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Are Toxins And Allergens Causing An Autoimmune Epidemic?

Mar 1, 2008
It's a condition that affects 24 million Americans - and its incidence has tripled in the last few decades.

It affects more women that breast cancer and heart disease combined.

And it just may be caused by the huge burden of environmental toxins that surround us.

What am I talking about?

It's autoimmune disease.

Most of us know the most common autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, hypothyroidism, and psoriasis.

But there are actually more than 100 different autoimmune conditions, which can affect different bodily systems. These conditions occur when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues rather than a foreign molecule like bacteria.

Swimming in a Toxic Soup

Although autoimmune disease can have many causes, toxins may be the most important.

You can read more about this issue in Donna Jackson Nakazawa's groundbreaking new book, The Autoimmune Epidemic.

Fueled by her own struggle with autoimmune disease, Donna identifies environmental toxins, which she terms "autogens" - foreign compounds that create an "auto" reaction against the self - as the true cause of autoimmunity.

In his foreword to Donna's book, Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that "there is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable."

It's no wonder.

We are exposed to astounding amounts of toxic chemicals.

A recent government survey ("National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals" issued in July 2005) found an average of 148 chemicals in our bodies.

Other research has found 287 industrial chemicals in the umbilical blood of infants, including pesticides, phthalates, dioxins, flame-retardants, Teflon, and toxic metals like mercury.

A Better Approach to Autoimmunity

This toxic chemical soup clearly has dire effects on our health. But conventional doctors don't address this when treating autoimmunity.

Instead, they prescribe heavy-duty drugs like anti-inflammatories, steroids like prednisone, anti-cancer drugs like methotrexate, and new drugs like Enbrel and Remicade that block the effects of a powerful inflammatory molecule called TNF alpha.

These drugs may help in the short term - but they can have serious side effects and don't address the root cause of autoimmunity.

I take a different approach with my patients. I tackle the underlying causes of autoimmune disease, such as allergens, poor diet, toxins, infections, and stress.

Then I add back the things the body needs to function optimally, like whole, clean food, nutrients, exercise, stress management, clean water and oxygen, community, connection, and meaning.

And the results are stunning.

One of my patients was just 42 but could barely function. She suffered from psoriasis and related arthritis. After eliminating gluten and other food allergens, removing heavy metals, and balancing her immune system, she has lost 30 pounds and is completely free of pain and psoriasis.

Another man suffered for years with the bloody diarrhea and pain of ulcerative colitis - until he removed the mercury and other toxins from his body.

And a recent patient with debilitating fatigue from multiple sclerosis got nearly complete relief of her symptoms after she had the mercury fillings removed from her teeth and went on a comprehensive detoxification program.

But this hasn't just helped my patients. It's helped my family, too.

I had chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that has autoimmune features. Once I addressed my mercury poisoning, my chronic fatigue and autoimmune problems improved.

My wife developed debilitating autoimmunity with joint pain and fatigue. Getting rid of the heavy metals in her body with an intensive detoxification program cured her, too.

You can do it, too!

If you or a loved one has an autoimmune condition, try these tips:

* Read The Autoimmune Epidemic to learn why we have this problem, and how to fix it

* Find a Functional Medicine doctor who can help you address autoimmunity

* Come see us for an appointment at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts

* Get tested for mercury and other heavy metals

* Get tested for celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction to wheat and other gluten-containing grains), which causes over 60 autoimmune diseases

* Take immune-balancing nutrients and supplements, including vitamin D, essential fats (like EPA/DHA and GLA), and probiotics

* Practice deep relaxation daily through yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or anything that reverses the stress response

* Practice the precautionary principle, which says that we should avoid anything with the potential for harm. In the US, something has to be proven harmful before it is taken off the market. In Europe, something has to be proven safe before it is allowed on the market. This is also known as "better safe than sorry."

* Learn how to boost your body's own detoxification system.

Remember, by addressing the root causes of autoimmune disease, you can start feeling better and getting well - today.
About the Author
Mark Hyman, MD is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. A sneak preview of his book "The UltraSimple Diet" is available. See The UltraWellness Blog for more on Autoimmune Disease.
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