advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Too Many Autoimmune Diseases?

Why there are so many autoimmune disorders these days? It seems like every child has some major allergy, and every other adult has something going on as well.

A
Answer (Published 7/29/2010)

Although it's possible that these increases are tied to a growing emphasis on pro-inflammatory diets, which may prime our immune systems to be overreactive, the short answer to your question is that no one knows for sure. There's no doubt, however, that the prevalence of both autoimmune diseases and allergies has been increasing in developed countries since the 1950s. At the same time, the incidence of many infectious diseases has been declining in these countries, thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, improved hygiene and rising socioeconomic conditions. Some researchers believe this health trade-off is no coincidence and suggest that the decrease in acquiring natural infections has caused the increase in allergies and autoimmune disorders. Their observations have led to the formulation of the "hygiene hypothesis," which holds that exposure to infections, especially in early life, strengthens or programs the immune system in a good way, making it less likely to overreact to ragweed pollen, pet dander, or peanuts or to attack the body's own tissues.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Immune Health - Do you know which vitamins to take? Find out what is recommended for your optimum health with your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Profile.

Some of the evidence supporting the hygiene hypothesis is thought-provoking. For example, the rate of type-1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, among the children of Pakistanis who migrated to the United Kingdom is the same as the rate among kids whose parents were born there and about 10 times higher than the incidence in Pakistan. Similar environmental effects have been seen elsewhere for other allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Socioeconomic factors appear to play a role, too. Autoimmune diseases and allergies are less common among those of low socioeconomic status. This has been observed in parts of England, Northern Ireland and the Canadian province of Manitoba. In Germany, asthma rates are higher among residents of West Germany, which is more developed than the former East Germany. In addition, some evidence shows that the more exposure kids get to other children, including their older siblings, or at day care centers, the lower is their risk of asthma. The same goes for pets - kids who grow up with a cat or dog at home have lower rates of asthma and allergies.

At present, the hygiene hypothesis is just that - an unproved theory. No one is suggesting that we go back to less sanitary living in order to court infections and thereby avoid allergies and autoimmune diseases. But researchers are looking at related, novel ways to combat allergic and autoimmune diseases. One approach involves exposing patients with autoimmunity to a microscopic parasitic worm (Trichuris suis-ova or TSO, a species of pig whipworm). The idea here is that certain immune system cells can only become fully effective after stimulation by exposure to microorganisms and parasites that have coexisted with humans throughout history and are known not to cause serious disease. Preliminary studies have been promising. I'll keep you posted.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here