How Viruses and the Flu Affect Autoimmune Diseases

If you’re managing an autoimmune condition, you know there’s one thing that can almost guarantee an autoimmune flare, and that’s getting sick.

While it’s common for even healthy individuals to be hard hit when they get an illness like the flu, autoimmune sufferers are at greater risk for severe symptoms and a longer recovery period. Viral infections such as the flu can even trigger autoimmune conditions in return.

Inflammation caused by immune dysregulation is higher in the fall and winter months, making cold and flu symptoms that much harder to battle for autoimmune sufferers. Read on to learn how integrative medicine can help you decrease your immune burden during cold and flu season.

Autoimmune Conditions and Flu Risk

Your immune system is a complex network of organs and signaling molecules that produce specialized proteins and cells that travel all over the body to attack and fight off disease. However, autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, or lupus) cause immune dysfunction, making it difficult for your immune system to distinguish between your body and invading pathogens–like the flu or common cold.

To complicate matters, some of the medication commonly used to treat the more than 80 types of recognized autoimmune disease, like steroids or biologics, can also reduce your body’s ability to fight off infection.

Curious about the holistic approach to autoimmune disease? Click here to learn more.

For the 40 million individuals who have autoimmune conditions, your immune system may have a harder time fighting off viruses if you’re exposed. Here’s what you need to know…

Written by CentreSpringMD

CentreSpring MD, formerly known as Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, provides the best medical care by using an integrative approach to find a patient’s centre—their core—empowering them to spring forth into health.


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How Viruses and the Flu Affect Autoimmune Diseases

If you’re managing an autoimmune condition, you know there’s one thing that can almost guarantee an autoimmune flare, and that’s getting sick.

How Viruses and the Flu Affect Autoimmune Diseases

If you’re managing an autoimmune condition, you know there’s one thing that can almost guarantee an autoimmune flare, and that’s getting sick.

A Healthy Immune Response

When you come down with a cold or flu illness, your immune system relies on cellular signals to send specialized immune cells like T cells and white blood cells where they’re needed.

To do this, your body creates a type of inflammation. 

Inflammation is your immune system’s response to harmful stimuli, including pathogens or toxins. Inflammation works by stimulating the healing response and removing the harmful intruder, therefore, it’s an essential part of a healthy body.

Autoimmune conditions alter your body’s normal inflammatory response, creating excess inflammation as it’s incorrectly attacking your body’s own tissues.

Getting a Cold With Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune conditions can weaken or alter your immune response. Because of this, when you do get sick, you may experience more severe symptoms, be sick for a longer duration, and experience a longer recovery period.

Those with autoimmune conditions should take special care to promote normal levels of inflammation during the colder months, as research shows inflammation increases during the winter, which could further worsen outcomes to illness (1).

How Viruses and the Flu Affect Autoimmune Diseases

Can a Viral Infection Trigger An Autoimmune Disease?

Viral infections are in fact a major trigger for autoimmunity. Viruses can perform a process known as molecular mimicry, allowing them to camouflage themselves in the body to avoid detection by the immune system for a period of time. When the immune system finally does detect the invading virus, proteins on the virus’ surface look similar to the body’s own tissues, resulting in confusion between self and non-self tissues (2). 

There is also an emerging post-viral inflammatory condition referred to as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) previously assumed to be caused only by mold exposure, but doctors are now seeing CIRS develop during the recovery of other viruses as well (3). 

If you have an autoimmune condition, it’s possible to lower your immune burden to promote a healthy and normal immune response in the presence of a virus or other illness.

Integrative Medicine: Lowering Your Inflammatory and Immune Burden

Autoimmune diseases often flare due to the immune system becoming overstimulated by multiple triggers. By identifying and decreasing common triggers such as food allergies, stress, or environmental toxicities, you can decrease your body’s immune burden giving your immune system more resilience against viruses.

Functional medicine therapies to support immune function include:

  • IV Drip Therapy – A simple and easy way to deliver nutrients directly to cells that needs them. You’ll find unique drips at CentreSpringMD to support immunity and boost antioxidant status.
  • MTHFR testing – For individuals with certain genetic variations which affect nearly 40% of the population, extra care is required for a healthy immune response involving methylation processes in the body. Your integrative doctor will help you navigate these factors.
  • Therapeutic massage – Release tension and lower inflammatory markers through stress relief and massage. CentreSpringMD’s integrative spa is here to support your healing journey.

Autoimmune Diet & Lifestyle 

Here are some autoimmune-friendly foods and supplements you can consider to support a healthy immune response:

  • Bone Broth 
  • Vitamin A (grass-fed dairy, fish, naturally-raised meat)
  • Probiotics
  • Fermented Foods (kefir, low-sugar yogurt, fermented veggies)
  • Vitamin D (from sunlight if possible where you live)
  • Zinc (oysters, naturally-raised meats, pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin C

Lifestyle factors important to lowering your immune burden are:

  • Sleep! If you’re managing any autoimmune condition or beginning to feel ‘under the weather’ it’s important to prioritize sleep as much as possible.
  • Exercise. High-intensity exercise isn’t recommended if you feel you’re coming down with something, but activities that support healthy blood flow and deep breathing are beneficial. Yoga, stretching, tai chi, and brisk walking are great immune-supportive activities.

Autoimmune Patients Prepare for Flu Season

While every individual should be proactive about the upcoming cold and flu season, it’s important that autoimmune patients remain especially mindful of their immune health prior to the start of colder weather.

Viral infections can trigger and worsen autoimmune flares, as well as cause an increased risk for the development of new autoimmune diseases. But by reducing the overstimulation of the immune system by multiple triggers, each autoimmune patient has the tools to reduce their immune burden and support resilience against cold and flu exposure.

Are you living with autoimmunity? Contact your CentreSpringMD team today to find out how you can prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season. Virtual visits are still available for the full holistic experience from the comfort of your home.



    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5406546/
    2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723519/
    3. https://www.nihadc.com/health-programs/chronic-inflammatory-response-syndrome-cirs.html

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