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How To Manage and Treat Autoimmune Disorders With Functional Testing and Nutrition

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How To Manage and Treat Autoimmune Disorders With Functional Testing and Nutrition

Autoimmune diseases have become a significant public health concern affecting a large population worldwide. In the United States alone, these diseases collectively impact over 24 million individuals, while eight million have auto-antibodies indicating an increased risk of developing autoimmune disorders. The causes of autoimmune diseases remain mostly unknown. With the rising prevalence of autoimmune disorders, it is crucial to explore effective treatment options that help to manage the disease. Functional nutrition and complementary approaches have gained recognition as promising avenues for managing autoimmune diseases, offering hope for individuals struggling with these challenging conditions.

This article will explore how functional nutrition can be used to manage autoimmune disorders, including the autoimmune protocol diet, functional medicine labs, and complementary and integrative approaches. Through this, we hope to provide insights into integrative treatment methods for autoimmune disorders that may benefit individuals seeking a more personalized and comprehensive approach to their health.


What is Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune diseases are a subset of disorders that occur when the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells, tissues, and organs, mistaking them for foreign invaders. This attack can cause chronic inflammation, tissue damage, and even organ failure. Autoimmune diseases can affect various body parts, including the joints, skin, thyroid gland, nervous system, and blood vessels. Over 80 types of autoimmune conditions have been identified, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. These diseases can affect different body parts and cause various symptoms, such as inflammation, pain, and organ damage.

Autoimmune diseases can significantly impact a person's quality of life, but early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent further damage. Living with an autoimmune disease can be difficult, as symptoms may fluctuate and affect various aspects of daily life. People with autoimmune diseases may need to make lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress, regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet, to manage their symptoms and prevent flare-ups. If you are suspicious that you have an autoimmune disease, it's important to speak with a healthcare professional for evaluation and proper management.

Autoimmune Disease Symptoms

Autoimmune diseases can affect different parts of the body and can cause a wide range of symptoms. While the specific symptoms vary depending on the type of autoimmune disease and the organs affected, some common signs and symptoms can help identify these conditions.

One of the most notorious symptoms of autoimmune diseases is chronic inflammation, which can cause pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and can lead to joint damage and deformity.

Another common symptom of autoimmune diseases is fatigue, which can be caused by chronic inflammation, anemia, or other factors. Fatigue can affect a person's ability to perform daily activities and may be accompanied by weakness, dizziness, or difficulty concentrating.

Autoimmune diseases can also affect the skin, causing rashes, hives, and other skin problems. For example, lupus is an autoimmune disease that can create a butterfly-shaped rash on the face, as well as skin lesions and photosensitivity.

Other common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include digestive problems, such as abdominal pain and bloating, as well as neurological symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, and weakness.

In some cases, autoimmune diseases can cause more severe symptoms, such as organ damage or failure. For example, autoimmune hepatitis is an autoimmune disease that can cause liver damage and lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Possible Causes of Autoimmune Disease

The exact causes of autoimmune disorders are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the development of these conditions. Some autoimmune diseases may be triggered by infections, medications, or exposure to environmental toxins.

Genetic factors play a role in developing autoimmune diseases, as these conditions tend to run in families. Researchers have discovered several genes that may increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases, but the specific genetic factors vary depending on the condition.

Environmental factors can also trigger autoimmune diseases in people who are genetically predisposed to these conditions. For example, infections with certain viruses and bacteria have been linked to developing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Exposure to environmental toxins, such as chemicals and pollutants, may also increase the risk of autoimmune diseases. In addition, some medications, such as certain antibiotics and antiseizure drugs, have been linked to developing autoimmune diseases.

Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Root Cause of Autoimmune Disease

Diagnosing autoimmune diseases can be challenging, as symptoms may be vague and vary from person to person. Functional medicine labs can be valuable tools for identifying the root causes of autoimmune diseases. These labs use a holistic approach to healthcare, looking beyond just the symptoms to uncover underlying imbalances in the body.

There are several tests used in the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases. These tests can help identify specific antibodies or proteins in the blood or tissues, indicating an autoimmune disorder.

The following are some of the functional medicine labs commonly used in diagnosing and treating autoimmune diseases:

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

This test looks at the composition of the gut microbiome, which can be a contributing factor to autoimmune diseases. It can identify imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, infections, and digestive dysfunction.

Food Sensitivity Testing

Identifying and avoiding trigger foods can help to reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups, as in the case of Celiac Disease, a common autoimmune disorder. Food sensitivity testing can identify foods that are causing inflammation in the body.

Adrenal Stress Testing

Chronic stress can be a contributing factor to autoimmune diseases. Adrenal stress testing measures cortisol levels and can help identify imbalances in the stress response system.

Thyroid Function Testing

Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease can affect thyroid function. Thyroid function testing can help identify imbalances in thyroid hormones.

Hair Elements Profile

Exposure to environmental toxins such as organic pollutants, toxic metals, solvents, and endocrine disruptors can contribute to autoimmune diseases. A hair elements analysis can identify elevated levels of these toxins in the body.

Antinuclear Antibody (ANA)

ANA tests measure the presence and quantity of antibodies that target the nucleus of cells. Elevated levels of ANAs can be indicative of an autoimmune disease, although a positive result alone is not diagnostic.

Rheumatoid Factor (RF)

The RF test measures the presence and amount of a specific antibody often found in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)

This test measures the rate at which red blood cells (RBC) settle to the bottom of a tube. Elevated ESR levels can indicate inflammation, which is often present in autoimmune diseases.

C-Reactive Protein (CRP)

CRP is a protein that is produced in response to inflammation. Elevated CRP levels can indicate the presence of an autoimmune disease.

Autoantibody Tests

Autoantibody tests can measure the presence of specific antibodies that are associated with certain autoimmune diseases, such as anti-dsDNA antibodies in lupus.

These functional medicine labs can help to identify underlying imbalances within the body that may be contributing to autoimmune diseases. By addressing these imbalances through personalized treatment plans, functional medicine practitioners are professionals who can help patients achieve better health outcomes.


Conventional Treatment for Autoimmune Diseases

Treatment for autoimmune diseases often involves managing symptoms and slowing down any progression of the disease. Medications such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system. Lifestyle changes, including eating healthy, exercising, and focusing on stress management, may also be recommended.

Conventional treatments for autoimmune diseases aim to manage symptoms and prevent further damage to the affected organs or tissues. The specific treatment approach will depend on the type and severity of the autoimmune disease and individual factors like age, overall health, and medical history. Here are some common conventional treatments for autoimmune diseases:

Pharmaceutical Approaches to the Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that can reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can slow down the progression of certain autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. Immunosuppressants can help prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissues and organs. Biologics are pharmaceutical drugs made from living cells that can target specific immune system components and help manage autoimmune disease symptoms.

It's important to note that while these treatments can be effective in managing symptoms, they can also have significant side effects and may not work for everyone. In addition, conventional treatments often do not address underlying imbalances or triggers contributing to autoimmune diseases.

Functional Nutrition Approach to Treatment and Management of Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disorders are complex and challenging to manage with conventional treatments alone. Functional nutrition offers a holistic approach to autoimmune disease management, addressing symptoms and underlying causes. By identifying food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, and imbalances in the gut microbiome, functional medicine practitioners can tailor personalized treatment plans to help manage autoimmune diseases.

Functional nutrition is an approach to managing autoimmune diseases that focuses on identifying and addressing underlying imbalances and triggers that may be contributing to the disease. By addressing these imbalances through diet and lifestyle changes, functional nutrition can help reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and improve overall health.

It's important to note that functional nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and the specific recommendations may differ depending on individual factors, such as the type and severity of the autoimmune disease and any other underlying health conditions.

Nutrition or Dietary Considerations for Autoimmune Disease

One popular functional nutrition approach for managing autoimmune diseases is the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. While eliminating personal food sensitivities is important for dampening inflammation, the AIP diet also eliminates foods commonly associated with inflammation, such as grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, and processed foods. The AIP diet also emphasizes nutrient-dense foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The AIP diet is a therapeutic approach designed to help manage autoimmune diseases by reducing inflammation, supporting gut health, and promoting nutrient density. The diet eliminates foods known to trigger autoimmune responses or exacerbate inflammation. These inflammatory foods can cause gut inflammation, disrupt the gut microbiome, and lead to leaky gut syndrome, which can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions.

The AIP diet includes non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes, which provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The diet also includes high-quality proteins, such as grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and organ meats, which provide essential amino acids and nutrients for tissue repair and immune support. Healthy fats, including avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil, are also emphasized in the AIP diet for their anti-inflammatory properties.

While the AIP diet can be effective in managing autoimmune diseases, it can also be challenging to follow, as it requires eliminating many common foods and may require more meal planning and preparation. Working with a functional medicine practitioner to develop an individualized plan and ensure that nutrient needs are met is crucial. Additionally, the AIP diet is intended to be a temporary therapeutic approach and should be followed for a set period before slowly reintroducing foods and monitoring symptoms. It is one component of a comprehensive functional nutrition approach that includes lifestyle modifications, targeted supplementation, and other interventions to support overall health and well-being.

Supplements and Herbs That Help With Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune conditions are characterized by the immune system attacking the body's own tissues and organs. Proper nutrition, including vitamins and supplements, can be essential in managing autoimmune conditions.

Vitamin D for Autoimmune Diseases

Vitamin D is essential for immune system regulation and has been shown to be deficient in many autoimmune patients. Studies suggest that supplementing with vitamin D at 8000 IUs per day can improve autoimmune symptoms and reduce disease activity.

Omega 3s for Autoimmune Diseases

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly sourced from fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit those with autoimmune conditions. Several studies have reported that omega-3 supplementation at up to 3 grams per day can decrease inflammation and improve clinical symptoms in autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

Antioxidants for Autoimmune Diseases

Antioxidants like selenium and Vitamin C support detoxification and oxidative stress and can help reduce inflammation. For example, antioxidants can help quench up free radicals in Lupus patients who tend to have higher oxidative stress levels. Selenium is also essential for healthy thyroid function. In fact, selenium has been shown in systematic reviews to decrease thyroid autoantibodies.

Probiotics for Autoimmune Diseases

Probiotics have been found to play a role in regulating the gut microbiome, which can significantly impact autoimmune conditions. Studies suggest that probiotic supplementation can improve disease activity in patients with autoimmunity. Probiotics have also been shown to support heavy metal detoxification and prevent heavy metal toxicity. They can be a valuable tool for individuals with heavy metal exposures contributing to their autoimmune picture.

Curcumin for Autoimmune Diseases

Curcumin can act as an anti-inflammatory and aid in relieving pain associated with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Although using herbal supplements in autoimmune conditions has become popular, certain herbal supplements like echinacea and licorice root may stimulate the immune system and trigger autoimmune flares. Other studies have also suggested that the use of immunostimulatory herbs, such as Spirulina platensis, Aphanizomenon flos-aqua, Chlorella, and alfalfa, can activate immune cells, leading to an exaggerated immune response and worsening autoimmune conditions. Case reports have linked the ingestion of these herbs with the clinical onset or flares of autoimmune blistering disorders, lupus erythematosus, and dermatomyositis.

Therefore, it is essential to investigate the prevalence of herbal supplement use in autoimmune patients and conduct in vitro studies to understand how herbs stimulate immune pathways in these individuals. It's crucial to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare professional before taking any specific supplements, including herbal supplements, for autoimmune conditions.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine for Autoimmune Diseases

Complementary and integrative approaches to managing autoimmune diseases can be beneficial. One approach is to focus on lifestyle modifications that may help reduce inflammation and support the immune system. Exercise can help to reduce inflammation and improve overall health. Mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation can reduce stress and improve mood, which may enhance immune function. Adequate sleep is also crucial for overall health, as sleep deprivation can increase inflammation. Acupuncture is a therapy consideration for pain relief as it has been shown to help alleviate pain associated with inflammatory conditions.

It's important to note that while these complementary approaches may be helpful, they should not be used as a replacement for medical treatments. Working with a healthcare practitioner to create a comprehensive treatment plan that incorporates both conventional and complementary approaches is important.



Autoimmune diseases are a subset of disorders in which one's immune system attacks the body's own healthy cells and tissues. These conditions can cause a range of symptoms and affect various organs in the body. While the specific causes of autoimmune diseases are not fully understood, researchers continue to study the underlying mechanisms of these conditions to develop new treatments and therapies. Currently, there is no cure for autoimmune diseases. Early detection and management can help minimize the impact of symptoms and prevent further damage.

While conventional treatments like immunosuppressant medications are available, they can come with side effects, making functional nutrition and integrative medicine a promising approach to managing autoimmune disorders. Complementary and integrative approaches to autoimmune conditions can help improve the quality of life for individuals affected by autoimmune disorders. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to contact a knowledgeable healthcare professional for evaluation and proper management.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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