Friday, February 6, 2009

Autoimmune emergency

I'm now simultaneously reading three books - the two mentioned in my post on Tuesday, and a new one - the Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. In the introduction, Douglas Kerr, MD, PhD (he's the director of the John's Hopkins Transverse Myelitis Center) compares this book to Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. He claims that Autoimmune Disease is becoming an epidemic in this country. One in 12 Americans, (and one in 9 women) will be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Those numbers are higher than our country's cancer rates and rates of heart disease. Even more shocking, in the last 30 years, the occurrence of these diseases has more than doubled, and may continue to increase if we don't put a stop to what may be causing this epidemic - environmental toxins.

Ms. Nazakawa, who has autoimmune disease herself, has written an incredible book. She cites both the most current research, and some of the best and brightest scientists in this field, to conclusively demonstrate that toxins in our everyday environment are causing an increase in autoimmune disease. Toxins like... pesticides on our food, plastics, chemicals in hair dye and in the foam mattresses we sleep on, exhaust from cars. And she's got the data to go along with it.

Here's what I found fascinating...It wasn't until roughly 50 years ago that it was recognized that our bodies could turn on themselves, which is essentially what autoimmune disease is. Instead of fighting toxins, our T cells (and other parts of our complex immune system) turn on our own cells, mistaking them for enemies within. But once the autoimmune process was demonstrated in the lab, each medical specialty laid claim on the autoimmune diseases closest to their work: e.g. rheumatology took the arthritises, gastro took crohns and celiac, derma took psoriasis. Unfortunately, there weren't many people left looking at autoimmune disease in general, at how it works, and how can it be controlled and prevented. So we're a bit behind in understanding the autoimmune process, let alone the immune system in general. But meanwhile - in the last 50 years, we have increased our use of environmental chemicals exponentially.

Fortunately, there are a few fabulous scientists out there studying the autoimmune process in our bodies, and in the last 10 years there has been a huge increase in research, especially in immunotoxicology. Ms. Nakazawa describes in lay language many current findings - she does a great job making a complicated process understandable.

I really recommend this book. It will scare the pants off of you.

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