IMMUNITY

Many chronic inflammatory conditions have an autoimmune element to them – a wider disturbance of the immune system where the body creates antibodies to its own cells, attacking its own tissue and causing inflammation. Some common autoimmune disorders are discussed on this page. If you're looking for tips on how to improve resistance to infection, have a look on this page instead. 

Endometriosis

This complex condition, now thought to be an autoimmune issue rather than a hormonal one, is a great example where the subtle, corrective nature of herbal medicine can provide real benefits alongside appropriate dietary changes and surgery.  

Endometriosis happens when the inner lining of the womb (the endometrium) displaces and grows in areas where it shouldn’t. This can happen in the ovaries, pelvic ligaments and Fallopian tubes, or outside the uterus in the bowels or bladder. The displaced tissue responds to fluctuations in oestrogen levels, growing at its location and causing pain and heavy bleeding, and can form cysts, rupturing and causing inflammation and scarring.

Treatment of endometriosis therefore involves two main approaches – reducing oestrogen overload, and rebalancing the immune system in order to dampen down inflammation.

Having too much oestrogen in the body is very common, as many environmental toxins and foods contain oestrogen-like molecules, including many types of plastics and pesticides. Avoiding these by eating mainly organic vegetables and not keeping food in clingfilm or tupperware boxes is one step towards reducing oestrogen in the body. Another is by using herbs such as Vitex agnus castus along with uterine tonics like black cohosh and Don Quai.

Herbs like Echinacea, Astragalus and poke root can help enhance the immune-system and resolve endometrial cysts, and spices like turmeric and ginger help to reduce inflammation and promote good pelvic circulation. Avoiding A1 cow’s milk dairy products in sensitive individuals (ie. those with chronic sinus problems, a history of tonsillitis and ear infections in childhood, and period pain) will also help reduce inflammation long-term.

Gut and liver function also need to be addressed, as inefficient clearance of oestrogen from the body via the digestive system can cause it to build up and cause imbalance. Herbs like dandelion root, milk thistle, Schisandra and turmeric are very useful here, and avoiding gluten where necessary will help repair the intestinal wall and reduce permeability of the gut. 


Due to the personal and varying nature of endometriosis, like all autoimmune diseases, it is always recommended to seek professional advice before treating yourself. Get a proper diagnosis, consult a good doctor and herbalist and involve them both in your treatment.

Rheumatoid arthritis 

There is growing evidence for an association between infections earlier in life and the development of rheumatoid arthritis later on, especially gut and urinary tract infections. Antibodies directed against these infectious agents then begin to attack normal tissue, causing inflammation and damage over time.  

Patients with long-standing rheumatoid arthritis are also more likely to have periodontal disease compared with their healthy counterparts, and treatment to address oral health improves their condition. 

There is also more and more evidence of damage to the gut wall in autoimmune conditions like RA. The gut becomes permeable, allowing substances to pass into the blood stream and cross-react with the immune system, causing inflammation in the joints. 

By far the most effective way of healing your gut is with the food you put into your body. A radical change may be needed, and certainly a wheat, dairy and sugar free diet is necessary. Some patients go into complete remission on an exclusively plant-based diet. 

Herbs are given to lower inflammation and promote gut healing - these include Calendula, frankincense, turmeric and Bupleurum. To improve immunity, immune-modulating herbs like Echinacea and Astragalus are indicated. Liver herbs like milk thistle, adrenal restoratives like liquorice, and adaptogens like Rhodiola may also be used to support the whole system, depending on individual needs. 

A complete bowel flora protocol may also be an important part of treatment if there is a significant imbalance in the gut. In this 4-6 week protocol, antimicrobial herbs are alternated with probiotics, pre-biotics and other gut healing measures like homemade bone broth and glutamine supplements. 

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common skin condition characterised by raised patches of red, itchy skin with a silvery scale. As well as having genetic and environmental links, it is now accepted that the condition is a manifestation of systemic imbalance in the body, leading to a chronic inflammatory state. 

This system-wide imbalance includes changes in the gut flora, intestinal wall and liver detoxification pathways, leading to a build up of toxins in the gut, which then pass into the blood stream and cause an immune response in the skin. 

Like in rheumatoid arthritis, it's important to take steps to repair the gut barrier and reduce gut inflammation, with herbs like Calendula, turmeric and frankincense.

Liver support is also needed, and the herb oregon grape is usually used here, due to its traditional affinity for the skin. Other bitter and antimicrobial herbs may also be used to correct gut flora disturbances. 

Immunomodulators like Echinacea, stress relieving herbs like skullcap and circulatory and lymphatic stimulants may also be helpful, such as bilberry and cleavers. 

Topical preparations can help with the itchiness and healing of lesions, with herbs like chickweed and cayenne pepper. 

A high fat, low fibre, high sugar diet contributes to an inflammation as does smoking, alcohol, and lack of sleep or exercise, so all this needs to be taken into consideration and substantial lifestyle changes may be necessary.