Autoimmune Disease & Naturopathic Medicine

Amy Rothenberg ND
Feb 17 · 4 min read
Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

The immune system is a marvelous, complex, agile, elegant and essential part of the human body. Able to fight off infection, mount brave attacks on foreign entities and recall previous biological insults in order to prevent them from coming back, we know the immune system performs amazing feats on a regular basis.

With the clarity of a sharpshooter, the immune system distinguishes between pathogens and the myriad of our healthy cells. And sometimes it goes sideways. When the immune system mounts reaction to external exposures such as dust, dander or particular foods, we have an allergy. If we take that continuum a little further, the immune system can go way over board and begin to attack our own tissues and organs, wrecking havoc with have autoimmune disease.

The New York Times Magazine published a compelling piece a a few years back, The Boy With a Thorn in His Joints by Susannah Meadows, written by a mother of little boy who had been diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). After pursuing appropriate diagnostic workups and trying the conventional medical approaches to no avail, Ms. Meadows and her family decided to pursue less conventional approaches, including looking at diet, natural supplements and botanical medicines. Their story had a guardedly happy ending, the boy remained mostly symptom-free past the one-year mark. His only setbacks occurred after taking antibiotics and after eating gluten. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis does sometimes spontaneously remit, though less commonly when many joints are involved, as in his case. Meadows makes a compelling case for at least looking into some less conventional approaches.

Such approaches to chronic ailments are the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine and have been used by naturopathic doctors (NDs) for decades. Addressing a leaky gut — where GI permeability impacts health — looking in to food allergies, applying a number of natural anti-inflammatory approaches and supplements all work to help even the difficult-to-treat autoimmune ailments like JIA. And important to note, such natural medicine approaches do not carry the side-effect profile of many of the pharmaceutical products often recommended. In the opening paragraphs to the article, when I read about the child’s cousin having severe asthma and serious food allergies, I had an inkling about this child’s own proclivities to developing an immune system issue. Add to that predisposition antibiotic prescriptions for routine childhood ailments, and there was a setup for a perfect storm.

Our health is a product of our genetic inheritance and our environmental exposures. Some of us are more susceptible to falling ill, whether with an acute ailment or chronic disease. It is nearly impossible to escape our genes (though may be less the case in the not-too-distant future!). So creating the healthiest possible environment, eating the right foods, limiting stress, finding outlets for the stress we have, and sidestepping conventional medications when possible, are all things we can do to optimize our genetic predispositions.

I have a patient in my own practice, now in her 30s, who as a 6-year-old presented with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). (Nomenclature of childhood arthritis is a bit of a changing field, but suffice it to say, there is much overlap between a JRA and JIA diagnosis.) With similar approaches used as the boy in this article, she has remained largely symptom-free all these years. I write similar approaches, not exactly the same, as naturopathic medicine, above all, is individualized to the patient at hand, not the diagnosis per se. Sure, there are recommended protocols, but like all medicine, prescriptions must be meted out specifically to a unique patient at a particular point in time.

My patient returns to the office every few years or so. She comes in for what she calls a “tune-up” to address other symptoms that may have arisen, to pose questions about diet and exercise, to tweak her short supplement list. A mother herself now, she is adamant about her children’s proper diet, sidesteps antibiotics if possible, and consciously works to do things that help to create a balanced and healthy gut flora, which she knows is so essential to a proper immune system function — one that is works well enough but does not go overboard! She also works to create a family with a work/play balance and to insure fun times go along with the homework and the chores.

If you are looking for an expert in the field of natural medicine, if you are searching for answers to difficult questions about autoimmune phenomenon and other challenging medical conditions, consider adding a naturopathic doctor to your healthcare team.

Sure, there are recommended protocols, but like all medicine, prescriptions must be created specifically to a unique patient at a particular point in time.

My patient returns to the office every few years or so. She comes in for what she calls a “tune-up” to address other symptoms that may have arisen, to pose questions about diet and exercise, to tweak her short supplement list. A mother herself now, she is adamant about her children’s proper diet, sidesteps antibiotics if possible, and consciously works to do things that help to create a balanced and healthy gut flora for each member of the family, which she knows is so essential to a proper immune system function — that works well enough but does not go overboard! She also works to create a family with a work/play balance and to insure fun times go along with the homework and the chores.

If you are looking for an expert in the field of natural medicine, if you are searching for answers to difficult questions about autoimmune phenomenon and other challenging medical conditions, consider adding a naturopathic doctor to your healthcare team.

See this FAQ on how NDs treat Chron’s and Ulcerative Colitis, other common autoimmune ailments.

#naturopathic #naturopathicmedicine #autoimmune #healthyliving

FieldNotes From Natural Medicine

Stories from the World of Natural Medicine

Amy Rothenberg ND

Written by

American Association of Naturopathic Physician’s 2017 Physician of the Year. Teacher, writer and advocate for healthy living. www.nhcmed.com

FieldNotes From Natural Medicine

Stories from the World of Natural Medicine

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