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Nutritional Therapy for Autoimmune Disease

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

In the UK alone, more than 4 million people have at least one autoimmune condition. Internationally, it is now estimated that cases of autoimmune disease are rising by between 3% and 9% every year.

What is Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue, creating a cycle of inflammation and further immune dysregulation; damaging tissues in the body, causing pain and loss of function. Any illness that involves this improper immune response is called an autoimmune disease.

Currently more than 80 autoimmune diseases have been classified by the National Institutes for Health, but the mechanism involved in autoimmune disease is present in 100+ diseases, which are not officially classed as autoimmune diseases, such as Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (known as PCOS).

Here Are Some Of The Most Common Autoimmune Conditions:

  • Endometriosis

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

  • Graves Disease

  • Psoriasis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Type 1 Diabetes

  • Coeliac Disease

Why Does Autoimmune Disease Occur?

Activation of the immune system in autoimmunity precedes the onset of symptoms.

In other words, a set of circumstances occur simultaneously or cumulatively, and once they are all in place, they disturb the balance of the immune system. Once this disturbance exists, the immune system no longer functions in a healthy way.

These combined, accumulative circumstances cause the immune system to act in a pro-inflammatory way, over-reacting to things that aren't actually harmful or dangerous, and instead interrupting healthy function and eventually causing symptoms that, if they’re not halted, will eventually become disease.

Signs You May Have An Autoimmune Disease

If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, especially if you have a combination of them, you may have an autoimmune disease:

  1. Severe period pain, pelvic pain, or experiencing multiple miscarriages

  2. A butterfly shaped rash, hives or recurrent unexplained rashes

  3. Joint pain, muscle pain, muscle weakness or tremors

  4. Unexplained weight loss, rapid heartbeat, insomnia and ‘running hot’

  5. Dry eyes, dry mouth, dry skin

  6. Feeling tired, feeling cold when others aren’t, weight gain, hair loss

  7. Inability to concentrate, focus, or experiencing poor memory

  8. Patches of lost pigment on your skin or your hair

  9. Blood or mucus in your stool, diarrhoea, cramping and abdominal pain

  10. Tingling sensations or numbness in your hands and or feet

What Causes Autoimmunity?

There are multiple underlying factors that contribute to developing autoimmunity. In order to activate the autoimmune mechanism, it is understood that three things are required:

  1. Genetic predisposition

  2. Intestinal Permeability (aka Leaky Gut).

  3. An Environmental Trigger such as bacteria, virus, stress, trauma, inflammation, and cross-reactivity to foods (there is a significant link between gluten, dairy, and autoimmunity)

What Is The Treatment For Autoimmune Disease?

Conventional medical management of autoimmune disease varies slightly from disease to disease, but is generally focused on using drugs to suppress symptoms or attempt to suppress the over-active immune response. As a last resort, surgery may be recommended to remove tissue that has become too badly damaged by the inflammation or the side effects from the drugs taken to manage the symptoms of the autoimmune disease.

However, there are questions as to the effectiveness of such treatments. A 2012 report highlighted the effectiveness of approved therapeutics in a broad group of autoimmune diseases was no more than 50%. Effectiveness was expected to be even lower in the case of biologic therapies, which do not achieve remission in greater than 20-30% of patients.

In light of these statistics, you may wish to explore the complementary and alternative treatment options that can help to improve quality of life for individuals with autoimmune disease.

My Approach To Autoimmune Disease

Here is my thinking about a better way to address autoimmunity:

Conventional treatment of autoimmune disease usually focuses on the area of your symptoms. For example, your joints as in rheumatoid arthritis, or your thyroid in Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.

However, the real issue lies in the immune system.

If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, it is not primarily a thyroid problem, it’s an immune system problem, and until the balance of the immune system has been addressed and restored, it will continue, no matter how much thyroid medication you take. This is possibly one of the reasons why we see individuals 'collecting' autoimmune conditions, because the underlying immune system disturbance is not being addressed.

Addressing this immune disturbance is rarely as simple as identifying a single ‘magic bullet’ trigger.

In some cases, identifying the environmental trigger and removing it can make a tremendous difference - such as eliminating gluten in rheumatoid arthritis - but often it is necessary to address multiple factors in order to restore more normal function to the system.

Due to the multi-factorial nature of working with autoimmunity, there is a lot that can be done to take back control of your health and improve the situation, rather than just relying on your doctor to adjust your medication.

The following factors impact the functioning and balance of the immune system, and are areas that we can investigate together or adjust in order to impact the way the immune system works:

  • Stress

  • Sleep

  • Beliefs and behaviour (such as self-criticism, perfectionism, or having low self-worth)

  • Immune system reactions to food proteins

  • Gut health and ‘leaky gut’

  • Infectious agents such as viral or bacterial infections (which can be latent, or hidden)

  • Pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods and behaviours

  • Toxins such as heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminium, arsenic) or mycotoxins / mold

Where To Begin?

  1. We can begin by looking at and adjusting the food you eat, your sleep and stress levels.

  2. I will likely request some tests based on our initial conversation. For example, we may assess your gut health, to determine any overgrowths or deficiencies there. The gut is the heart and soul of your immune system. It is suggested that anyone with an active autoimmune disease has intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and quite likely imbalances in the bacteria found there, both of which need to be corrected to restore immune health.

  3. We will use Compassionate Inquiry to identify any unconscious dynamics underlaying your life and contributing to your health. Using the Self-Compassion Approach, you will learn how to liberate yourself from them.

This is a basic outline of my approach, but I consider every client individually and will adjust the thinking and approach to fit each person and their history. To read more about my services, click here

Next Steps

Hi I'm Molly, I'm a UK-based Nutritional Therapist (DipION, mBANT, CNHC) and Self-Compassion Coach (MSc) serving my community in Harpenden and online. Here in my little online home, you'll discover the benefits of nutritional therapy and complementary therapies for autoimmune disease and chronic illness.

Want to understand more about nutrition for autoimmune diseases? Download my free recipe book and discover 12 Nutritionist-Certified Recipes to Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Autoimmunity & Chronic Illness.

If you’re ready to take the next step and get back to feeling amazing again, please book a FREE 1:1 call, in which I’d love to talk to you about your own individual diet, share with you some personalised advice, and answer any questions you might have.


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