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Natural Awakenings Rhode Island

A Naturopathic Doctor's View of Autoimmune Disease

Apr 30, 2020 03:06PM ● By Bridget Casey

With viral infections being top-of-mind for most these days, now is a great time to briefly review the human immune system. The immune system is similar to a symphony, with various organs, tissues, glands, cells and chemical messengers all working in concert to recognize, neutralize and rid the body of potential invaders. These “invaders” are typically infectious pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, but they can also include other antigens (small proteins), such as pollen.

Because we are always being exposed to these things, the immune system is in constant surveillance mode—always on the lookout for possible new or repeat invaders. It does this by having a plethora of immune cells in areas where the human body comes in contact with the outside world, such as in the mucous membranes of the sinuses and in the digestive tract. The surveillance immune cells keep watch and, if triggered, then initiate a cascading reaction to neutralize said threat.


While our bodies are well-designed to deal with threats, they can also become overzealous at times. This is essentially what happens with autoimmunity. The immune system starts to recognize one’s own tissues as a threat and begins attacking those tissues. Some examples include autoimmune hypothyroid disease (Hashimoto’s) whereby one’s thyroid tissue starts to be infiltrated with immune cells and destroyed. As one would expect, thyroid function is then negatively affected. Or, this can look like joint inflammation, pain and dysfunction that occurs with rheumatoid arthritis. Multiple sclerosis is fairly specific to nerve tissue degeneration, while lupus is fairly widespread and can include immune attack of various tissues throughout the body.


While the exact cause of autoimmunity is not entirely clear, the leading functional theory is a genetic predisposition combined with chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is usually triggered by one or more of the following factors: chronic infection, particularly with viruses; intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut” syndrome); toxin exposure; pharmaceutical drug reactions; chronic stress or a high-stress experience; trauma, particularly childhood trauma; and hormone imbalance, particularly high estrogen levels, which is likely why we tend to see more autoimmune disease in women versus men.


Naturopathic doctors are uniquely trained to look into the root-causes of their patients’ issues. With that, they tend to address the above-listed causes of autoimmunity, rather than simply suppressing symptoms. If the doctor and patient can determine why said patient developed an autoimmune reaction in the first place, long-term healing and recovery becomes much more viable. Careful investigation, thorough patient interviews and both traditional and functional testing can all be useful in this process. Often, there’s not just one causative factor for any particular person, but more likely a few contributing issues.

Addressing immune balance, along with fixing underlying causative factors, typically has great results when it comes to treating autoimmune disease. A holistic, naturopathic approach will usually include lifestyle recommendations—such as specific dietary recommendations for the individual, stress management practices, exercise and sleep hygiene—as well as targeted natural therapies. Natural therapies can include herbs, supplements, vitamins, minerals and homeopathic medicines. It’s important to work with a well-trained physician when implementing these therapies, especially if pharmaceutical interventions are also on board.

Due to their truly holistic approach, naturopathic doctors are uniquely qualified to help patients overcome the limitations of autoimmune disease.


Bridget Casey, ND, is the owner of Rhode Island Natural Medicine, LLC, located at 35 S. Angell St., Ste. #7, Providence. For more information, call 401-642-5855 or visit