Autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks your own tissues. In Hashimoto's, the immune system attacks the thyroid. In multiple sclerosis, the nerves. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints. But why does your immune system behave this way? What is the underlying immune imbalance that results in your immune system attacking your body?
Overview of Immune Function
White bloods cells are immune cells that help us defend against foreign invaders. There are several types of white blood cells such as neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils and lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are important when it comes to autoimmune disease.
There are several types of lymphocytes. B cells, natural killer cells, and T cells. T cells are further divided into CD8+ T cells and T helper cells (Th cells). Th cells are involved in autoimmunity.
If that wasn't complicated enough, there are different types of Th cells. Your immune system decides which type of cells should be produced depending on the threat. Th1 cells are produces in response to bacteria and viruses. Th2 cells are produced in response to parasites. And Th17 cells are produced in response to fungi. There are also T regulatory cells that are responsible for suppressing and regulating immune responses to make sure that things don't get out of hand.
Each T cell produces different molecules (called interleukins) that will direct the immune system in how to respond.
In healthy individuals, the immune system works in a balance between Th1, Th2, and Th17 with just enough T regulatory cells. In people with autoimmune disease, this balance is disrupted.
Immune Imbalances in Autoimmune Disease
As it turns out, there are different imbalances depending on the autoimmune disease.
Generally, Th1 dominance and Th17 activation are associated with more autoimmune diseases and Th2 dominance is associated with asthma and allergies. Many autoimmune diseases are also associated with a reduction in T regulatory cells.
Conditions Associated with Th1
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn's disease
- Type 1 diabetes
Conditions Associated with Th2
- Graves' disease
- Ulcerative colitis
What Causes Shifts in T helper Cells
- Hormonal imbalances
- Chronic viral infections (EBV)
- Gut dysbiosis (Klebsiella pneumonia, Candida albicans)
Immune Modulating Substances
Based on this information, one treatment approach is to use immune modulating substances to manipulate the Th1/Th2 balance. Seems simple, right?
Trying to manipulate the immune system with exogenous substances is like trying to balance a coin on its edge on a spinning top. Basically impossible.
Modern medicine has already proved this. Medications for autoimmune disease target individual cytokines. And fail miserably (quite literally) at restoring any sort of balance. You simply trade one set of symptoms for another. Sometimes, you just trade autoimmune disease for cancer.
But what about natural substances?
Using natural substances typically does not result in severe side effects like the medications, but it still can be detrimental if used blindly to manipulate the immune system. So I do not recommend using high doses of these substances on your own. I recommend working with a qualified doctor who can dose them appropriately while working on the underlying cause of your immune imbalances.
Substances that Stimulate Th1
- Beta-glucan mushrooms
- Licorice root
- Melissa officinalis
- Panax ginseng
- Yoga, restorative exercises
Substances that Stimulate Th2
- Cortisol excess
- Green tea extract
- Pine bark extract
- Soluble fiber
- Vigorous exercise
- White willow bark
Substances that Increase T Regulatory Cells
- EGCG (from green tea)
- UV light
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
These substances can be used as a temporary bandaid to shift immune balance. But they are not a cure. You need to dig deeper and figure out why your immune system got out of balance in the first place. Check out this article for more information on how to treat autoimmune disease naturally
- Kidd, P. Th1/Th2 Balance: The hypothesis, its limitations, and implications for health and disease. Alternative Medicine Review. 2003;8(3):223-246.
- Clarke JO, Mullin GE. A Review of Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Immunomodulation.
- Wentz, I., & Nowosadzka, M. (2015). Hashimotos thyroiditis: lifestyle interventions for finding and treating the root cause.
I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.