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Managing autoimmune conditions with herbal medicine

Written by Olfa Hafsa | Monday, 17 July 2023

Natural health Naturopathy tips and advice

Autoimmune conditions are an increasing concern because of their impact on people’s lives and the limits of pharmaceutical treatment options. As with many other long term chronic conditions, complementary medicines such as naturopathy have much to offer in such cases ­– from helping to investigate the cause of the autoimmunity, to reducing symptoms, and more generally improving the person’s overall health and quality of life.

Let’s have a look at what autoimmunity means, how it can manifest itself, and how naturopathy can use herbal medicine to manage autoimmune conditions.

What is autoimmunity?

We are all familiar with concept of immunity ­– a function of our body which helps to defend us against external attacks but also helps to repair our tissues when they are damaged. This means that immunity is overall a helpful and protective mechanism. However, in some cases the defence mechanisms of immunity also cause significant damage to our own body, to the point of creating a chronic disease which is then called an autoimmune disease (‘auto-‘ meaning ‘self’).

Autoimmunity is very complex and not yet fully understood. At this stage, some factors which are recognised as possible contributors include:

  • Having a genetic predisposition
  • Poor gut health
  • Imbalanced gut microbiome
  • Infections (bacterial, viral, etc.)
  • Exposure to chemicals (at home, at work, air pollution, etc.)
  • Psychological stress

How can autoimmunity affect the body?

Because the immune system is present throughout the body, autoimmunity damage can potentially happen anywhere. Here are a few examples of common conditions and the body parts they involve:

  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis (Thyroid)
  • Graves' disease (Thyroid)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (Joints)
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (Joints)
  • Crohn's disease (Intestines)
  • Ulcerative colitis (Intestines)
  • Multiple sclerosis (Nervous system)
  • Lupus (SLE) (Whole body)

It is important to note that when a person triggers one autoimmune condition, they are more likely to trigger other ones, because their immune system is activated throughout their body.

Common processes in autoimmunity are inflammation and tissue damage in whichever location the disease manifests (gut, thyroid, joint, etc.). An obvious consequence is the reduced function of the damaged tissue, with variable signs depending on the affected location: from pain and reduced mobility with joints involvement, digestive symptoms and nutritional deficiencies with intestines involvement, to weight gain, dry skin and heavy periods with thyroid involvement. However other symptoms can be found across all conditions, such as fatigue and low mood.

How can naturopathy and herbal medicine help in autoimmunity?

Whether a person is medicated for their autoimmune condition or not, naturopathy can help in addressing the causes of their autoimmunity and help them improve their overall health. More specifically, herbal medicines can help regulate the immune activity, reduce some of the symptoms, and support their body to function better.

Following are examples of important herbs in the management of autoimmune conditions:

Please note, medicinal plants should only be used when prescribed by a qualified naturopath or herbalist, and after a thorough investigation of the person’s case and existing treatment.

  • Hemidesmus (Hemidesmus indicus) is an important herb here as it is known to reduce immune activity in general. This is particularly helpful when a person is experiencing an autoimmune flare-up and needs relief. By reducing immune activity, this herb also reduces chronic damage to our tissues which can be used as a protective measure whilst the flare-up is ongoing.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and its constituent curcumin are widely known for their potent anti-inflammatory properties. By reducing inflammation, they can help to reduce chronic damage to our tissues and reduce symptoms such as pain. Turmeric is also a ‘liver herb’, meaning that it supports the liver to function better, helping to eliminate toxins and process pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa) is a key anti-inflammatory herb particularly helpful in autoimmune conditions. It is a safe herb which can be used long term to regulate immune activity, and has a beneficial effect on adrenal activity and resilience to stress which is certainly helpful in people suffering from long term chronic conditions.
  • Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is also a strong anti-inflammatory herb which is known for its benefits in joint conditions. This is why it is commonly used for autoimmune joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. However this herb can also be beneficial in gut autoimmunity as with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Saffron (Crocus sativa) is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb which has recently been investigated for various autoimmune conditions and is showing promising results. It also offers the benefit of supporting mood and mental health which are both major factors in people with long term chronic conditions.

If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, or you are suspecting having one, reach out to a naturopath who will be able to investigate your personal circumstances, and develop a holistic treatment plan covering dietary, lifestyle, nutritional and herbal medicine recommendations.

Endeavour Wellness Clinic offers naturopathy appointments at affordable prices. Book online today!


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Ganji-Arjenaki, M., & Rafieian-Kopaei, M. (2019). Phytotherapies in inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 24, 1-7.

Hartley, N. (2019). Autoimmune disease. In J. Sarris & J. Wardle (Eds.), Clinical naturopathy (3rd ed.). Elsevier.

Korani, S., Korani, M., Sathyapalan, T., & Sahebkar, A. (2019). Therapeutic effects of Crocin in autoimmune diseases: A review. BioFactors, 45(6), 835-843.

Parian, A., & Limketkai, B. N. (2016). Dietary supplement therapies for inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 22(2), 180-188.

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Olfa Hafsa

Olfa is a clinical Naturopath (BHSc Naturopathy, Dux) who practices in the areas of autoimmunity and mental health.

Her journey into complementary medicine started with her own experience of being diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune condition in her 20s, and her decision to take ownership of her health. Having experienced first-hand the remarkable benefits of Naturopathy in chronic disease, she has made it her priority to support people with autoimmunity to regain control over their lives.

Besides her naturopathic qualification, she holds a Master of Food Science giving her a deep grounding in science and biochemistry, and is currently training as a Counsellor to expand her therapeutic skills in the mental health area. She offers in-person consultations from her clinic space in Brisbane, as well as online consultations (telehealth) Australia-wide. For more information on Olfa’s work and approach, visit her website at or simply get in touch at

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