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Condition - Autoimmune Disease

By Alison Belcourt BA(Hons) DipION MBANT NTCC

Autoimmune conditions arise through the aberrant reaction of the immune system. Instead of protecting your body against bacterial and viral pathogens, the body produces antibodies to the protein of connective tissues and specific organs. For sufferers, it is a battle against inflammatory flare-ups, accompanied by associated chronic pain and discomfort. Arthritis Care Week and World Lupus Day aim to bring public attention to these debilitating conditions, in order to increase financial support for research, awareness and patient services to those who suffer from them.

Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) both involve chronic inflammation of the joints in the hands, knees, shoulders, neck and feet. RA specifically involves the joints and can, in its reactive stage, cause physical destruction and deformation of the affected joint, which can become swollen, warm and tender to touch. About 40% of lupus sufferers experience joint pain, which tends to develop as the disease progresses. Lupus is more widespread in its activity and can affect tissues of the lungs, heart, skin, kidneys, blood and nervous system. Without medication to control the immune action, lupus can be a life threatening condition. 

No definite cause has been identified as to why autoimmune conditions develop. It is multicausal, with genetic, dietary, lifestyle, medicinal and environmental factors all playing a part. A variety of microorganisms have been implicated, although no one specific microbe has been isolated. The key suspects are viruses (which can adapt to the tissues of the surrounding host), bacterial infections or mycoplasmas. When there is increased intestinal permeability, bacterial antigens, or partially undigested foods, can enter the bloodstream, causing the immune system to create antibodies. Antibodies formed to microbial antigens are thought to cross-react with abnormal antibodies formed to the joint and other connective tissues. Supporting the health of the digestive tract with probiotics and the amino acid glutamine may benefit. Medication used to treat RA and lupus can all increase the possibility of digestive disturbance and leaky gut, so this nutritional support for the digestive system can be helpful. 

The best form of self-help, for anyone suffering from these conditions, is to calm the inflammation and avoid stress as much as they can. Chewing food well and avoiding common food allergens is advised, key culprits being gluten, yeast, diary, citrus and those foods belonging to the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. Eliminate saturated fats from dairy and fatty meats and increase your good oils from nuts, seeds and oily fish. 

Trying to include more oily fish in your diet can prove to be difficult for many people, yet fish oils and the omega 6 fat, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), appear particularly important in managing inflammation. Consider a daily supplement, include oily fish at least twice a week and flax seeds daily. 

If you’ve got aching joints, exercise might be the last thing on your mind, but studies have shown it can be beneficial. Light weight training can improve muscle strength around the joints, while aerobic exercise can improve mood. Glucosamine hydrochloride, collagen, MSM, boswellia and devil’s claw have all been shown to help. 

There is also a wealth of beneficial, natural foods that can be integrated into the daily diet, such as the blue and purple berries, bromelain in pineapples, ginger and a wonderful spice called turmeric.

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