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Naturopathy for autoimmune conditions: the role of mental health

Written by Olfa Hafsa | Wednesday, 23 August 2023

autoimmune disease naturopathy

Immunity is a complex function needed for our health and survival. But the immune system can sometimes cause damage to our own body, which leads to chronic illnesses such as autoimmune conditions.

More and more research is showing that stress and mental health could have an important role in this process. We’ll explore this topic here by looking at:

  • How stress and mental health are involved in causing or worsening autoimmunity
  • How naturopathy can help in autoimmune conditions by focusing on stress management and mental health

What is the link between stress, mental health, and autoimmunity?

As mentioned in my previous blog article the causes of autoimmunity are not yet fully understood but psychological stress is now recognised as an important contributing factor. In clinical practice, it is quite common to hear patients mention a long period of high stress (strained relationships, work stress, etc.) or a highly traumatic event (an accident, the loss of a loved one, etc.) right before they trigger an autoimmune flare-up. And research is now showing that this is also happening with children and early trauma. So how does this work, and how can something that affects our emotions becomes a trigger for a physical illness?

The mechanisms behind this question are very complex and are still being studied within the field of psychoneuroimmunology (psychoneuroimmunology = the study of how our nervous system and immune system influence each other). What the evidence is showing so far is that long term and intense stress can disturb our cortisol balance (cortisol is one of our stress hormones), and that both stress and cortisol can imbalance our immune system and make it over-react. Put simply, the “mind-body connection” is real and a healthy mind is critical for a healthy body.

So how can naturopathy help to maintain a healthy mind and to protect from autoimmunity?

Naturopathy and herbal medicine to support mental health

Naturopathy has much to offer when it comes to supporting the health of the mind, aka mental health. For example, some medicinal plants have very interesting therapeutic benefits, such as:

  • Supporting the capacity to resist stress
  • Reducing the effects of anxiety
  • Improving mood
  • Improving sleep duration and quality
  • Supporting the health of nerve tissues (such as brain tissue)

Following are examples of important medicinal plants which can be used to support mental health (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):

  • Withania /Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) is a key herb in dealing with stress and autoimmunity because it ticks a lot of boxes. It is known to improve resistance to stress, to support relaxation, sleep, and nerve health. The cherry on top is that it is also an anti-inflammatory and it helps to balance the immune system, which makes it a great ally to manage autoimmunity.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a typical herb to use for relaxation. It is commonly taken in the evening to reduce anxiety, restlessness, and to prepare for a restorative sleep. Sleep is very important for people with autoimmune conditions, as it helps with pain management, energy levels, and mood.
  • Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is mostly known as the “Student Herb” because it facilitates learning, memory or concentration, and which can be helpful for people struggling with focus and brain fog. But beyond this interesting effect, it also supports nerve health and relaxation without sedating, which makes it an ideal calming herb to take in the morning.
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a nice all-rounder herb which is uplifting for both the mind and the body. It improves resistance to stress and regulates cortisol levels, while being a tonic and increasing endurance. It has also been scientifically proven to have positive effects on mood.
  • St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the ultimate antidepressant herb, but it can also be helpful for relaxation. It was traditionally used as a tonic and it supports nerve health. But care must be taken with this herb as it can interact with many pharmaceutical drugs, and it might be contraindicated for those taking some medications (always consult a professional before using any medicinal herb).

Besides herbal medicine, naturopathy can also support mental health with other tools such as nutrition, lifestyle and dietary counselling, and flower essences therapy. But most importantly, the naturopathy consultation creates a safe and caring space to share emotions and difficult life experience, which in itself can have great therapeutic effects.

If you are interested in using a holistic and natural approach to support your mental health, reach out to a naturopath who will be able to investigate your personal circumstances, and develop an individualised treatment plan covering dietary, lifestyle, nutritional and herbal medicine recommendations.

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


Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone.

Carlsson, E., Frostell, A., Ludvigsson, J., & Faresjö, M. (2014). Psychological stress in children may alter the immune response. The journal of Immunology, 192(5), 2071-2081.

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

Sharif, K., Watad, A., Coplan, L., Lichtbroun, B., Krosser, A., Lichtbroun, M., ... & Shoenfeld, Y. (2018). The role of stress in the mosaic of autoimmunity: an overlooked association. Autoimmunity reviews, 17(10), 967-983.

Song, H., Fang, F., Tomasson, G., Arnberg, F. K., Mataix-Cols, D., de la Cruz, L. F., ... & Valdimarsdóttir, U. A. (2018). Association of stress-related disorders with subsequent autoimmune disease. Jama, 319(23), 2388-2400.

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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