February 2023

Natural Medicines for Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease can be debilitating and challenging to manage. Because of this, many patients turn to natural medicines and alternative therapies for relief – specifically those with anti-inflammatory or immunomodulating effects. Here’s a quick review of some therapies patients might ask about.

Vitamin D and fish oil recently made headlines. A large-scale clinical trial evaluating the effects of vitamin D and fish oil on the prevention of autoimmune disease found that taking vitamin D supplements, with or without fish oil, for 5 years is linked with a modestly reduced risk of autoimmune disease. Taking fish oil alone didn’t have a significant effect. It’s important to note that this trial looked at autoimmune disease very broadly by pooling data on a wide range of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), psoriasis, and autoimmune thyroiditis. Vitamin D has failed to show benefit for treating RA or psoriasis specifically, and has only limited evidence of benefit for treating IBD. Similarly, Natural Medicines rates fish oil as possibly effective for the treatment of RA, but its benefits for the treatment of other autoimmune conditions are unclear.

In addition to vitamin D and fish oil, turmericginger, and garlic are likely to come up. While all of these natural medicines are touted for their anti-inflammatory properties, this doesn’t necessarily translate to a clinical benefit. For example, several small studies suggest that taking curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, by mouth might modestly improve some symptoms of RA. Limited evidence also suggests ginger might offer similar benefits. As for garlic, explain that while it might have anti-inflammatory effects, it is unclear whether it will improve autoimmune disease.

Tell patients the research is ongoing. Review our comparative effectiveness charts to dive deeper on specific autoimmune diseases, such as RAlupus and psoriasis. And take advantage of our charts to learn more about natural medicines with specific effects, such as immunomodulators and immunosuppressants

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.