Are You at Risk For Autoimmune Disease?

Current perspectives consider a much wider segment of the population at risk.
By Isaac Eliaz, MD
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As amazing as our bodies are, we cannot completely withstand the constant assault posed by unhealthy diet, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins. Rising from modern lifestyles, these factors contribute to several of America’s serious health epidemics—and autoimmune disease is rising to the top of the list.

     
Autoimmune (AI) diseases, of which there are more than 100 individual types including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease, are characterized by inflammatory self-destructive immune responses. These disorders cause the immune system to turn against itself and wreak havoc by attacking various organs and tissues.
 
Are You At Risk?
Like cancer, AI disease has been linked directly to environmental pollution and “everyday poisons.” Common toxins can be found everywhere: in many foods, cleaning products, furniture, electronics, cookware, beauty/body products, toys, clothing, mattresses, and so on. The rising number of AI cases, particularly surrounding areas of heavier toxin exposure, can no longer be ignored. But do you have to be genetically predisposed to be at risk?
    
For decades, the unanimous answer was, yes. Genetic factors were considered the sole cause of AI disease. However, research emerging from the new field of immunotoxicology (the study of the effects of toxins on our immune systems) is turning this assumption “on itself.”
    
While experts still believe that a genetic predisposition to AI disease places someone at a higher risk, data from immunotoxicology studies at top research institutes demonstrate that the epidemic increase of AI disease is also influenced by something much more widespread. Let’s face it—we live in a toxic world and must actively work to protect ourselves from the serious health effects that can result.
 
What is Autoimmune Disease?
In general terms, AI disease can be described as communication breakdowns between our body’s cells, where immune cells can no longer distinguish between our own healthy tissue and a harmful invader. Messages get scrambled between regulator immune T cells (T-1 cells), which orchestrate and direct immune responses, andthe more common T cells (T-2 cells) and lymphocyte immune cells, which are responsible for attacking harmful invaders. With AI disease, T-2 cells circulate unsupervised and undereducated, destroying various areas of the body depending on the specific autoimmune condition.
 
Much Higher Risk for Women
Why are women three times more likely to develop an AI disease than men? This is a complex question that may never be completely addressed by conventional medicine. Numerous complexities accompany AI disease responses. It may prove insightful, however, to examine the potentially larger presence of accumulated toxins in women’s bodies. These toxins can bind to estrogen receptors and distort cellular immune signaling, mutate DNA, and disrupt vital functions. It’s important to note that AI cases amongst women and men who live and work with environmental pollution—especially involving chronic exposure to pesticides, dioxins, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and other pollutants—are up to four times higher than the national average.
    
Despite the rising rates of autoimmune illnesses in the population, the bottom line is that AI can often be successfully managed through proper regulation of the body’s response systems using diet, healthy lifestyle patterns, and nutritional supplementation. Talk to your integrative or naturopathic practitioner about incorporating these strategies into your health management equation.