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Understanding the Link Between Immune Deficiency and Autoimmune Diseases

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on November 27, 2023

Immune deficiency, often resulting from conditions such as Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), not only leads to an increased risk of chronic infections but also paradoxically predisposes individuals to autoimmune diseases. This interplay between immune deficiency and autoimmunity is complex and multifaceted.

Chronic Infections in Immune Deficiency

Increased Susceptibility to Infections: People with primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) like CVID are more prone to severe, recurrent, and sometimes chronic bacterial infections, mainly affecting the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. These infections are often severe due to the impaired immune response​​​​.

Management and Prognosis: Advances in managing and preventing infections in CVID patients, such as antibacterial agents and immunoglobulin replacement therapy (IgRT), have improved the quality of life and prognosis for these patients​​.

Autoimmune Diseases in Immune Deficiency

Autoimmunity in CVID: Autoimmune complications are common in CVID, affecting up to 30% of patients. These may include conditions like cytopenias (including immune thrombocytopenia and autoimmune hemolytic anemia), rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, vitiligo, autoimmune thyroiditis, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, and alopecia​​.

The Paradox of Autoimmunity and Immunodeficiency: While it seems contradictory for autoantibodies to be produced in a state of antibody deficiency, studies suggest that this is due to a balance between stimulatory and inhibitory factors affecting common immune cells. Autoimmunity in immune-deficient patients may result from less effective self-tolerance mechanisms and alterations in immune-regulatory mechanisms​​​​.

Immune Deficiencies Can Be Easily Missed by Routine Labs

When dealing with immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases, it's crucial to recognize that these conditions can often be elusive, presenting normal laboratory results despite underlying issues. This phenomenon underscores the importance of consulting with an environmental medicine literate holistic healthcare provider, such as a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND). These professionals are adept at interpreting subtle nuances in lab results and symptoms that might otherwise be overlooked.

NDs employ a comprehensive approach, considering environmental factors, lifestyle, and individual patient history to uncover hidden immune deficiencies. Their expertise in holistic medicine allows them to identify and address root causes rather than just treating symptoms, providing a more effective and personalized care plan. This approach is especially vital in cases where standard laboratory tests fail to reveal the complexity of the patient's condition, ensuring that underlying immune imbalances are accurately identified and appropriately managed.

Enhancing Immune System Support: The Synergy of Conventional and Integrative Medicine

The relationship between conventional medicine and integrative medicine, particularly in the realm of supporting the immune system, is increasingly collaborative and mutually beneficial. Conventional medicine, with its strong focus on evidence-based treatments and interventions, often turns to integrative approaches to complement and enhance patient care, especially in managing complex immune-related issues. Here's how this collaboration unfolds:

Complementary Strengths

Holistic Viewpoint: Integrative medicine offers a holistic view of patient health, emphasizing the importance of lifestyle, diet, and mental well-being – areas that conventional medicine may not always address in depth. This holistic approach is invaluable in supporting the immune system, as factors like stress, nutrition, and environmental influences play a significant role in immune function.

Patient-Centered Care: Integrative medicine prioritizes personalized care tailored to individual needs and circumstances. This patient-centered approach is increasingly recognized and adopted in conventional settings, acknowledging that immune responses can vary greatly between individuals.

Preventative Strategies: Integrative medicine focuses heavily on prevention, a concept that is gaining traction in conventional medicine. By incorporating preventive strategies from integrative practices, such as dietary changes, stress reduction techniques, and the use of certain supplements, conventional medicine can offer more comprehensive care to support the immune system.

Collaborative Approaches to Treatment

Combining Therapies: Conventional treatments like pharmaceuticals can be effectively combined with integrative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, or massage therapy to enhance immune function and overall well-being.

Managing Chronic Conditions: For chronic conditions that affect the immune system, such as autoimmune diseases, the blend of conventional and integrative medicine can lead to more effective management strategies, utilizing the strengths of both disciplines.

Research and Evidence-Based Practice: The increasing amount of research in integrative medicine provides valuable insights that conventional medicine can utilize. This growing body of evidence helps bridge the gap between the two fields, leading to more informed, effective approaches in supporting the immune system.

Educational Exchange

Cross-Disciplinary Training: Medical professionals are increasingly seeking training in both conventional and integrative approaches, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of immune system support.

Shared Knowledge and Resources: Conferences, journals, and professional networks often feature cross-disciplinary learning, enabling practitioners from both fields to stay updated on the latest in immune system support.

To summarize, conventional medicine relies on integrative medicine for a more holistic, preventative, and personalized approach to immune system support. This collaboration enriches patient care, combining the best of both worlds to effectively manage and enhance immune function. As the two disciplines continue to intersect, patients benefit from a more comprehensive, well-rounded approach to healthcare.

Portland Clinic of Natural Health Approach

At the Portland Clinic of Natural Health, naturopathic doctors (NDs) specialize in addressing these complex conditions. Their approach includes:

Assessing Environmental Factors: The NDs at the clinic focus on identifying environmental factors that may contribute to immune imbalances and predispose patients to chronic infections or autoimmune diseases.

Expertise in Complex Conditions: Their expertise in handling immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases enables them to provide tailored treatments, aiming to improve the quality of life and reduce associated complications.

In summary, immune deficiencies like CVID not only increase the risk of chronic infections but also predispose individuals to various autoimmune diseases. The relationship between immune deficiency and autoimmunity is intricate, involving a balance between various immune components. Clinics like the Portland Clinic of Natural Health are crucial in providing specialized care for patients with these complex conditions, focusing on environmental factors and personalized treatment strategies.


  1. Yazdani R, Habibi S, Sharifi L, Azizi G, Abolhassani H, Olbrich P, Aghamohammadi A. Common Variable Immunodeficiency: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis, Classification, and Management. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2020;30(1):14-34. doi: 10.18176/jiaci.0388. Epub 2019 Feb 11. PMID: 30741636.
  2. Richard-Eaglin A, Smallheer BA. Immunosuppressive/Autoimmune Disorders. Nurs Clin North Am. 2018 Sep;53(3):319-334. doi: 10.1016/j.cnur.2018.04.002. PMID: 30099999.
  3. Smith DA, Germolec DR. Introduction to immunology and autoimmunity. Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Oct;107 Suppl 5(Suppl 5):661-5. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107s5661. PMID: 10502528; PMCID: PMC1566249.

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