Environment

Why Do Our Bodies Attack Us?

Why our bodies attack us in the form of autoimmune (AI) diseases is still unknown. There has been much research and there are correlations, links, hypotheses……but no definitive cause has been found.

Some of the studies I have read over the years have looked at:

  • gut bacteria
  • smoking
  • stress
  • genetic predispositions
  • pollution
  • diet
  • processed foods
  • links to medications we may have been on for other conditions
  • lack of exercise
  • B lymphocytes
  • environment

Some AI diseases are local (i.e. single organ involvement), others are systemic. Co-morbidity (patient has more than one condition) is reasonably common, about 25% of patients. The rate of co-morbidity is increasing, as is the number of conditions a patient may develop.

Although it does me absolutely no good to ponder about WHY I have the conditions I do, I ponder anyway. Most patients probably do!

I can tick off several items on that list: I’ve had a reasonable amount of stress in my life, I used to smoke (quite heavily by today’s standards), I may have a genetic predisposition but am unable to confirm that, I live in a major city so am certainly exposed to pollution. Like everyone else, I am exposed to our rapidly changing environment.

“Our gene sequences aren’t changing fast enough to account for the increases,” Miller says. “Yet our environment is—we’ve got 80,000 chemicals approved for use in commerce, but we know very little about their immune effects. Our lifestyles are also different than they were a few decades ago, and we’re eating more processed food.” Should prevalence rates for heart disease and cancer continue their decline, Miller says, autoimmune diseases could become some of the costliest and most burdensome illnesses in the United States.

Source: Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Autoimmune Disease

It isn’t just the chemicals. We are destroying our soil and our water. Both vital aspects of our food chain. Pop across to my book review earlier this year of Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century for more details. The Adani mine proposal in Queensland is most likely a health disaster waiting to happen. I look at the photo above: which environment might be healthier?

Yet many people do not develop AI diseases. Do they have a natural resistance?

Are all the different diseases really just different expressions of one disease?

So many unanswered questions.

I do think we have changed our natural world so much and so fast. We live entirely different lives than we did a hundred years ago: faster paced, less exercise, exposure to many things that didn’t exist a hundred years ago.

We also died younger: perhaps these diseases did exist, we just didn’t recognise them or live long enough for them to bother us. Yet many of these diseases do not worry about age: young or old, so many succumb to an out of control immune system irrespective of age. Consequently I’m not a fan of that theory.

It is estimated a hundred years ago humans got five times more exercise that they do today, just from living their lives. Office jobs were a rarity, not the norm. Movement was a natural part of life, not something we were encouraged to do for thirty minutes a day.

“Sitting is the new smoking” has been a mantra for a while, but now studies show standing is not the solution either. Movement is the key to good health, but we have developed a civilisation in which movement is not happening enough. We sit or stand without movement in so many jobs.

Sleep is another lifestyle concern. Most of us don’t get nearly enough. We watch too much TV, have the iPad or our phone on our bedside table so go to sleep way after sundown, yet get up at 5:30am to get that 30 minutes of mandated movement in the gym before 8 hours sitting (or standing). Rinse and repeat.

For those of us already managing AI conditions, (the pain, the financial impost, the lifestyle restrictions) finding the cause may be too late for us personally. For those coming after us, I do hope science finds a solution. Soon.

I do recommend counteracting as much as we possibly can. Eat healthily, sleep well, MOVE, avoid processed foods, give up smoking, minimise stress. Science has given us ways to manage many of these conditions reasonably well, however we can help. There is no point in my taking my prescribed medications every morning if I undermine the efficacy by my lifestyle choices.

While the scientific jury is still out, I’m looking at AI diseases as having a multi-factorial cause. I don’t believe I can rid myself of my conditions, but I can sure as hell give my body the best help I can.

Resources:

Multiple autoimmune syndrome

Autoimmune diseases (a good intro from the Australian Society of Immunology and Allergy)

Recent insights in the epidemiology of autoimmune diseases: Improved prevalence estimates and understanding of clustering of diseases