The next few months will be fairly taxing on the immune system as we might start to experience symptoms of hay fever. Many of us look to boost the immune system but, especially with autoimmune and allergy symptoms, it is more important to modulate the immune response, as a lot of these symptoms are the immune system overreacting.
What is an autoimmune condition?
Autoimmune disease is defined as a condition in which tissue injury and loss of function is caused by t-cell or antibody injury to self. It is a major cause of concern in the modern world and spans over many different systems of the body.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include diabetes type 1 & 2, IBD, Hashimoto’s, Graves’ Disease and ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints).
Some factors that increase the risk of autoimmune, immunity and allergies
Infective triggers – often mixed with genetic factors, can dramatically increase the risk of autoimmune disease.
Environmental triggers – smoking
Poor diet – low nutritional stores of nutrients needed for immune function or irritating foods
Sex hormones and gender – 75% of patients with autoimmune disease are women.
Ways to modulate the immune response
Caring for the gut epithelial barrier
While triggers may end up being the causative factor to tip the scales, the gut shouldn’t be underestimated as it is the barrier. The gut controls and decides between the self and what needs to be defended against. If the gut isn’t properly operating, the immune response it may send out could be an improper signal. By utilising herbs, nutrients and food as medicine, we can help to repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation at the gut wall.
Research shows that different ranges of microbiome make-up in the gut can predict a higher chance of developing an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
If you are pregnant or looking to get pregnant, implementing probiotics into your treatment plan for pregnancy and lactation can help prevent food allergies and autoimmune conditions.
Caring for your microbiome will also help to support the health of the epithelial layer of the gut.
Caring for liver detoxification
When there is an increased load, the liver becomes overwhelmed. It only has so much capacity for waste removal. By reducing this, it reduces the load on the immune system to clear up dead cells, waste, toxins and reduce inflammation from trigger exposure.
Spring is a great time to focus on liver detoxification and support. We can easily clean up our diet to ensure that we are not adding more load to our liver and including bitter foods in our diet can also help to support and stimulate detoxification pathways.
Avoiding trigger foods
Keeping a journal is a great way to work out your trigger foods as these foods can disrupt immune functioning. Common foods that can cause reactions include cow’s milk, gluten, yeast, trans fats, alcohol and sulphur-containing foods.
Food as medicine
These are crucial in every diet but so important for protecting the immune system. Antioxidants help reduce free radicals in the body which cause inflammation. Many of the components such as polyphenols also have a distinct action on our gut bacteria, helping to support the ones we want and kill of the nasty disease-causing bacteria.
Including at least five serves per day of foods rich in colour (berries, rosemary, turmeric, green tea, dark chocolate, citrus, apples, red cabbage) will help to reduce inflammation, look after our gut and modulate the immune response.
Papaya, kiwi fruit and pineapple
While some of these can cause a reaction in certain people, these fruits contain enzymes to aid digestion and are extremely anti-inflammatory. To get the best out of a pineapple, eat the core which is where it holds the most bromelain (active component). These fruits have been well researched and can help significantly improve symptoms. The active components can also be isolated and used in any treatment plan to see quick improvements.
We love this wonderful herb because it can be used in practitioner doses to get some amazing results. It also can be used as food as medicine easily. Turmeric exhibits some incredible properties that fit well with autoimmune conditions – it’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and depurative (purifying and detoxifying). It has also been well researched for pain conditions, a common feature of many autoimmune and immune complaints.
Written by Ally Stuart BHSc Naturopath
Get a head start on hay fever this season by working with one of our naturopaths to get your gut healthy, control your immune response and discover the best ways to use food as medicine. Book an appointment.
Have you tried every diet under the sun but nothing seems to work for you in the long term? Perhaps you have tried going keto or low fat and actually gained weight and felt worse?
Have you ever wondered why some people feel amazing taking a supplement such as vitamin B12 and yet others feel no change or even feel worse?
Or maybe you want to understand why your hormonal symptoms don’t respond to standard treatment approaches?
The answer lies in your DNA.
You are 100% unique, made up of pairs of genes inherited from your mother and father. These genes strongly influence your biochemistry such as how you metabolise and transport nutrients, fats, neurotransmitters and hormones.
As a naturopath and nutrigenomics nerd, I often work with people who have complex case histories who have seen multiple practitioners and haven’t got the answers they need and so they come to see me as a last resort. This is my passion and I LOVE empowering patients with the knowledge they need to supercharge their own genetics and improve their health and wellbeing.
So, who can benefit from genetic testing?
Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases
Chronic low-grade inflammation is the driver of EVERY SINGLE autoimmune and inflammatory condition including Hashimoto’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, endometriosis, PCOS and chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) which includes breast implants disease, to name just a few.
Understanding how your body deals with inflammation and oxidative stress is empowering. There are so many ways to positively influence and regulate your genetic activity and you will learn how to do this through diet, lifestyle and with the correct supplementation for YOU.
Metabolic diseases and weight issues
Metabolic diseases include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, obesity and fatty liver, as well as many others. DNA testing can uncover specific genetic variants that may be impacting on your risk of developing these conditions and allow you to offset these risks. Every single gene that is tested is known to respond to nutritional, herbal and lifestyle interventions, which means we can significantly influence your genetic expression and improve your health and wellbeing.
For example, there are several genes associated with hypertension and, depending on which genetic variants you have inherited, there are likely to be different interventions that will help you. Not everyone needs to avoid salt for example.
Similarly, understanding how your body metabolises and transports fats and lipids can help you to choose the right foods to manage cholesterol and promote weight loss. For some people, following a ketogenic or low-fat diet (as an example) can be the exact opposite of what they should be eating for health. If this sounds like you, genetic testing could be the BIG answer you are looking for.
I have worked with a number of women with oestrogen-dominant conditions, such as fibroids, various cancers and endometriosis, to help them understand how their body processes and clears hormones. In most cases, genetic testing has uncovered what is missing in their hormonal health picture and been the key to achieving the change they require. This is particularly important for women who have a history of hormonal contraceptive use, multiple IVF rounds and hormonal replacement therapy.
This is a perfect example of where DNA testing can literally be the missing link for women, as every single case has been different and therefore treatment approaches need to be different too.
Unexplained infertility and preconception care
There are so many factors that contribute to unexplained infertility including methylation issues (i.e. MTHFR genetic polymorphisms), hormone receptor issues and inflammation and oxidative stress. DNA testing has identified issues for many couples I have worked with over the last two years at Kismet and meeting these new Kismet babies is one of the best parts of my job.
How genetic testing works
Genetic testing is available in clinic and is performed by way of a simple, non-invasive oral swab which is then processed by one of two reputable Australian companies. Both companies have the highest standards when it comes to privacy and your data, and only test genetic variants that are evidence-based and known to have a significant impact on human health, unlike many commercially available tests.
Your results are then analysed, and a clinical interpretation is undertaken. This important part of the process requires an experienced practitioner trained in understanding and interpreting the tests (that’s me!).
Nutritional and lifestyle interventions are clinically shown to alter genetic expression or compensate for the effect of their variation. Following the clinical interpretation, a personalised treatment plan is provided which incorporates your genetics and environmental factors.
Ready to take the next step?
As an experienced naturopath and nutrigenomics specialist, I can organise genetic testing for you, determine your unique underlying drivers and develop a treatment plan that will include specific advice to optimise your genes and improve your health and wellbeing.
Written by Denise Berry BHSc Naturopath
If you want to understand your own genetic blueprint and how you can maximise your genetic health, make a booking to see Denise today. Book an appointment.
Inflammation is a normal biological response within the body. The inflammatory response is triggered by stimuli such as pathogens, dead, injured or infected cells, toxic compounds or radiation. It is a healthy response in which the body helps to bring circulation to the area to remove and heal the problem. However, if the inflammatory response is continuously initiated, it amplifies damage to the body, and this damage can lead to disease.
Often people are trying to switch of inflammation but, as it’s a natural process within the body, we should be striving to regulate it. It is not about stopping what’s going on but rather we want the body to be able to utilise its own innate intelligence to heal. Being in a state of continual inflammation can lead to chronic inflammatory conditions.
Our modern day lives are rife with irritating substances ingested through diet, the environment and the day-to-day stress we all experience with our fast-paced lifestyles.
Chronic diseases that are driven by inflammation:
Chronic lung disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
Fatty liver disease
We are even noticing how inflammation affects not so chronic disease such as mental health disorders, fertility, skin conditions and everyday vitality.
How does this all piece together and why don’t I have all these diseases?
We all have our own set of genetics and grew up in completely different environments. This all intertwines to switch on and off different genetic pathways.
WHAT CAUSES INFLAMMATION
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we are surrounded by toxins. We can do our best to minimise the intake of these toxins but we can also help our bodies to excrete them easier. This can be done by supporting the pathways of elimination such as our digestive system, liver, skin and urinary system using proper nutrition and herbs.
Our diet plays a major role in how inflammation acts within the body. By reducing toxins in our diet, we can ensure we aren’t adding to the inflammatory response. This means being mindful of chemicals used in food and non-organic produce, oxidised fats and highly processed oils (e.g. canola) as these can set off the inflammatory response.
Chronic low-grade inflammation is a well recognised contributing factor to type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep increases the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and interleukin 6, and 24-hour secretion of cortisol is also elevated.
Infections & injury
This should be the main source of inflammation and it should be transient. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t completely heal and put strain on ourselves in other ways that means we don’t fully recover. Ensuring we are getting lots of rest and giving our body what it needs to heal is important to resolve the remaining inflammation.
Eat the rainbow! Yes, you’ve heard this before and it sounds like fun, but it has a massive impact on inflammation and also contributes to supporting microbiome health which plays a major role in reducing inflammation. The deeper the colour of the food, the more antioxidant rich. Think red cabbage, dark chocolate, blueberries, apples, strawberries.
Get good sleep
Among so many other benefits, sleep plays a major role in immune regulation, reducing stress and reducing inflammatory pathway activation. Make sure you maintain a regular bedtime, staying away from phones and as much light as possible and ceasing any caffeine before 12pm.
Removing any stimuli
Addressing your environment is important as part of treatment to stop the constant stress on your immune system. This means ensuring your house isn’t filled with toxic chemicals (personal and cleaning products), watching out for mould and not over training.
Support the inflammatory response and your immune system
Ensure the immune response is appropriate to what is going into the body. Many conditions have progressed to autoimmune conditions meaning the body has started attacking its own cells. We can support our immune system by lessening our stress levels, supporting our gut health and including immune-modulating nutrients such as zinc, vitamin a, vitamin c and selenium.
Turmeric is one of my favourite herbs as it is effective and has been widely studied for its many uses. It is well known to have applications in inflammatory conditions. The most fabulous thing about this herb is the multitude of ways you can use it in your everyday diet. If you are on medication, it is important to speak to a practitioner before taking turmeric as it can interact with medication.
Speak to one of our naturopaths to get a health assessment and find out if inflammation is a driver of your health condition. Book an appointment.
With many scientists around the world working to create potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, it may be hard to see why you would need to be doing anything yourself. However, there is a lot you can – and should – do to prepare your immune system naturally. After all, it is your best defence against not only COVID-19 but all infections! Preparing your body can also be the difference when it comes to the severity of the symptoms you may experience if you do get ill.
It is very important to also comply with government and World Health Organization recommendations but that does not mean you can’t take responsibility for your own health, creating a warrior-like immune system ready to fight off anything that comes its way.
Acute naturopathic treatment will focus on the systems most affected by the pathogens, including the lungs, systemic inflammation and mucous membranes (ears, nose, throat, gut, mouth). Every case will be different and may have a completely different symptom picture. It is crucial to ensure you are helping your body recover to the best of its ability to prevent any complications now or in the future. Treatment is tailored and directed to specific areas that require immediate attention.
(Our acute appointments are ideal for this type of illness as they are just 20 minutes in duration and focused on the presenting symptoms.)
Testing is also important to gauge where systems in your body may be affected or to assess levels of critical nutrients and cofactors required for immune function. Testing allows us to get a clear picture of what is going on and treat it quickly and effectively.
Immune system boosting nutrients and food
Our diet plays an extremely important part in how well our body functions. By consuming nutrient rich foods necessary for optimal functioning, we can positively affect and even boost our immune system.
Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s response to pathogens, creating a tailored response to infection. It also has a high influence on the regulation of cytokine production of the immune system. Making sure you are getting out in the sun is important as people who are depleted of vitamin D have a higher risk of infection. Fifteen minutes of sunlight in the middle of the day is a great start to boosting your vitamin D levels. Some small amounts of vitamin D are found in fatty fish, butter, eggs, fish and liver. As we head into winter it is more difficult to get your recommended daily dose so a supplement may be required.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and immunostimulant that regulates immune cells. There are certain states that compromise our vitamin C levels including air pollution (for example bushfires) and physiological stress, which unfortunately covers a lot of us in Australia this year. High amounts of vitamin C can be found in kiwi fruit, capsicum, papaya, berries, broccoli, lemon, lime, pineapple and cabbage. Aim to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in their raw state where possible as cooking reduces vitamin C significantly, with up to 100 per cent reduction in some cooking methods.
Selenium prevents pathogens from replicating and holding onto our cells. It is an antioxidant and immunomodulator meaning it regulates, not overstimulates, our immune cells. Infection is shown to severely deplete selenium so boosting stores post-infection is important. Luckily, one brazil nut is the daily recommended dose so indulge in a few to boost your levels quickly. Selenium is also found in grass-fed meat and shellfish.
Vitamin A is an important antioxidant immune stimulant and supports mucosal immunity. Vitamin A creates a surface that can help combat the pathogen at the site. Vitamin A is also a mucolytic meaning it helps to break up mucus, a problematic facet of COVID-19. Good quality vitamin A can be hard to obtain but the best sources are butter, eggs, grass-fed meats, liver and sardines. An antioxidant that converts to vitamin A is beta carotene which can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, squash, broccoli and peas. However, it does require conversion to work within the body.
Zinc is critical for all development of immune cells. Australian soils are depleted of zinc so we need to consciously consume this nutrient. Also, unfortunately, it does not store in the body making it even more important to ensure we include it in our diet every day. Suboptimal zinc ingestion can lead to reduced immune defence capacity by as much as 30–80 per cent. The best sources of zinc are shellfish, oysters, grass-fed meats, cashews, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.
Essential fatty acids are the cell gatekeepers of immune cell regulation and influence the behaviour of proteins involved in immune cell activation. They also play an important role in regulating inflammatory responses. This is crucial for COVID-19 treatment due to the out of control inflammatory response which is the cause of the more sinister issues. Most concentrated sources which are lower in heavy metals include fatty fish, mackerel, halibut, herring, sardines and salmon. Vegetarians can obtain ALA from consuming chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts however it requires conversion within the body making it less efficient.
Probiotics create a protective barrier against antigens, influence immune response and modulate the immune system (including modulation of cytokine response). You can stimulate the gut bacteria through fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir. Alternatively, stimulation through feeding your beneficial gut bacteria via prebiotics is another angle. Prebiotic foods include artichoke, bananas, chicory, garlic, leek and onions. It is recommended to further investigate microbiome levels as this can provide a more targeted approach.
Quercetin directly inhibits coronavirus replication and draws zinc into the cell to help combat the pathogens. It is found most densely in onion, capsicum, grapes, tea (black and green), cherries, leafy greens, apples, grapes and red wine. It is an antioxidant, antiviral, immunomodulator and anti-inflammatory. Quercetin is also cardioprotective and antidiabetic.
If in doubt, eat the rainbow!
A varied diet of unprocessed and organic foods covers many bases from a nutrient perspective and helps to reduce inflammation which reduces cytokine production.
(Our Immune Packs contain high quality products to assist with boosting your immunity. Check them out under Health Kits in our shop.)
If you would like to know more about boosting your immunity through naturopathic treatment, book an appointment with one of our naturopaths. Treatment provided is individual and targeted to your needs.
Vaginal thrush or yeast infection is the common name for an infection of the vagina and vulva most commonly caused by the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans. Thrush is an opportunistic infection, meaning it takes advantage of the body’s weakened defence mechanisms including a weakened immune system, alterations in the microbiota and permeability of the epithelial cell wall barrier of the vagina.
Approximately 75 per cent of women will experience vulvovaginal candidiasis during some stage of their lives. Thrush is also more common throughout pregnancy, affecting up to 40 per cent of pregnant women, in post-menopausal women, with uncontrolled diabetes and with use of oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics.
Pathogenic Candida albicans are able to destroy cells within the vagina leading to inflammation, immune responses and, as a result, the symptoms associated with this condition.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of vulvovaginal candidiasis are specific to the vagina or vulva regions of the body and can include:
Inflammation (redness) Intense itching Thick, white vaginal discharge, usually resembling cottage cheese Pain during intercourse or urination.
The body’s own defence against candidiasis
The pH of the vagina should ideally be between 3.5–4.2, which provides an acidic environment that inhibits the growth of pathogenic microorganisms including Candida albicans.
One of the body’s defence mechanisms against Candida albicans is the microbiota that live within the vagina. Certain strains of bacteria within the vagina produce antimicrobial substances as well as lactic acid, which promote a more acidic environment and which pathogenic microorganisms are unable to survive in. Studies have shown that women with a microbiota that is Lactobacillus-dominant have a reduced risk of reproductive tract infections.
Epithelial cell barriers
The epithelial cells of the vagina are part of the innate immune system and contain receptors that respond to various pathogens by triggering immune responses and the release of antimicrobial and antifungal substances. These cells also trigger the release of substances that function in repairing and remodeling the epithelial cells following damage caused by pathogens such as Candida albicans.
Recurrent thrush is the presence of four to six vulvovaginal candidiasis infections a year. Research suggests that a contributing factor to the recurrence of thrush is the result of biofilm. A biofilm is a structure that may be formed on the surface of vaginal epithelial cells, which certain microorganisms may embed in. This structure provides protection of the embedded microorganisms against external unfavourable environments or threats such as antibiotics and the body’s own immune defences. Biofilms allow microorganisms to persist for longer periods of time and re-emerge when conditions within the vagina are more favourable, providing an explanation as to why infection may re-emerge even after treatment. Certain Candida albicans have also demonstrated the ability to neutralise the acidic environment of the vagina created by lactobacilli as well as alter immune responses, which allow these microorganisms to persist against the body’s natural defence mechanisms.
Naturopathic treatment of thrush
As with all naturopathic medicine, the focus on the treatment of thrush is to aid the body’s own healing mechanisms. In the case of thrush, this treatment aims to support the body’s mechanisms to efficiently fight off infection and prevent further infection and susceptibility. But how do we do this? First, we need to remove risk factors which may be contributing to changes in the environment of the vagina and that promote the overgrowth of Candida albicans.
Creating changes in the microbiota diversity of the vagina with probiotics
We currently stock a practitioner-only probiotic supplement specifically for the treatment of female reproductive tract infections, including candidiasis. This supplement contains two probiotic strains – Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14, both of which have been shown in clinical trials to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 have also been shown to disrupt genito-urinary biofilms which may assist in the prevention of recurrent thrush.
What other factors disrupt the stability of vaginal microbial communities?
The presence of glycogen within the epithelial cells of the vagina positively influences the presence of probiotic Lactobacillus spp. Lactobcillus spp. use glycogen as a source of energy and, throughfermentation of glycogen breakdown products glucose and maltose, produce lactic acid.Oestrogen promotes the availability of glycogen to the epithelial cells. Therefore, throughout various stages of the cycle when oestrogen levels are low, glycogen becomes less available and numbers of lactobacilli decrease. Progesterone and oestrogen also play a role in the regulation of the pH of the vagina, therefore an imbalance of these hormones may create a more alkaline environment which is favourable for the overgrowth of Candida albicans. This is particularly important in individuals who are experiencing hormonal imbalances or women who are going through menopause, as oestrogen levels are naturally declining, resulting in a heightened susceptibility to infection.
Alterations to bacterial colonies within the vagina have been shown throughout the different stages of a woman’s cycle. During menses, a decrease in the number of beneficial lactobacilli, as well as disruption to remaining lactobacilli, has been shown in a number of longitudinal studies. Low levels of lactobacilli have also been reported in the phase immediately following menses. This means susceptibility to infection may be heightened at this time.
Disruption to the numbers of lactobacilli has also been reported immediately following sexual intercourse, again increasing the opportunity for an overgrowth of pathogenic yeast. Other factors to take into consideration are the type of lubrication and contraception methods used. The majority of personal lubrication products on the market have a pH that is higher than the ideal range of the vagina and which can create changes to the vaginal environment. Furthermore, it is also important to take into consideration the osmolality of personal lubricant. The osmolality of a lubricant being too high or too low can cause damage to the epithelial cells of the vagina by causing them to either rupture or dehydrate. Damaged cells increase the risk of vaginal infection. It is recommended that the osmolality of personal lubrication should not exceed 380 mOsm/kg to prevent epithelial damage.
In clinic, we also see a number of preconception clients with vaginal infections such as thrush. Sexual practices, particularly when trying to conceive, can also impact on the pH of the vagina due to semen having an average pH of between 6–7, creating a less acidic vaginal environment which may promote thrush infection. This places emphasis on the importance of education when trying to conceive and knowing when you are most fertile to avoid disrupting the pH of the vagina during less fertile times in the cycle. Avoidance of sexual practices during infection is also recommended.
Vaginal hygiene practices
The use of vaginal douches and intimate hygiene products has been shown to create alterations in the pH of the vagina, favouring conditions for the overgrowth of Candida albicans. Prolonged damp conditions have also been shown to contribute to the overgrowth of Candida albicans. Ensuring the external vaginal area is completely dry, through the avoidance of prolonged wearing of a wet bathing suit or damp or wet underwear, reduces the risk of infection. Ensuring that you wipe front to back after voiding the bladder or bowel is also important in preventing the translocation of microorganisms from the bowel to the reproductive tract.
It is also recommended that cotton underwear should be worn, that tight clothing is avoided and personal clothing should be washed in hot water and ideally separated from others.
There are also a number of dietary factors that impact on the growth of pathogenic yeasts within the body. Naturopathic consultation for the treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis involves an extensive assessment of both dietary and lifestyle factors which may be contributing to a thrush infection, individual to each client.
If you would like more information on the dietary and lifestyle factors that contribute to thrush or other female reproductive infections, or you would like assistance in treating thrush naturally, book an appointment with our naturopath, Karly, by clicking here.
Brooks, J. P., Edwards, D. J., Blithe, D. L., Fettweis, J. M., Serrano, M. G., Sheth, N. U., … Jefferson, K. K. (2017). Effects of combined oral contraceptives, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate and the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system on the vaginal microbiome. Contraception, 95(4), 405–413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.contraception.2016.11.006
Cassone, A. (2015). Vulvovaginal Candida albicans infections: Pathogenesis, immunity and vaccine prospects. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 122(6), 785–794. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.12994
Crucitti, T. (2017). Eve’s garden: myths, legends and secrets unmasked. Research in Microbiology, 168(9–10), 773–781. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resmic.2017.07.004
Martins, N., Ferreira, I. C. F. R., Barros, L., Silva, S., & Henriques, M. (2014). Candidiasis: Predisposing Factors, Prevention, Diagnosis and Alternative Treatment. Mycopathologia, 177(5–6), 223–240. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11046-014-9749-1
O’Hanlon, D. E., Moench, T. R., & Cone, R. A. (2013). Vaginal pH and microbicidal lactic acid when lactobacilli dominate the microbiota. PLoS ONE, 8(11), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080074
Tachedjian, G., Aldunate, M., Bradshaw, C. S., & Cone, R. A. (2017). The role of lactic acid production by probiotic Lactobacillus species in vaginal health. Research in Microbiology, 168(9–10), 782–792. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resmic.2017.04.001
Autoimmune diseases are characterised by chronic inflammation with a loss of self-tolerance to ‘self’ or ‘auto’ antigens. This means that the immune system recognises its own specific body cells as ‘invaders’ which triggers an abnormal immune response to these cells, resulting in damage to organsor, in some cases, throughout the whole body. The causes of autoimmunity are poorly understood but are commonly seen as being multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, hormonal and immune factors. Key factors involve abnormal cytokine biology and activation of auto- or self-reactive CD4 positive T cells. It is suggested that autoimmune diseases occur in genetically susceptible individuals in which an environmental trigger activates the abnormal immune processes, leading to metabolic changes and then, as a result, the symptoms associated with these changes.
Environmental factors that trigger these immune processes include reproductive hormones, mechanical injury, chemicals (such as cigarette smoke) and, most significantly, viral and bacterial infections. The impacts of an ‘industrialised, western’ diet are also largely postulated as an environmental trigger and a risk factor to autoimmunity. Alongside this is the evidence of low levels of specific nutrients associated with a number of autoimmune diseases. However, not all environmental triggers to autoimmune conditions have been proven and further research is required to identify other potential environmental triggers for these conditions. Recent findings are also suggesting significant links between our microbiota (the microbes that reside within our body) and chronic inflammatory diseases and, particularly, autoimmune diseases.
Pending further research to determine the exact causes of autoimmunity, some factors associated with autoimmune conditions include:
infections such as shingles, frequent cold sores and Helicobacter pylori
long term use of permanent hair dyes
Autoimmune conditions are more common in females than males, with the exception of a few specific diseases.
occupational exposure to chemicals such as silica dust and pesticides
Naturopathic treatment of autoimmune conditions
As with all conditions, naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions is holistic and encompasses all aspects contributing to the individual’s condition. Interventions may involve lifestyle and dietary modifications, together with supplementation using nutrients and herbal medicine if required. As autoimmune conditions are characterised by chronic inflammation and dysregulation of immune responses, management focuses on factors that contribute to inflammation and immune system triggers, as well as supporting organs and tissues damaged as a result of these conditions. Naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions may involve:
identifying, eliminating and managing primary causes, triggers and contributing factors
restoring gastrointestinal health. Studies have shown links exist between a dysregulated intestinal epithelial barrier (leaky gut) and the potential development of autoimmunity.
modulating and improving immune responses
reducing stress. Physiological and emotional stress can increase systemic inflammation and contribute to inflammatory processes that occur in autoimmune conditions.
Vitamin D has potent immunomodulatory properties in which it selectively suppresses the activity of immune cells implicated in autoimmune conditions. Through this function, its use is supported in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, including systemic lupus erythematous (SLE). Studies have demonstrated decreased inflammatory markers with vitamin D supplementation, as well as a strong inverse relationship between serum vitamin D levels and relapse rates in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients after supplementation. For further information on the functions of vitamin D in our body, and particularly the immune system, check out our vitamin D blog post here.
Probiotics play a beneficial role in ‘leaky gut’ and have been shown to modulate mucin (a principle component of mucous required for healthy mucosal surfaces) production while also strengthening tight gap junctions. Various strain-specific probiotics have also been shown to improve intestinal hyper-permeability. Specific strains of probiotics have also been shown to decrease inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have both immune-modulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have demonstrated reduced levels of inflammatory markers within the body with supplementation of fish oil.
Zinc status plays a significant role in immune responses as well as promoting normal tissue repair, with low zinc levels also being associated with inflammatory conditions. Zinc aids in restoring normal immune function without having immune stimulating effects, important in the management of autoimmune conditions.
There are numerous herbs that are indicated for use in autoimmune conditions. Curcuma longa has potent anti-inflammatory properties beneficial in reducing chronic inflammation associated with autoimmunity.
Gentiana lutea offers a synergy of bitter and anti-inflammatory action that is well indicated for leaky gut, while also providing some anti-microbial activity that could improve dysbiosis.
Glycyrrhiza glabra is another herbal option indicated for its demulcent and anti-inflammatory properties. It is known to increase mucus production to protect the epithelial lining impacted in leaky gut conditions.
Hemidesmus indicus, albizia lebbeck, rehmannia glutinosa exert an immunosuppressant action which downregulates the heightened immune responses experienced in autoimmunity.
Both astragalus membranaceus and echinacea purpurea may also be beneficial in the management of autoimmune conditions due to their immunomodulatory properties.
Withania somnifera, eleutherococcus senticosus, centella asiatica, bacopa monnieri and glycyrrhyza glabraare all classed as adaptogens which have broad therapeutic activity that encourages the body to adapt better to stress as indicated in autoimmune conditions. Many adaptogens also exert immunomodulatory properties.
As stated, autoimmune conditions are multifactorial with many different contributing factors to the onset and progression of these diseases. Naturopathic medicine aims to support and manage a wide range of aspects contributing to each individual’s specific case.
For further information on the naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions, contact our naturopath, Karly, at email@example.com or book an appointment here.
It was recently reported that there has been 50 plus cases of RRV in North East Victoria, I have been asked by a couple of local people about natural treatment options so here is a post with some information.
Yes, Naturopaths can help!
Ross River Virus affects the immune system, causing joint pain, fevers and rashes. There are many different treatment options that we use to help reduce pain and support your immune. Some of these include vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, probiotics (because 70% of our immune system exists in our gut) along with herbal medicine mixtures targeted to the immune system such as Echinacea, Andrographis, St Johns Wort and Astragalus along with anti-inflammatory herbs such as Curcumin and Boswellia.
RRV tends to hibernate and this is why focusing on and creating long-term healthy lifestyles is so important to properly manage the condition. When the immune system is lowered for example as we enter winter and people start to get colds it is likely that people who have had RRV previously with have flare ups, this can however be prevented by building healthy immune systems.
Also as a side note – the common recommendation is anti-inflammatory drugs. This is however a concern as these medications can cause gut issues which then affects the immune system, therefore creating a vicious cycle. Lets treat the issue, not create more!
This is also an important reminder to prevent getting the virus by wearing appropriate clothing, using repellent and if your immune system is low then consider making it stronger by booking an appointment here.
Karly Fisher (BHSc)
Naturopath & Nutritionist
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