Autoimmunity is a phenomenon when the body’s immune system has lost self tolerance and
started to produce antibodies that attack body’s own tissues. Depending on which part of the
body is affected, autoimmunity can manifest as a wide range of medical conditions:
- Skin – psoriasis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or discoid lupus erythematosus(DLE), scleraderma, dermatomyositis, pemphigus vulgaris
- Thyroid – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves disease
- Lungs – systemic lupus erythematosus, scleraderma, Wegener granulomatosis, Goodpasture syndrome
- Liver – autoimmune hepatitis
- Pancreas – type 1 diabetes mellitus
- Kidney – systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren syndrome, Wegener granulomatosis,
- Digestive system – ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, celiac disease, Sjogren syndrome
- Joints – rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren syndrome, polymyalgia rheumatica, ankylosing spondylitis and other rheumatologic diseases
- Muscle – polymyositis
- Neuro-muscular junction – myasthenia gravis
- Nerves – multiple sclerosis
- Blood – idiopathic/immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
Autoimmune Diseases in Conventional Medicine
In conventional medicine, these autoimmune conditions fall in the realm of different specialties
and will be treated by specialists, such as rheumatologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist,
dermatologist, hematologist, etc. Treatment varies depending on the organs involved. For
example, Graves disease is often treated with methimazole to inhibit the synthesis of thyroid
hormones, and beta blocker to slow down the heart rate. If medications have failed to control
hyperthyroid symptoms, ablation of the thyroid gland by radioactive iodine may be the choice
of treatment. However, the most commonly applied treatment principle in conventional
medicine for all autoimmune diseases is immune suppression. Glucocorticoids (steroids,
such as prednisone) are often times the first drug of choice for acute flare-ups and disease
crisis. Lower dose of steroid is also used for long-term management. Other commonly used
immune suppressants include methotrexate, azathioprine (Imuran), mycophenolate (CellCept),
and a newer class of drugs known as biologics such as etanercept (Enbrel), abatacept
(Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), etc. While a lot of patients get symptomatic relief from these
medications, they also suffer from side effects of varying degrees. Common side effects of
steroids include diabetes, hypertension, peptic ulcer, osteoporosis, moon facies, etc. Steroids will
also suppress the adrenal gland, which produces the body’s own cortisol (steroid). In some cases,
patients can develop rebound inflammation that’s even worse than their initial illness when they
get off steroid too quickly. Furthermore, the increased risk of infections and cancer is a serious
concern with long-term use of all immune suppressive medications.
Autoimmune Diseases in Naturopathic Medicine
The fundamental question that naturopathic medicine would try to answer is why the body
starts to make antibodies against itself. Researches in conventional medicine have not been able
to answer this question, however they are helping us to know more about genetic factors, the
actions of the immune system that have led to the inflammation and damages and how hormones
affect disease processes. However, it has been recognized in conventional medicine that people
with congenital immune deficiencies have a much higher risk of developing autoimmune and/
or atopic diseases. And that is consistent with my clinical experience with autoimmune diseases.
What I am seeing is a pattern of subclinical immune deficiency combined with progressing
decline of endocrine organs, especially the adrenal gland. These patients typically don’t meet the
criteria of clinical immune deficiencies, and therefore they can’t be diagnosed as such. But their
lab work and medical history clearly show deficiencies in certain areas of the immune system.
Another common finding in their lab work is that some immune indices are abnormally high or
border line high, which usually are the direct contributor to their symptoms.
The adrenal gland produces cortisol, which is the body’s own anti-inflammatory mechanism.
A person who is predisposed to autoimmune diseases can remain asymptomatic as long as the
adrenal glands are functioning well and keeping the auto-antibodies in check. Under certain
circumstances, such as stress, lack of proper nutrition and sleep, viral infections, etc, the adrenal
will fail to keep the balance and the autoimmune process will get out of control. As a result,
inflammation will flare up and patient will start to experience symptoms.
Therefore, the key principles in treating various autoimmune diseases with naturopathic
- Support the immune system, instead of suppressing it. Once the immune system gets stronger, it will have a better capability of regulating itself.
- Support the adrenal gland with what it’s trying to do, i.e., fighting inflammation and regulating immune system. This is especially critical after or during the use of oral steroid due to the steroid’s suppressive effect on the adrenal gland.
Naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine are NOT mutually exclusive. Autoimmune
conditions are often complicated and affect multiple organ systems. Pharmaceutical drugs may
be necessary to provide symptomatic relief while naturopathic medicine tries to work on the root
Please call Dr. Song at 480-388-0099 to find out how naturopathic medicine can help you.