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Dr. Danielle Desroche

While autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, they can be managed with natural approaches, leading to fewer flare-ups and symptoms, a higher quality of life, and potential disease remission.

The prevalence of autoimmune diseases is increasing at an alarming rate and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. As of 2022, more than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified, and over 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with one or more autoimmune conditions. (Source, Source)

Despite the skyrocketing incidence of autoimmune disease, treatment options are limited and primarily focused on managing symptoms or suppressing the immune system so that it no longer actively attacks the body's tissues.

For example, in the conventional medical model, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is treated by replacing thyroid hormone once the gland has been sufficiently damaged by the autoimmune process. Lupus is treated with drugs that reduce inflammation, such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids, as well as medications that suppress the immune system, like methotrexate. (Source)

However, functional medicine looks at autoimmune disease management differently. While conventional medical therapies that help relieve symptoms and modulate the immune system can be very helpful for individuals with autoimmune diseases, these treatments do not address the underlying causes of autoimmunity. Conversely, when we identify and address the root causes of autoimmune disease, we can not only reduce flare-ups and symptoms, but also improve long-term health.

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Is it Possible to Cure Autoimmune Diseases Naturally?

While it is not possible to cure autoimmune diseases, symptoms can be well managed and you can get your life back! At WellTheory, we take a different perspective on autoimmunity. While susceptibility to autoimmune diseases is undoubtedly influenced by several unmodifiable risk factors, including genetics, sex, and age, many risk factors are modifiable.

The symptoms of autoimmune diseases are like the “stem” and “leaves” of a weed — we see them above ground, but we understand that they grew from roots that originate below the surface. Therefore, pulling up the "roots" (the modifiable risk factors) can stop the weed from growing and potentially generating more weeds! After all, once an initial autoimmune disease develops, there is an increased probability that other autoimmune diseases will subsequently develop.

Is it possible to cure autoimmune diseases naturally using a functional health care approach? While it isn’t possible to cure autoimmune diseases, we can use natural approaches to reduce symptoms and flare-ups, dramatically improve quality of life, and potentially bring autoimmune conditions into remission.

Here, we’ll dive into 5 root-cause approaches, plus a few additional considerations, that can help you alleviate autoimmune symptoms and reclaim your health.

5 Root-Cause Approaches to Decrease Autoimmune Symptoms

Let’s dive into 5 approaches that address autoimmune conditions at the root-cause level. When each of these elements is addressed, we may be able to relieve autoimmune symptoms and greatly enhance quality of life.

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1. Optimize Your Diet

Autoimmune disease may partly stem from an "evolutionary mismatch," an imbalance between our bodies’ biology and our modern environment. Few aspects of modern day life are more mismatched with our biology than the modern Western diet. Therefore, your diet may directly impact the development and progression of autoimmune disease. (Source)

Food influences the trajectory of autoimmune disease in several ways:

  1. Food informs your immune system. It can either increase or decrease chronic inflammation, a driver of autoimmunity. Specific food components, such as gluten, can also disrupt immune tolerance to self-antigens, one of the foundational autoimmunity processes. (Source, Source)
  2. Food influences your gut health. Gut imbalances may be a root cause of autoimmunity. For example, dysbiosis, inflammation, and leaky gut may all underpin autoimmune disease. Eating a diet that promotes a healthy gut microbiome, reduces inflammation, and repairs leaky gut may quell autoimmune disease symptoms. (Source)

Dietary habits that may promote the development and progression of autoimmune disease include eating gluten, refined sugars, and a high dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Insufficiencies of certain nutrients, including vitamin D and selenium, may also impact autoimmune disease. Correcting these nutritional imbalances may facilitate improvements in symptoms and biomarkers of autoimmunity. (Source, Source)

Gluten can influence the progression of autoimmune disease by promoting leaky gut and "molecular mimicry," while high sugar intakes negatively affect the gut microbiome. Molecular mimicry refers to a structural similarity between a protein in a food or a pathogen and a component of human tissue that causes the human immune system to attack itself. Molecular mimicry is believed to play an essential role in autoimmune disease development. (Source, Source, Source)

Conversely, an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, whole foods diet may help the immune system and gut recalibrate, achieving a healthier homeostasis in which autoimmune disease activity is decreased. Supporting the gut microbiota with adequate fiber and fermented foods, and the immune system with sufficient vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, may positively affect autoimmune disease management.

For many people with autoimmune disease, the paleo diet, the autoimmune protocol, or simply adding in anti-inflammatory nutrient dense foods can replete nutrients, restore gut microbiome imbalances, and support overall health by alleviating symptoms. Ultimately, WellTheory’s Care Team aims to create the least restrictive nutritional approach that best supports your health.

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2. Improve Gut Health

Compromised gut health is believed to play a significant role in many autoimmune conditions, not just those that affect the gut!

Imbalances in the gut microbiota, the collection of microorganisms that lives in the digestive tract, may precipitate autoimmunity. A lack of beneficial gut bacteria may result in a “poorly educated” immune system that isn’t sure what it should be reacting to, resulting in inappropriate immune reactions to self-tissues. (Source)

Addressing gut imbalances with interventions such as herbs, probiotics, and digestive support may help regulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve nutrient absorption, resulting in improvements in autoimmune disease symptoms. (Source)  

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3. Shift Your Sleep

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality may provoke autoimmunity by promoting the breakdown of immune system self-tolerance and suppression of T-regulatory cells, immune cells that usually prevent the immune system from mistakenly attacking the body. (Source)

Conversely, optimizing the quality and duration of your sleep may help you reduce autoimmune symptoms naturally by reducing inflammation and regulating your immune system. High-quality sleep also buffers against stress and supports a healthy gut microbiome, addressing two crucial aspects of autoimmune disease healing. (Source, Source)

Several strategies you can apply to optimize your sleep include:

  • Aim for a consistent bedtime and waking time every day.
  • View sunlight by going outside within 30 to 60 minutes of waking. This will help synchronize your circadian rhythm, which plays a critical role in your sleep cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine within 8 to 10 hours of bedtime.
  • Eat your last meal of the day 2 to 3 hours before bed. Eating too close to bedtime is a recipe for restless, non-restorative sleep.
  • Refrain from exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Wear blue light blocking glasses 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom cool (around 65° F is ideal) and as dark as possible.
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4. Manage Your Stress

Physical, mental, and emotional stress are strongly implicated in the development of autoimmune disease. While managing stress may not make your autoimmune condition disappear, it can significantly reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. (Source)

Stress management practices may alleviate autoimmune symptoms by supporting a more resilient intestinal barrier and a healthier community of gut microbes. It may also reduce levels of catecholamines (such as epinephrine and norepinephrine) and glucocorticoids (such as cortisol), neurotransmitters and hormones involved in the stress response that can impact the immune system. (Source, Source)  

In short, managing your stress may help alleviate autoimmune disease naturally as part of a comprehensive approach to autoimmune healing.

There are countless healthy ways to manage stress; the key is to find a stress management practice that you enjoy and can practice consistently, because managing stress is an ongoing effort. Exercise, meditation, guided imagery, and social connection are all great ways to manage stress.

Here are 27 more evidence-based ways you can lower your cortisol levels!

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5. Move Your Body

Exercise offers numerous health benefits for everyone, but may provide some unique benefits for people with autoimmune diseases.

Exercise elevates levels of T-regulatory cells and shifts the balance of Th1 and Th2 immune system activity, balancing the immune system. The Th1 and Th2 branches of the immune system regulate different aspects of immunity; excessive Th1 activity is associated with some organ-specific autoimmune diseases. By balancing Th1 and Th2 activity, exercise may help alleviate aspects of autoimmunity. (Source, Source)

Exercise promotes a healthy gut microbiota, which may support balanced immune system activity. As part of a comprehensive approach to autoimmune disease management, exercise may help reduce autoimmune disease symptoms and improve overall health. (Source)

Of course, it is important to note that exercise intolerance is a common symptom of autoimmunity. Therefore, it's essential to listen to your body when deciding what type and how much exercise to perform.

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Additional Considerations: Address Infections and Toxins

Lesser known, but critically important, strategies that may reduce autoimmune symptoms and flare-ups and bring autoimmune diseases into remission include addressing chronic infections and toxin exposures.

A growing body of research indicates that exposure to pathogens, including harmful bacteria and viruses, may play a role in autoimmune disease development through molecular mimicry and disrupting immune system balance. (Source)

For some autoimmune disease patients, chronic infections may play a role in driving autoimmunity. For example, Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by a tick bite, can trigger autoimmune disease development. In addition, the periodontal pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis is associated with rheumatoid arthritis. (Source, Source)

If chronic infections are contributing to the autoimmune process in your body, treating infections with the guidance of a savvy functional medicine physician or, in the case of P. gingivalis, a biological (holistic) dentist, may support your healing process.

Toxin exposures may also drive autoimmunity in some people. For example, preliminary research suggests that mycotoxins, toxic substances released by mold in water-damaged indoor environments, can aggravate pre-existing neurological autoimmunity. While this research doesn’t provide evidence of causality between mold and mycotoxin exposure and autoimmunity, the association is worthy of further investigation. (Source)

The Bottom Line on a Natural Approach to Autoimmune Disease Care

There is no cure for autoimmune diseases. However, when we address the underlying causes of autoimmune diseases, rather than just suppressing symptoms, we can significantly reduce our symptoms, reduce the frequency of flare-ups, and live fuller, healthier lives.

Healing autoimmune disease requires a multifaceted approach that includes a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet, gut healing strategies, and attention to sleep, stress management, and physical activity. In addition, some people with autoimmune conditions may need to address gut health, chronic infections, and toxins for complete healing. This multifaceted approach to autoimmune disease management can yield better long-term health outcomes and allow you to live a full, vibrant life with autoimmune disease. Learn how WellTheory’s Care Team creates personalized nutrition, lifestyle, and supplement care plans that can help you reach your autoimmune health goals so you can get back to doing the things you love.

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Autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, but 5 natural approaches may reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and even support remission.
Medically Reviwed
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche
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