Autoimmune disease is the term used when the immune system turns on the body itself. Through complex and poorly understood biochemical mechanisms, the immune system recognizes its own body parts. When foreign matter enters the system the immune system recognizes it as being alien and destroys it. The reasons why this recognition system fails are not well understood. The Eastern philosophy considers the immune system to be overburdened by defending against infections, food allergies and pollutants, and certain body tissues get caught up in the battle.

Principally the immune system recognizes its own and foreign proteins and the introduction of these into the system can trigger a self-attack response. Viruses, bacteria, drugs and pollutants all fall into this category. The most common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Autoimmune disorder is a complex matter and signifies the failure of the immune system after prolonged ill-health, even if it has been symptom free. Autoimmune disease can be very serious and even fatal. Most cases, however, are treatable with complementary and orthodox therapies and many are self-limiting, lasting only a few years.

Consult a complementary medical practitioner with a knowledge in homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutrition. All these areas must be reviewed.

Any lifestyle habits such as smoking that are clearly polluting the body should be avoided.

Any foods that are known to cause reactions should be eliminated and food allergy testing can be of great benefit.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) This condition, commonly termed Lupus, is a surprisingly common autoimmune disease. The orthodox world is uncertain of its cause but most complementary practitioners with experience in this field would consider it to be an aggressive over-sensitivity by the body’s immune system as a whole, and the underlying reasons that cause it may be multiple.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is characterized by inflammation of any tissue in the body and is often referred to as a ‘mimicker’. The condition must be suspected in any persisting joint pain, fever and general malaise but is often associated with a ‘butterfly’ rash, which shows as a red lesion covering the forehead and cheeks (the wings of a butterfly). The rash may cover the entire body and may be associated with any number of symptoms.

Diagnosis is generally made after other conditions are excluded, and there are specific blood tests that show positive in over 90 per cent of cases.

Orthodox treatment is steroids, pain relief and drugs aimed at any of the multitide of symptoms that may appear. The complementary medical world must look at any autoimmune disease, as discussed in the section above, but special attention must be paid to diet, food intolerance/allergy, stress levels and environmental toxins, all of which can trigger an overreactive immune system.

This is a condition that should be treated by an experienced complementary medical therapist, who should coordinate treatment with a homeopath, herbalist and nutritionist.

Stress management through counselling or meditation teaching is a prerequisite.

Pain associated with SLE may be due to a magnesium deficiency. This should be checked by a blood test for intracellular magnesium, and replenished if the test is positive.

The Ayurvedic technique of drinking the first morning urine may be of benefit, although techniques of extracting the sediment from the urine and taking this in drop form (somewhat more appealing) may be available through an experienced complementary medical practitioner.

The roots and stem of a plant called Tripterygium wilfordi at a dose of 10-15g three times a day was shown to be effective in a study reported in China. The side effects of abdominal discomfort, nausea and loss of menstruation in women all disappeared after a few days of treatment or within six months of stopping.