Autoimmune Disease

Aug 15, 20160 comments

This post is written by Dr. Amanda Hegnauer, ND.

Autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Celiac disease are on the rise in the United States. Do they affect you or someone in your life? Did you panic the first time you heard “autoimmune disease?”

In autoimmune disease, our adaptive (or acquired) immune response begins to malfunction. With healthy immune function, our adaptive immune system begins to recognize specific pathogens and create antibodies to them so that the next time the pathogen enters your body, the immune system can fight it off quickly, often without you knowing you were afflicted. Adaptive immunity requires time and exposure to develop. While the acquired immune response is undoubtedly beneficial to us, sometimes the adaptive immunity cells become misdirected and begin targeting healthy cells and tissues in the body rather than pathogens.

This immune response is both initiated and exacerbated by excessive inflammation in the body. In this state of chronic inflammation and disease, the body is unable to repair damaged tissue more quickly than the rate of tissue destruction caused by the “hijacked” immune system. Furthermore, when the targeted tissue is involved in essential day-to-day function of the body, the autoimmune disease can become a threat to life. Autoimmune diseases vary widely in the tissues they attack and the symptoms they cause.

Diagnosis and Testing

An accurate history and physical examination of the patient plays a large role in the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. These diseases are commonly diagnosed by abnormalities in a routine blood test. For example, inflammation is revealed by erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and/or C-reactive protein in a blood test. This inflammation indicates to your doctor that an underlying pathology is causing this symptom. Depending on the full set of symptoms and suspected diagnosis, further tests – such as the antinuclear antibody (ANA), which detects antibodies in the bloodstream – would diagnose the specific disease. A nice starting place is antinuclear antibody (ANA) test; which will detect the antibodies in one’s bloodstream. Your doctor will likely refer you to a rheumatologist if autoimmune disease is suspected.


Treatment is very tricky for each diagnosed autoimmune disease. Medical treatments for these diseases include immunosuppressive, anti-inflammatory (steroids) or palliative medications, which can relieve pain and/or treat the outcome of the disease. Treatments also include hormone replacement therapy, which is used to care for autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Type 1 Diabetes mellitus.

Because inflammation is an underlying theme to autoimmune disease, treating inflammation alongside the appropriate medical care is imperative. Just as traditional treatments are specific to the diagnosed disease, so is treating inflammation. Is there something that is causing and/or exacerbating ones inflammation? For example, food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are an IgG(type of antibody)-mediated allergic reaction. Most commonly this elicits a delayed-hypersensitivity reaction which may be associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease, eczema, migraines, gastrointestinal complaints, and many other chronic symptoms.

In a person with an immune system that is already under a great deal of stress an external affliction causing greater strain is only going to burden the body further. Other sources of inflammation are chronically elevated cortisol and insulin, heavy metal and other toxic burden, specific foods high in inflammatory prostaglandins, and unnecessary body fat.

Here are some suggestions for an anti-inflammatory diet:

Avoid: Sugar, dairy, white flours.

Follow these guidelines:

  • Grains: One to two cups of grains per day:  millet, basmati, amaranth.
  • Legumes: Eat a variety – lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas.
  • Nuts/Seeds: Small amounts of nuts and nut butters. Rotate daily and include almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.
  • Fish: Deep sea fish (salmon, halibut, cod, sardines); try to get wild fish and avoid farmed fish.
  • Meat: Free-range or organically raised chicken
  • Vegetables: Eat a variety of vegetables (except tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant). Steamed vegetables improve the utilization or availability of food substances and reduce irritation of the gut.
  • Do not use aluminum cookware or microwave on plastic dishes; use stainless steel cookware if possible.

Dr. Amanda Hegnauer is a licensed primary care naturopathic doctor in the state of New Hampshire. She earned her Doctorate from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ. Since her time spent in Arizona she has worked in the naturopathic field, organizing and running a local naturopathic office, working in the supplement industry and was the past executive coordinator for the New Hampshire Association of Naturopathic Doctors. She enjoys practicing as a primary care naturopathic doctor, lecturing within the community and acting as a Wellness Educator for the Concord CoOp. Dr. Hegnauer continues to write for and is published in Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. She is a member of the New Hampshire Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine. Visit her website: