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What is Autoimmune Disease? Understanding Types and Exploring Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approaches

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on June 7, 2023

Autoimmune diseases are a group of complex disorders that occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. These conditions can affect various parts of the body and can lead to chronic inflammation, tissue damage, and a range of symptoms. In this blog post, we will delve into different types of autoimmune diseases and then explore some naturopathic and functional medicine approaches that can complement conventional treatments. (1)

Understanding Different Types of Autoimmune Diseases:

Autoimmune diseases can affect virtually any organ or system in the body. Here are some of the commonly known autoimmune diseases:

Autoimmune DiseaseDescription
Rheumatoid ArthritisAn inflammatory disease that primarily affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Systemic Lupus ErythematosusA chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect multiple organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, and heart.
Multiple SclerosisA condition characterized by the immune system attacking the protective covering of nerve fibers, leading to communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.
Hashimoto's ThyroiditisAn autoimmune condition that causes inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, leading to an underactive thyroid.
Celiac DiseaseA digestive disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, causing an immune response that damages the small intestine.

Naturopathic Approaches to Autoimmune Diseases:

Naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the root causes of diseases while supporting the body's inherent healing abilities. Although individualized treatment plans are essential in naturopathy, the following approaches are commonly used in managing autoimmune diseases:

  1. Dietary Modifications: A healthy diet can play a crucial role in managing autoimmune conditions. Naturopathic physicians may recommend an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Some individuals may also benefit from eliminating potential trigger foods, such as gluten, dairy, or processed foods, to reduce inflammation and support gut health. (2)
  2. Nutritional Supplements: Supplements can be used to address specific nutrient deficiencies commonly observed in autoimmune diseases. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and probiotics may help modulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and support overall well-being. However, it's important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any supplements. (3)

Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approaches to Autoimmune Diseases:

Functional medicine takes a holistic approach, aiming to identify and address the underlying imbalances that contribute to autoimmune diseases. Some functional medicine strategies include:

  1. Comprehensive Testing: Functional medicine practitioners may recommend specialized tests to assess factors such as gut health, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, and genetic predispositions. These tests help create a personalized treatment plan based on individual needs.
  2. Stress Reduction Techniques: Chronic stress can exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. Functional medicine emphasizes stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises to support the body's self-healing mechanisms and reduce inflammation.
  3. Detoxification Support: Functional medicine recognizes the importance of optimizing the body's detoxification pathways. Detoxification protocols may include targeted nutritional support, lifestyle modifications, and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins that can contribute to immune dysregulation.

Autoimmune diseases are complex conditions that require a multidimensional approach to treatment. While naturopathic and functional medicine approaches can complement conventional treatments, it is essential to work with a qualified healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance based on an individual's unique circumstances. By integrating these approaches, individuals with autoimmune diseases can empower themselves to take an active role in managing their health and promoting overall well-being.


  1. Boitard C. Pathophysiology of autoimmune diseases. Klin Wochenschr. 1990;68 Suppl 21:1-9. PMID: 1973964.
  2. Mazzucca CB, Raineri D, Cappellano G, Chiocchetti A. How to Tackle the Relationship between Autoimmune Diseases and Diet: Well Begun Is Half-Done. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 5;13(11):3956. doi: 10.3390/nu13113956. PMID: 34836210; PMCID: PMC8620243.
  3. Venter C, Eyerich S, Sarin T, Klatt KC. Nutrition and the Immune System: A Complicated Tango. Nutrients. 2020 Mar 19;12(3):818. doi: 10.3390/nu12030818. PMID: 32204518; PMCID: PMC7146186.

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