Herbs have historically been used to effectively provide relief from chronic inflammation, however herbal treatments should not be your only line of defense if you are looking to manage your autoimmune condition comprehensively. While herbs offer immense benefits to those struggling to manage symptoms of autoimmune disease, they should not be used alone and should always be used under the supervision and approval of your health care provider. Read on to learn how herbal treatments and herbal supplements may support your larger health goals and provide substantial relief.
The Role of Plants in Health Care
It is true that plants contain powerful lifesaving compounds, so much so that pharmaceutical companies use them as starting points for research and development of new drugs. Well-known drugs that originated in the natural world include penicillin antibiotics, which are derived from fungi, and aspirin, which is based on the salicin found in white willow bark. (Source)
More and more people are becoming aware of just how effective herbs can be in addressing ailments. In this article we’ll look at the top researched herbs for autoimmune disease, and discuss why you should talk to your health care provider about whether they could have a place in your larger care plan.
What Is Autoimmune Disease?
A healthy, functioning immune system is programmed to protect your body from pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. When this function becomes dysregulated, the immune system may target and attack the body’s own cells and tissues, resulting in autoimmune disease. There is a complex relationship between autoimmune disease and genetics, hormones, and dietary and lifestyle choices. (Source, Source)
The symptoms of autoimmune disease vary according to which parts of the body are affected. Autoimmune disease can cause pain and swelling from chronic inflammation that may include symptoms such as joint stiffness and loss of function, muscle aches, weight gain, extreme fatigue, and skin disturbances such as rashes and blisters. Autoimmune diseases in general, but not specific types of the disease, run in families, and you may be more susceptible to developing one if you have affected family members. (Source, Source)
Autoimmunity is becoming more common, and as we discover more about autoimmune diseases we find there are many ways to manage them, both conventional and alternative, available to us. A comprehensive approach comprising several options with coordination among practitioners may be the best way to manage your autoimmune disease. In this article, we’ll look at how you may be able to use herbal treatments to manage your symptoms and increase your quality of life while living with autoimmune disease. (Source, Source)
The Origins of Herbal Treatments
Herbal remedies trace back thousands of years and are at the core of all traditional medicine systems. Traditional medicines are holistic methods of treating the whole person, mind, body, and soul, and focus on overall health rather than just the ailment. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a good example and likely the most recognized of ancient medicinal practices that have become popular in today’s health care setting. With herbal treatments at the forefront of TCM, individuals are supported holistically to restore balance and harmony from within. (Source)
Herbal treatments have been passed down through cultures for centuries to prevent and treat a wide array of ailments and diseases. In less developed parts of the world, traditional and herbal medicine is the only available health care, whereas in industrialized countries such as the United States individuals can rely on conventional care but have options for alternative and integrative care as well. Herbal treatments have been used over the years to promote overall health for those struggling with chronic illnesses versus life-threatening emergencies. (Source)
Why Herbal Treatments — Do they Work?
Due to the wide range of uncomfortable symptoms autoimmune diseases produce, it is common practice to use several methods to manage symptoms most effectively. Herbal treatments can be more cost effective, have fewer side effects, and be more personalized than conventional medicine alone, making them an option to consider. However, herbs should not be used alone to treat any condition and should only be used in conjunction with any preexisting care plan you and your doctor have previously discussed.
Conventional treatment methods may include analgesics, glucocorticoids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), all of which commonly come with adverse side effects. Side effects of conventional methods can include skin disturbances, increased risk of infection, risky interactions with other medications, and autoimmune-like responses due to the effects of immunosuppressive drugs on immune function. (Source, Source).
When managing your autoimmune disorder, the overall effect you’re looking for is to lower systemic inflammation and suppress the immune system so it stops overreacting and causing you discomfort. Herbs contain polyphenols, powerful compounds found in plants, that contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, making them a good choice to treat autoimmune disease. In plants, polyphenols are important in protecting against destructive organisms, and they may have similar benefits for humans. (Source)
Polyphenols can be found in dietary sources such as leafy greens, fruits, tea, coffee, and legumes. You may have noticed that some of these foods mentioned are not AIP compliant and therefore would not be viable sources of polyphenols if adhering to the AIP diet. This is where herbal supplements can truly shine, because you can support your immune system without causing extra inflammation that may stem from intolerable food sources. Backed by centuries of efficacy in supporting a wide variety of illnesses and diseases, herbal treatments hold a lot of potential in managing autoimmune disease symptoms. Read on to find out the top herbs for autoimmune disease. (Source, Source)
The Top 8 Herbs for Autoimmune Disease
Herbs have been used to support chronic and acute illnesses over the years such as cardiovascular disease, prostate dysfunction, and depression, by reducing systemic inflammation and boosting the immune system. Herbal medicines are found in the form of teas, tinctures, capsules, essential oils, salves, syrups, rubs, and tablets. It’s true you don’t need a prescription for them, but there is no standardized protocol for herbs, so it is essential to work with a practitioner who can recommend the best herbs for you while considering your symptoms and diagnosis. Now let’s dig into some of the most common herbs to manage autoimmune diseases. (Source)
Panax ginseng is a well known herbal treatment with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Not many studies have been done on P. ginseng in terms of managing autoimmune disease, but research suggests it regulates the immune system in a number of ways. Herbal medicines are made from the berries, leaves, stalk, and root of the plant. Depending on the processing method, it may be marketed as white ginseng or red ginseng, with the red version believed to have stronger effects. What we are learning about P. ginseng and its properties makes it seem promising as a method for supporting autoimmune health. (Source)
Curcumin has been used in treating pain and wound healing, and has been shown to reduce inflammation levels in those with rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis, both autoimmune diseases. Curcumin comes from the rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant and is high in polyphenols. This herb regulates the immune system by stopping inflammatory cytokines from signaling the immune cells to respond and attack. Not only is curcumin anti-inflammatory, but it also fights oxidative stress, cell death, and infection. (Source, Source)
Chamomile is most commonly found in tea form and comes in two varieties, Roman chamomile and German chamomile. Both varieties are used to address inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual dysregulation, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, and rheumatic pain. This herb is high in polyphenols and the potent oil from the herb is used to protect against inflammation, oxidization, and to soothe skin disturbances, reduce anxiety, and support bacterial infections, eczema, and arthritis. (Source)
Ashwagandha, considered an adaptogenic herb, is an ancient herbal treatment that comes from Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Adaptogenic herbs regulate the stress response and assist the body in being more resilient and adaptive to stress overall. The benefits of ashwagandha include increased stamina and energy without taxing the adrenal glands, protection against memory loss, improved energy levels and mitochondrial health, and improved mood. Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in managing arthritis. (Source)
Borage Seed Oil
Borage seed oil comes from the borage plant that is native to the Mediterranean, and usually comes in a gel capsule form. It is one of the richest sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and research suggests it may have anti-inflammatory properties. Borage seed oil may be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis as GLA may help counteract the effects of chronic inflammation in the body that produce rheumatic symptoms. Alternative herbal treatments to borage seed oil are blackcurrant seed oil and evening primrose oil, both of which may have similar beneficial effects on inflammation. (Source)
Rosemary is a shrub that is native to the Mediterranean Sea and the sub-Himalayan area. This herb is purported to have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may protect cell and molecular health. Rosemary has been therapeutically used to protect the nervous system by regulating the body’s response to external toxic stimuli, such as harmful chemicals or extreme heat or cold. Rosemary may protect your brain health as well as provide temporary relief from anxiety and other mood disorders, and assist with sleep, memory, and pain. Many variations of autoimmune disorders can affect the nervous system and rosemary may be a safe alternative in managing some symptoms. (Source, Source)
The active ingredient in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). This green tea component may provide protection for the immune system due to its regulating effect on T cells, which play a large role in autoimmune diseases. EGCG has been shown to improve symptoms as well as slow down the effects of disease in animals, but there is a lack of study in this area regarding its effects on humans. However, settling down with a nice cup of green tea never hurt anyone! (Source)
Also called Tanacetum parthenium, is a plant that has been used traditionally among Greek and European herbalists. This herb has been used to support rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, infertility, menstruation issues, allergies, asthma, and dizziness due to its anti-inflammatory properties. T. parthenium has immuno-suppressive properties as well that make it a possible method for managing autoimmune symptoms and autoimmune disorders. (Source)
How to Navigate Herbal Treatments with a Practitioner
If you’re considering using or adding herbal treatments to your autoimmune disease care plan, you shouldn’t to go it alone. A practitioner who knows the ins and outs of herbal treatments can give you a comprehensive understanding of what herbs you should use to best manage your autoimmune disease.
Because herbal treatments are an alternative form of care, you may find you already know or are working with a practitioner who practices this form of condition management, such as a chiropractor, naturopath, or acupuncturist. Herbal treatments may come with side effects, so researching and having the support of an herbal practitioner and licensed health care provider is non negotiable in managing your autoimmune disease safely and effectively.
The Bottom Line on Herbal Treatments and Autoimmune Disease
There is so much to be gleaned from herbal medicine and how it can effectively support your autoimmune disease on a more personalized level than conventional care alone. Living with autoimmune disease can be difficult, but finding the right methods of support to manage your symptoms can help you achieve the quality of life you deserve. Though herbal treatments are effective in autoimmune disease management, treating your disease with a food first approach is key as well. If you’re struggling with diet and lifestyle and interested in personalized herbal supplements, let the WellTheory membership take the guesswork out of it. WellTheory’s Care Team can provide hands-on guidance to developing an individualized plan that supports you in integrating more nutrient dense, plant forward foods as well as healthy lifestyle habits to live well with autoimmune disease.