It’s important to understand the relationship between autoimmune disease and immune resilience during a time when many people are concerned about the coronavirus, or COVID-19.
But first, what is autoimmune disease? Autoimmunity is a disorder in which the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys body tissue. It’s an extremely common yet largely overlooked immune disorder unless symptoms are advanced. Examples of autoimmune disease include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, alopecia, vitiligo, and so on.
Having an autoimmune disease does not necessarily weaken immune resilience. Instead, what matters is the state of your immune function in relation to your autoimmunity. In other words, different people can have the same autoimmune disease but have different states of immune function.
For instance, some people with Hashimoto’s will have high white blood cell counts, while others will have low white blood cell counts. Some will have different degrees of natural killer cell activity, B-cell activity, T-cell regulation, and so on.
Autoimmunity can either heighten or depress immune resilience
This variability in immune function means that some people with autoimmunity can have a very heightened immune state and thus a high degree of immune resilience. It’s common in my practice for some autoimmune patients to say they have not had a cold or flu in five to 10 years, even though their heightened immune activity may exacerbate autoimmune attacks against tissue.
On the other hand, others have low white blood cell counts, impaired function of natural killer cells (which fight pathogens), and depressed immunity. For these patients, their autoimmune disease causes them to constantly catch every cold and flu that comes around.
Different pathogens affect autoimmunity in different ways
The pathogen infecting the body can also determine the immune response in people with autoimmunity. For instance, some pathogens can flare up the autoimmune response while others can dampen it.
Exercise caution with immune enhancing botanicals
Because autoimmunity can create such a diversity of immune responses, it’s important to take this into consideration if you want to take herbs, medicinal mushrooms, or other botanicals that influence the immune system.
For instance, in some autoimmune patients, immune stimulating botanicals such as echinacea or maitake mushrooms can actually flare up their immune system and make their autoimmune symptoms worse. At the same time, botanicals that stimulate delayed immune responses, such as antibody production, can make other autoimmune patients worse.
How to modulate the immune system and improve resilience with autoimmunity
Because autoimmunity can swing the immune system too far in one direction or the other, resilience strategies should focus on the foundations of healthy immune function. This includes emphasizing plenty of good sleep, proper diet, hydration, appropriate levels of physical activity, natural opioid release, and other basic strategies, which I explore in more depth in my free Everyday Immune Resilience course.