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LMU 116 – Herbs and Autoimmune Disease Flare-ups


LMU 116 – Navigating Immune Modulation: A Delicate Balancing Act for Autoimmune Warriors

Source: Archives Dermatology (2004); Journal Gastroenterology Medicine & Research (2018)

Lifestyle Medicine Update (January 16, 2019)


The body’s immune system, a vigilant guardian against invaders, sometimes needs a little fine-tuning. Nature, in its wisdom, has bestowed upon us a repertoire of natural supplements and foods that possess the remarkable ability to modulate our immune function. The spotlight often falls on medical mushrooms like reishi, shiitake, and maitake—potent agents celebrated for their capacity to function as biological response modulators. In a symphony of health, they can bolster a weakened immune system or, conversely, pacify an overactive one.

The Enigma of Autoimmune Diseases

As we tread into the realm of immune modulation, a complex question emerges—do these immune-balancing treasures hold promise for individuals grappling with autoimmune diseases? These diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to lupus, reveal a peculiar irony. The immune system, typically a stalwart protector, goes awry, attacking the body’s own tissues—joints, lungs, kidneys, and more. Inflammation sets in, and the delicate balance of bodily harmony is disrupted, with dire consequences. The big question looms—can immune modulators be a beacon of hope or a trigger of turmoil for those ensnared by autoimmune diseases?

A Tangle of Evidence: Immune-Modulating Foods and Autoimmunity

In the annals of medical exploration, a pivotal inquiry remains unanswered. Can immune-modulating foods and supplements, hailed for their adeptness at balancing immune responses, befriend individuals waging war against autoimmune diseases? The conundrum lies in the very essence of autoimmune disorders—a hyperactive immune system wreaking havoc within. The thought of amplifying immune function in such cases seems counterintuitive. But intriguingly, the realm of literature is bereft of instances where dietary supplements or immune-modulating foods have been the culprits behind the aggravation or ignition of autoimmune diseases.

Unearthing Clues: A Glimpse into Case Reports

The pages of medical journals have witnessed the emergence of case reports that illuminate the intersection of immune-stimulating supplements and autoimmune conditions. In 2004, the spotlight turned to Echinacea, a popular immune-stimulating supplement, which was implicated in fuelling flare-ups of a rare autoimmune condition known as pemphigus vulgaris—a tormentor that blankets the skin and mucous membranes with blistering agony. Another instance saw the algae Spirulina platensis entwined in a similar narrative, unleashing a cascade of chaos in the form of pemphigus vulgaris. The stage witnessed yet another entrant—Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, an algae that cast its shadow over dermatomyositis, an autoimmune malady characterized by muscle weakness and inflamed muscles. The year 2018 cast a spotlight on autoimmune hepatitis, where rare herbal agents danced on the edges of liver inflammation and injury, underlining the potential of certain herbs to induce liver harm.

A Whisper of Caution: Autoimmune Terrain and Immune Modulators

As the puzzle pieces fall into place, a poignant message emerges—individuals ensnared by autoimmune conditions tread a delicate path when contemplating the embrace of supplements or foods adorned with immune-stimulating cloaks. The dilemma unfurls as we peer into the story of Echinacea, a beloved elixir for the common cold. While many revel in its immune-boosting prowess, the enchantment may falter for the one in five Americans harboring autoimmune diseases. The act of enhancing immune function, a boon for some, might awaken the sleeping beast within, triggering a surge in the ferocity of their condition.

The Enigma Unveiled: Immune-Modulating Agents and Autoimmunity

Amidst the patchwork of evidence, a paradoxical truth becomes known. Over the past two decades, the instances of immune-modulating herbs or foods unfurling autoimmune upheaval remain but whispers—a rarity in the realm of dietary exploration. As we gaze at this mosaic of findings, a ray of encouragement pierces through. The reports are indeed very rare, offering solace to the legion of supplement users. While the odds appear reassuringly low, the narratives of caution reverberate in the corridors of our awareness.

Epilogue: A Tale of Vigilance and Choice

The narrative of immune modulation unfurls as a tapestry woven with threads of promise and prudence. The connection between dietary choices and autoimmune conditions impels us to tread mindfully. With every supplement swallowed and every choice made at the table, the stakes are high. The dance of the immune system, an intricate choreography within, beckons us to honor its rhythms. As we journey through the labyrinth of immune modulation, let the tales of caution and curiosity guide our steps, cultivating a tapestry of well-being.


1. 3 Case Reports: Arch Dermatol June 2004: [Read the reports here](

2. Autoimmune hepatitis (Journal of Gastroenterology Medicine & Research 2018): [Read the study here](

 Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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