribe anti-inflammatory herbs, intestinal cleansing herbs and other plant-based medications to flush impurities out of the body. Their theory is that the immune system is trying to do its job, but is unable to effectively deal with substances such as heavy metals, pesticides, food additives and other substances that are a result of our modern lifestyle.
- Some dieticians and other natural therapists seek to find specific foods or food groups that may be responsible for triggering or exacerbating autoimmune system disorders.
For some specific natural remedies for autoimmune disorders, check out our NT Pages article, Autoimmune Disease
Many natural therapists point to the fact that autoimmune disorders overwhelmingly occur in developed countries and cite environmental and dietary factors as probable causes. Although controversial, some holistic doctors
claim to have had remarkable success using natural therapies when conventional treatments have failed.
Autoimmune disorders continue to baffle both conventional and natural health practitioners. Most experts agree that the best way to treat them is to get a professional diagnosis first and then take a holistic approach. At the very least, you will know what you're dealing with and find symptomatic relief. You may even find you get substantial relief from your symptoms and be able to return to your normal life again.