A Natural Approach to Autoimmune Diseases

A Natural Approach to Autoimmune Diseases

Julian Whitaker, MD

Whereas osteoarthritis afflicts 50 million Americans, rheumatoid arthritis only affects 2.5 million, yet it often strikes with a vengeance. Its onset is gradual, usually between the ages of 20 and 40, and women are afflicted three times as often as men. Swelling, warmth, and tenderness of the joints are characteristic, often with a reddish discoloration over the affected areas. It tends to attack in a symmetric fashion, that is, both hands, wrists, knees, ankles, or feet (the joints most commonly affected). Stiffness is usually worse in the morning, and nodules often form in the affected joints.

Attack of the Immune System

Rheumatoid arthritis belongs to the family of diseases known as autoimmune disorders. In these diseases, which number in the hundreds, the immune system for reasons unclear attacks the body’s own tissues.

Although theories abound, the reason for the onset of autoimmune disease is unknown. Some believe that it is caused by bacteria, fungus, or other microorganisms that lodge in the joints. Others suspect genetic factors. Yet others feel that it has to do with permeability of the gut mucosa, a condition called leaky gut syndrome that allows incompletely digested proteins, fats, and starches to enter the blood stream. Antibodies created in response to these “foreign” molecules prompt an autoimmune reaction and set the stage for tissue destruction.

Fight Fire With…Fat

Regardless of the precise cause, it is important to address the resulting inflammation that results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function. Conventional physicians prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for this purpose, but these drugs have a host of side effects, including cartilage damage, which compounds the problems they are prescribed to alleviate. Steroids, which are used when NSAIDs lose their effectiveness, have their own list of serious side effects, including osteoporosis, hypertension, cataracts, depression, and impaired immunity.

Fortunately, there is a kinder, gentler way to curb inflammation: supplementing with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), a fat found in fish oil. In fact, EPA is so effective in alleviating the inflammation that it can eliminate the need for NSAIDs once and for all.

Douse Inflammation With Fish Oil

In a study by researchers from Albany Medical College, patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were taking the NSAID diclofenac were randomly assigned to receive either fish oil supplements or a placebo for 18 weeks. At that point, their diclofenac was replaced with a placebo pill, and the study continued for another eight weeks.

Over the first 18 weeks, patients taking fish oil showed significant decreases in the number of tender joints, duration of morning stiffness, and pain, while those who received the placebo had no improvement. During the final eight weeks, a significant number of patients receiving fish oil were able to discontinue the NSAID without experiencing flare ups.

The benefits of fish oil can be enhanced by following a Mediterranean-type diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes, along with healthy fats from fish and olive oil. German researchers found that rheumatoid patients who followed such a diet for eight months experienced a significant decrease in the number of tender and swollen joints and a reduction in blood markers of inflammation compared to a group of patients who ate a typical Western diet.

Beef Up Your Antioxidant Stores

Inflammation generates massive quantities of free radicals, and your body’s antioxidant defenses can easily become overwhelmed. Study after study has shown that, compared to healthy adults, patients with rheumatoid arthritis have lower levels of antioxidants.

Taking antioxidants is a must if you want to ensure that your body’s free-radical-fighting capabilities are in tiptop shape. Arm yourself with a high-potency multivitamin containing hefty doses of vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc. Make liberal use of the cooking spices ginger and turmeric, or supplement with herbal extracts. Both of these herbs have a long history of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for arthritis and other painful conditions, and both are proven antioxidants with direct anti-inflammatory effects.

Try These Inflammation Fighters

Another supplement worth adding to your arsenal is avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU). ASU contains therapeutic compounds from avocado and soy fatty acids that have been shown to inhibit inflammation. As an added benefit, ASU stimulates the synthesis of collagen, the major protein in cartilage and other connective tissue. Three double-blind placebo-controlled studies of patients with arthritis have demonstrated that ASU relieves pain, improves function, reduces the need for NSAIDs, and slows the progression of joint space narrowing, especially in those with advanced disease.

Finally, for more immediate relief of flare-ups, try Univestin. This herbal pain reliever works as well as Celebrex, NSAIDs, and other anti-inflammatories but has none of the drugs’ adverse effects.


  • To learn more about treatment protocols for autoimmune diseases at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, contact a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253 or click here.
  • To combat inflammation, add coldwater fish, ginger, and turmeric to your diet and take 2 to 8 capsules of high-quality fish oil, along with high doses of antioxidants. The dose of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) used in most studies is 300 mg per day. The suggested dose of Univestin is 500 mg.
  • Look for these supplements in your health food store, or order by calling (800) 810-6655.


  • Adam O et al. Rheumatol Int. 2003;23(1):27-36.
  • Ernst E. Clin Rheumatol. 2003;22(4-5):285-8.
  • Greenstein NS et al. Arthritis Rheum. 1995;38(8): 1107-14.
  • O’Dell et al. Arthritis Rheum. 1997;40(5): 842-8.
  • Stone M et al. J Rheumatol. 2003;30(10):2112-22.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2004. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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