5 Herbs For Autoimmune Diseases: Herbal Arthritis Support

 Let’s talk about 5 herbs for autoimmune diseases that can make a big difference in how you manage your disease….

When you have a healthy immune system, your body is protected from all of the pathogens like bacteria and viruses out in the world that are trying to do you harm. Normally, when a pathogen enters the body, immune cells attack it. They send messages via cytokines (immune system messengers) to the different cells that are responsible for protecting the body from damage.

But, sometimes that system becomes broken and you can develop an autoimmune disease. When that happens, there are several medical treatments available, as well as several commonly used herbs that can provide you with different ways to not just get relief from your symptoms but support your body and help you get control back.

What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

There are over 80 autoimmune diseases on record with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH). Some of them are very common, while many more are less common and significantly harder to diagnose. When the body’s immune system is not behaving, those cytokines that are supposed to be helping the immune system, send messages to start attacking parts of the body that are not pathogens.

A variety of things can trigger autoimmune disease from viral infections to pregnancy, to genes, medication, or any other number of medical conditions. Depending on where the error is occurring, many autoimmune conditions can surface quickly. Types of autoimmune diseases include:

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Psoriatic Arthritis

Inflammatory Bowl Disease like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Type 1 Diabetes

Hashimoto’s

Celiac Disease

and many many more

Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases

When you first develop symptoms, they can appear to be quite subtle. Because of this, people are often misdiagnosed and end up getting the wrong treatment or no treatment at all. Over time, with disease progression, symptoms multiply and become more severe. Eventually, doctors can start to piece more of the puzzle together and can come up with a diagnosis and a more solid treatment plan.

There are so many of these diseases, that there are a variety of symptoms that can occur. It’s nearly impossible to give a list of symptoms that cover all autoimmune diseases, but there are some common ones that can help health professionals be able to diagnose you faster, especially if they accompany each other. Diagnosis is a very important part of the puzzle. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to document them and share them with your provider.

-widespread pain

-joint swelling

-fatigue

-swollen glands

-abdominal pain and digestive issues

-fevers

-skin problems

This is a common symptom list, but not a complete one. If you are experiencing chronic or severe symptoms, document them thoroughly and speak to your doctor.

Treatment Options: Western vs. Alternative

Western Medicine

If you go the conventional medicine route, you’re often met with medications such as corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and biological therapy. Many of these drugs work by suppressing the immune system. Think of this as putting a child in time out for misbehaving…they’re being punished but you haven’t really done much to fix the behavior. It relieves symptoms but it doesn’t really “fix” the problem.

Most of these medications have gone through several clinical trials, have gone through FDA approval, and are part of a common treatment plan that can show a lot of success in lowering chronic inflammation and the severity of symptoms you are experiencing.

However, they do come with a fair share of side effects, some of which can be just as dangerous as leaving your disease untreated. Despite the higher risk, some choose to use pharmaceutical medications to get fast control and avoid disease progression.

There are other options though…

Alternative Medicine

Herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine have a different approach to managing these chronic diseases. With these approaches, the idea is to support the body in achieving healing. Though relieving the uncomfortable symptoms of autoimmune disease is a goal, the primary focus is restoring balance to the immune system and supporting the body in complete healing.

Beneficial Herbs

Herbs can be extremely beneficial to your overall health, even more so if you have chronic illness. When you are choosing herbs to include in your protocol, the following herbs may prove to be beneficial.

However, there are a number of other herbs that can be used to support systems that are damaged as a result of widespread inflammation and progressed disease. Be sure to consider your symptoms, your past medical history, and all of your medications, supplements, and allergies when putting together your protocol. Here are 5 herbs for autoimmune diseases:

 

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Astragalus root

Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogenic herbs help the body to stay strong during times of stress and help it to recover afterward. This herb contains compounds that are beneficial to the heart and to those with chronic illness. In addition to its adaptogenic, antiviral, diuretic, and hypotensive properties, it is also anti-inflammatory and immune amphoteric.

Immune amphoteric herbs are immune modulating herbs. Immune modulating herbs are herbs that can help regulate the immune system. If there is an elevated immune response, such as an autoimmune disease, these herbs can help lower it back to a healthy level. If there is a decreased immune response, such as in cancer patients, they can help stimulate healthy immune function.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging Nettle is one of the most beneficial medicinal plants when it comes to fighting inflammation. It is loaded with anti-inflammatory properties that can help decrease inflammation. It also has antihistamine, antibacterial, nutritive, diuretic, mineralizing, and tonic properties.

In addition to being beneficial for those who have autoimmune disease, it can also be beneficial for those with asthma, allergies, and inflammatory skin conditions.

stinging nettle leaves

Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo)

corydalis plant

Pain is an unfortunate truth for people with autoimmune diseases. Even more unfortunately, the average healthcare provider will not adequately treat patients in a way that keeps their patients functioning without fear of it causing an issue with addiction. Corydalis contains a compound called tetrahydropalmatine (THP), that causes a similar reaction to opium poppy.

It can be used for any type of pain but is most commonly used for pain from arthritis, menstrual pain, and rheumatism. It has analgesic, sedative, and hypnotic properties. If you choose to use Corydalis to help with pain relief, you should not plan to drive until you know how it affects you. It should also not be used while nursing or during pregnancy.

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

So many of the pharmaceutical medications that conventional providers prescribe are very hard on the liver. It’s important to have liver-supportive (hepatoprotective) herbs in your system to help prevent damage to the liver.

Milk Thistle contains a compound called silymarin that is believed to be able to protect the liver from the build-up of toxins that cause damage. It has alterative (blood purifying), hepatoprotective, and cholagogue properties that are incredibly beneficial to the liver and keeping it healthy.

milk thistle

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

turmeric root

Turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties that are very beneficial for those with autoimmune disease. In fact, the anti-inflammatory property is so strong, that it can help alleviate chronic pain associated with inflammation. It also contains antimutagenic, antioxidant, cholagogue (stimulates bile), and hepatoprotective properties, making it very good for helping to prevent liver and gallbladder issues.

Be sure to take Black Pepper with Turmeric to improve the absorption of it.

Herbs NOT To Use

While immune modulating or immune amphoteric herbs can be quite beneficial, immune stimulating herbs can be harmful to people with autoimmune disease. Taking these herbs can increase the activity in the misfiring cytokines, causing more damage to the body.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

Echinacea is a highly stimulating herb to the immune system and should be avoided by all persons with autoimmune disease.

echinacea flower

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

elder berries

Elderberry works by stimulating the cytokines that are specifically affected by autoimmune arthritis. If you take Elderberry and increase that part of the immune system that is already in overdrive, it is possible to increase disease progression and cause more damage.

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

Though Ginseng does have adaptogenic properties, it also has immune boosting properties which should be avoided by someone with an autoimmune disease.

ginseng root

Changes To Make

Whatever approach you take, whether it’s allopathic, herbal, or both, it won’t be enough unless you address all areas of your life. Lifestyle changes and dietary changes are often necessary for those with autoimmune disease.

Lifestyle Changes

Sleep:

Don’t underestimate the impact sleep has on your health. When you sleep, part of your immune system “recharges”. During times of extreme stress, illness, injury, or with extreme inflammation, the immune system needs to send out specific cytokines to help you heal. If you are sleep deprived that cannot happen, causing you to become sicker and making it increasingly difficult for you to heal properly.

Exercise:

This can be very challenging for people with autoimmune disease. Joint pain and systemic inflammation can make movement very painful, but moving is so very important. However, it’s important to find a balance between consistent healthy exercise and doing too much. Much like everything else with autoimmune disease, this is individual.

Everyone has different limits and with chronic illness, those limits can change daily. Set daily activity goals but be patient with yourself, and remember that consistency is more important than intensity.

Diet:

Some foods can trigger an increase in inflammation in those with autoimmune disease. Many people find that dietary changes are necessary to help manage their symptoms and inflammation. There are several ways to go about determining what your food triggers are.

One of the most popular approaches is the Auto Immune Paleo Diet (AIP). In this strict yet temporary diet, you will eliminate all dietary triggers for a while, then add them back one by one until you have an increase in your symptoms. Once that happens, you’ve identified a trigger food. It’s a very helpful diet that will guide you to discover how important nutrition is to your health. You can learn more about the AIP Diet here.

Good and consistent nutrition is the single most important thing you can do for your healing. Your nutrition will determine whether or not your body will be able to heal and operate properly. In those who have autoimmune disease, some minerals and vitamins may be low. Having your blood work done consistently to check for imbalances can guide your decisions in how you need to eat, and what supplements and herbs would be best for you.

Gut health for chronically ill people should be a top priority. Without a healthy gut, getting the proper nutrition to support your body is nearly impossible. For more information on how herbalism can help you manage your gut health, read my post on Gut Supporting Herbs.

The BEST Way To Manage Autoimmune Diseases

There is no one perfect way to manage autoimmune disease. Every disease is different, and everyone’s experience even within the same disease can be drastically different. Some may have great success with herbs alone, while others may need pharmaceutical intervention to get good control of their disease. 

What helps one person, may be hurtful to another. So, no one protocol or medical treatment can be used for everyone.

If you decide to use herbs to help you manage your disease, know that herbs take time to work. While some can have a quick response, getting results like regulating the nervous system, toning the lungs, and decreasing inflammation, takes time.

When you are working with herbs, it’s important to be realistic with your expectations. If you are expecting immediate results, you’ll likely be disappointed. Some of the herbs we discussed do have some fast effects, especially when being used to help with pain relief. But for most, you will not see immediate effects. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not working. Healing journeys take time. Be patient and consistent.

Herbs work while they are in your system, so to have a positive experience with herbs and experience their amazing properties, consistency is important. Regardless of what your therapeutic approach is, whether you are choosing to use pharmaceuticals, solely support your system with herbs, utilize nutritional healing approaches, or (my personal favorite) use a combination of everything I talked about in this post, know that consistency is the most important part of your approach.

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