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The incidence of autoimmune disease has more than tripled in the past few decades. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy Association report that currently 1 in 20 people are being affected by autoimmune diseases in Australia and New Zealand. Adjuvants, such as aluminium hydroxide used in vaccines and medical silicones used in prosthetic implants can cause an autoimmune disorder known as Schoenfeld’s syndrome.

What is Autoimmunity?

Autoimmunity develops over time.  Initiated by the loss of immune tolerance to ‘self’ tissues it invariably leads to tissue damage.  Pre-clinical autoimmunity can be seen to precede clinical disease by many years.  Numerous environmental factors have been shown to combine with genetic predisposition to increase the incidence of autoimmune diseases (ADs).

Looking for explanations

If we step back a bit and look at what happens in the body we can begin to understand why autoimmune disease has become so widespread in society.

One of the most prevalent factors is as enigmatic as it is fundamental: Toxins.  Many toxins are not only categorised as ‘endocrine disruptors’, they also disrupt the immune system, whereby over time multiple chemical exposures, along with other key factors (such as diet, lifestyle and gut health) can heavily influence the risk of developing autoimmune disease.

While there is a genetic component, this is less of an “inherited disease” but rather a predisposition to developing a particular type of condition only if triggered by lifestyle and toxin exposure.

The many toxins in our lives

The use of chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides and insecticides for crops such as fruit and vegetables is ever-increasing. There has also been a steep rise in the use of antibiotics in farm animals and farmed seafood, heavy metals (such as arsenic), chemical ingredients in our foods (artificial preservatives, colourings and flavours) and personal care items (shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, cosmetics, deodorants), and artificial sweeteners (in soft drinks, chewing gum and processed foods).  Exposure to these over time is known to contribute to the immune reactions leading to autoimmune disorders.

Solvents are liquids that dissolve a solid, liquid or gas.  They can be broadly classified into two categories:  organic and inorganic.  Organic solvents (OS) are compounds whose molecules contain carbon.  Examples are benzene or xylene.

Common uses for OS are: dry cleaning (tetrachloroethylene), paint thinner (toluene, turpentine), nail polish removers and glue solvents (acetone, methyl acetate, ethyl acetate), spot removers (hexane, petrol ether), detergents (citrus terpenes), perfumes (ethanol), nail polish and original chemical synthesis.  In contrast, the use of inorganic solvents (other than water) is typically limited to research in chemistry and some technological processes.

Chronic exposure to OS often leads to deposition within organs and consequently to immune infiltration, similar to what is ultimately observed in ADs. The self-proteins that are modified by OS may become immunogenic, recognised as foreign, and then initiate an inflammatory response and tissue injury.

Lymphocyte infiltration and immunoglobulin deposits are seen in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), as are enzymatic alterations and scleroderma-specific antibody subsets in Systemic Scleroderma (SSc).

Long term exposure to OS appears to foster massive liver cell infiltration (leading to autoimmune hepatitis). It is important to highlight that this infiltration is the first step in the immunopathogenesis of not only autoimmune hepatitis but also the rest of the ADs.  

Adjuvants, such as aluminium hydroxide used in vaccines and medical silicones used in prosthetic implants can cause an autoimmune disorder known as Schoenfeld’s syndrome.

Medical silicones in breast implants have in fact been associated with SLE, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Vasculitis and Progressive Systemic Sclerosis.

Smoking is also a known risk for RA and recent studies have demonstrated that cigarette smoking may induce citrullination of proteins within pulmonary alveolar cells. This is an important finding because antibodies to citrullinated peptides are highly specific for RA.

Endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) are a diverse group of synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals that enhance or inhibit hormone signalling. Evidence from extensive human studies already suggest that EDC have effects on reproduction, breast development, cancer, thyroid signalling, metabolism and obesity, as well as the cardiovascular system.

Many EDC also have effects on immune responses in experimental systems, in addition to their effects on hormone signalling, suggesting a biologic plausibility for a role of EDC in allergic disease. For example, bisphenol A (BPA) can increase certain immune markers in animals. Triclosan can cause an alteration in proinflammatory markers while downregulating immune responses.

In addition to effects on hormonal activity, a subset of EDC also often have antimicrobial properties. Triclosan, for example is a common ingredient found in personal care products such as mouthwash and hand sanitiser. (Triclosan has recently been banned in the USA but remains widely used in Australia).

Parabens are also antimicrobials which destabilise cell membranes and are typically used as food, medication and cosmetic preservatives.  While their use was intended to prevent contamination, the cellular destabilising effect is not limited to microbes and can affect cells in our body.

Interestingly, several studies have suggested associations between changes to commensal human bacterial flora and allergic outcomes. Therefore, it is possible that EDC with antimicrobial properties may modify risk for allergic disease by altering the human microbiome.

An infection collection

Infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, are also known to trigger autoimmune disorders through several mechanisms: molecular mimicry, epitope spreading, standard activation, viral persistence, polyclonal activation, dysregulation of immune homeostasis and auto-inflammatory activation of innate immunity.

It is important to note that an infection may not necessarily be the inducer but rather the total burden of infections from childhood on that trigger autoimmunity. There is some discussion as to the effects of viral materials in vaccines as possible autoimmune triggers.

A link has been established between the dysregulation of viral infections such as Epstein-Barr (EBV) and the occurrence of systemic autoimmune diseases (SADS), a group of connective tissue diseases, including SLE, RA, Sjogren’s Syndrome (SS) and mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) with overlapping symptoms and antibody development.

The composition of the intestinal microbiota is fundamentally involved in the regulation of immune homeostasis. More than 100 trillion microorganisms live in our gut, mouth, skin and other mucosal surfaces of our bodies – only 10% of the cells in our body are human.  These microbes have numerous beneficial functions relevant to supporting life including digesting food, preventing disease-causing pathogens from invading the body and synthesising essential nutrients and vitamins.

Natural support for your immune system

Factors such as genetics, diet, environment, infections and gut microbiota clearly all play a role in the mediation of autoimmune disorders. There have been tremendous advances in our recent understanding of the interplay of these factors. 

All these aspects are considered, evaluated and addressed at True Medicine. The clinic offers various forms of testing which may reveal the presence of infections, toxins and other burdens on your body preventing it from functioning optimally.

For a personalised health assessment and individualised care, arrange a consultation now by calling 0468 774 633