04 February 2008

The Autoimmune Epidemic

While wandering the aisles in the local Borders book store, I saw Donna Nakazawa's new book, The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World out of Balance and the Cutting Edge Science that Promises Hope. This description is from the book's official site:

Multiple sclerosis, lupus, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and nearly a hundred other chronic autoimmune illnesses are part of this devastating epidemic, in which the human body, acting on misread signals, literally begins to destroy itself. Alarmingly, the occurrence of many of these diseases has more than doubled in the last three decades, signaling a disturbing trend that can be directly tied to environmental factors in everyday modern life—including our daily exposure to a dizzying array of toxic chemicals.
With the conversation around a recent post fresh in my mind, I was drawn to the book to see what the author had to say about autism in the context of this autoimmune epidemic. There is one section, consisting of two pages, where she mentions the possible relationship of autoimmune issues, vaccines, and heavy metals (specifically mercury in the form of thimerosol) to autism. I don't recall the specific wording, but she basically left it as, "We'll have to wait and see what comes of the research."

Has anyone had a chance to read this book yet? Any thoughts?

13 comments:

kyra said...

i haven't read it so i can't offer any input but i will say, i agree with what you posted from their site. we are overwhelmed with toxins in our environment and it, unquestionably, is having a negative impact on our overall health.

Ashley loves Leo said...

Another book, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics; The 4 A's (autism, asthma, allergies, and ADHD)by Kenneth Bock, talks about the same thing. I haven't read it yet, but it's in my stack. I'll let you know. Our environment has changed us, and incredible how related these disorders are to each other.

Donna said...

Haven't we also greatly decreased some toxins? There is cooking, refrigeration, pasteurization, and my food supply is secure enough that I never eat questionable food. I don't often stand around a fire, breathing in the smoke. I live practically free of contact with bugs and rodents. This has to eliminate a lot of toxins that I would have been in contact with otherwise. Maybe we don't have enough toxins in our lives! :-)

Ashley loves Leo said...

The industrialization of our food supply has given us many problems with our food supply - and yes, less bugs! ha ha, which may be part of the problem IMHO. I'd recommend reading a good book that outlines the history of our food supply called The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It's a little long, but very informative and describes how things have DRAMATICALLY changed in the last 20 years.

Donna said...

I guess I have a couple of more books to add to my stack. I just still can't help thinking that it is just as likely that all the positive changes may have allowed more children to survive that wouldn't have survived otherwise.

donna jackson nakazawa said...

Hi all. My name is Donna Jackson Nakazawa and I'm the author of THE AUTOIMMUNE EPIDEMIC. Someone just forwarded your blog to me. I'm on book tour but thought I'd take a minute to make a few quick points. First, I spent the last three years following top scientists from Harvard to Hopkins to NIH as they try to discover what's at the heart of doubling and tripling rates of autoimmune disease. Not surprisingly, it's multifactorial. Exposures to heavy metals, chemicals, viral hits, genetic predispostion, drastic changes in our diet in the past 100 years (toward a more processed food diet), and modern stress levels have all created a "perfect storm" allowing today's autoimmune epidemic to take hold. These factors are all well detailed and documented (citing over 500 journal papers). Also, it is true that our environment is less challenging in terms of natural pathogens to some degree. Our kids are more likely to spend time in minivans than in the backyard, playing amidst the worms and the dirt. And we are less exposed to bacteria in our food. But at the same time that we've lessened our exposure to natural foreign agents, we've outpaced our evolutionary ability to keep up with the 80,000 chemicals that are now in our day to day lives. If you want to learn more about the science behind why this impairs our immune systems, I spend a whole chapter in the book following an average family through the day to show what they're exposed to and how these chemicals have been shown in both lab animal tests and occupational studies of people to cause autoimmune disease. Finally, I don't propose, in the book, that mercury causes autism. Again, it's highly multifactorial. What I do comment on is that scientists at Hopkins now believe that autism may be autoimmune in nature, and why they think this may be the case. If you do read the book I'd love to hear what you think! I've been paralyzed twice with an autoimmune disorder while raising two children and wrote this book to bring more awareness to the issue, and to help us better understand the impact of our environment on our health -- and that of our children. All the best to all of you!

Ashley loves Leo said...

Hi First Donna. Yes, there have been many miracles of modern medicine - say the stuff we see on Discovery Health Channel. I think just about everything has a place. For example, those in-utero surgeries just blow my mind. But, the U.S. is #2 in infant mortality rates. You gotta wonder.

It's the every life we lead and what we put into our mouths and what's in our environment we have to understand and make informed choices. If we buy food at a grocery store and live in society, we can't avoid an overload of toxins. I joke with my family that I'm moving to Montana to be a subsistence farmer and homeschool my kids! But that doesn't sound good either.

At 2yrs old, my son was diagnosed with asthma, food allergies (9), and environmental allergies (11). Oh, and a little thing called PDD-NOS. Healing through food and various supplements dramatically improved the wellness of my son, as today he no longer has asthma, allergies, and has reached "recovery" with Autism. (We used a lot of early intensive ABA which was our other cornerstone.)

Not everyone has our outcome, but we are happy to be where we are - it's not easy these days to live healthfully.

Brett said...

Ashley,

I've seen the Omnivore's Dilemma on the bookstore shelf, thanks for the recommendation. I also heard an interview with Michael Pollan (on NPR, I think Fresh Air maybe) for his new book, "In Defense of Food." Many of these same issues come up.

In fact, he kind of addresses what you bring up, namely the use of food as "medicine". He basically argues that if we actually ate food - instead of edible food-like substances - we would be, in general, much more healthy.

If you liked Omnivore's Dilemma, it sounds like you would enjoy this new book as well.

Brett said...

Donna,

I've had the same thoughts about the reduction of some toxins and the addition of new ones. The thing is (as Donna J. N. hints at), the "old" toxins are things that our bodies have had a chance to learn about and adapt to over many thousands of years and our bodies have barely had time to even figure out that all of the many many new toxins are even present.

In the short term, getting rid of all the old toxins may indeed have resulted in allowing more children to live than before, but we'll just have to wait and see what the long term impacts are.

Ashley loves Leo said...

Too funny Brett, my spouse, a Barnes & Noble addict, came home with a copy of his new book just yesterday! He likes to buy me books so his purchases don't stand out...ha ha

The book looks good, I'll let you know. I've actually exchanged emails with him, what a nice person in addition to being very bright and informed. He was fascinated that special needs communities are very interested by his book. I told him he needs to write one about our kids - it's always about my agenda, ha ha

Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at age 37 in 2007 and I purchased this book last week.I'm about 1/3 done and some of Donna's points sound valid but I'm very hesitant to blame our environment etc for causing autoimmune disorders. I feel the same way about global warming caused by man.We have made tremendous progress in medicine during the past 100 years and people have never lived longer or better.If I was diagnosed in 1907, I would be dead in several years as insulin wasn't discovered until 1922. Remember, as with all things, "don't believe the hype!"

Stephanie said...

I’ve been reading The Autoimmune Epidemic and I have to say that, as a medical journalist, the scientific research Nakazawa discusses, concerning environmental triggers is alarming and very compelling. These are studies coming from top medical and scientific institutions around the world. But, aside from what’s helpful about this book for anyone with an autoimmune disease (or who, like me, have friends who are afflicted), is that understanding the science behind your symptoms can help you to take better care of yourself . The book also validates what you’ve always suspected and intuited. My friends know that eating certain foods (sugar, gluten) will trigger symptoms. Same with household chemicals or that nice “new car smell”. One of my friends was about to buy a house but every time she went into it she got a headache. It turns out that the kitchen cabinets were made with formaldehyde. That nixed the deal. This book helps to explain exactly what is going on in the body when something like that happens. Even though I don’t have any disease (that I know of), I am much more careful than I used to be about what I expose myself to. Nakazawa writes about people who were apparently in the best of health for years until something –cycling through an area where there’s been a forest fire, a bout of flu—just tips them over. These diseases are slow-brewing. She talks about something called “the barrel effect”: one’s immune system can handle a lot of foreign invaders for a long time while the “stew” slowly rises to the top of the barrel and then some environmental trigger comes along that might not bother anyone else, but if your barrel is full, it will now spill over. Then you start to see symptoms. It’s like the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Brett said...

Stephanie,

Thanks for you thoughts on the book. The barrel effect that you mention is especially interesting (at least to me). I just may have to move this book up in my "to-read" stack.