By CHAD LARSON, NMD
The world of autoimmune disease is broad and complex, with many mysteries still lurking. With over 100 types of autoimmune diseases identified, medical researchers are constantly seeking to gain a better understanding of how, when and why these conditions are triggered. While many diseases in general are associated with genetics, the onset of symptoms associated with autoimmune disease is much more complicated, making proactive prevention quite difficult. However, an awareness of common environmental triggers of autoimmune disease can help identify and treat many autoimmune conditions.
Health issues associated with autoimmune disease are expanding quickly and are now known to affect tens of millions of people in the United States alone. As environmental factors are one of the primary triggers of autoimmune reaction, it's imperative we keep a close eye on any adverse reactions we may have to specific environmental elements. Environmental triggers of autoimmunity include the following:
- Dietary proteins - Each person has their own unique body chemistry and digestive function. Sensitivities to different foods can not only bother one's digestive tract but can also trigger an autoimmune-related response. While each of us may react differently to different foods, there are some proteins that are more likely than others to present symptoms of autoimmune response, such as gluten (a wheat protein).
- Chemicals - When thinking of the health risks associated with excessive chemical exposure, many of us are quick to think of cancer. However, the loss of immune tolerance associated with toxic-chemical exposure can also lead to autoimmune reactivity. Environmental toxins are believed by many healthcare professionals to be the leading cause of autoimmune disease. Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released yearly by large industrial facilities.
- Heavy metals - Cadmium, lead and mercury are known to have strong associations with autoimmune reactivity. However, studies have shown mercury to be the worst. The EPA also reports that six million pounds of mercury are poured into our air every year.
- Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens - Repeated exposure to bacteria and viruses wears on our immune system. For some, that hard-working immune system can turn on its own body and mistake its own healthy cells for harmful ones, thus attacking them and leading to autoimmunity.
- Stress and other factors - Levels of stress-related illness are higher than ever. Both physical and emotional stresses weaken our immune system, allowing the body to develop a variety of illnesses. Stress is also known to trigger and intensify autoimmune-related disorders.
So, how can we tell if environmental elements have placed us at risk for autoimmune disease? Unfortunately, symptoms don't always present themselves until we are under a full autoimmune attack. However, symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, abdominal pain and nausea are common signs of early autoimmune response as a result of an environmental trigger.
Identifying potential dietary, chemical or other environmental triggers to your individual immune reactivity is key. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in advanced, innovative testing designed to detect food sensitivities and monitor autoimmune reactivities and their possible triggers, offers the Array 10 - Multiple Food Immune Reactivity Screen - to evaluate immune reactions to foods, raw and/or modified, food enzymes, lectins and artificial food additives, including meat glue, colorings and gums. This helps with early detection of dietary-related triggers of autoimmune reactivity. The Array 11 - Chemical Immune Reactivity Screen - identifies the loss of immune intolerance associated with toxic chemicals exposure, which may lead to autoimmune reactivity.
We are exposed to environmental toxins and bacteria through the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. If you have symptoms that you believe could be related to autoimmune reactivity, speak with a healthcare professional to determine if testing might be an option for you. We learn more and more about the causes and impact of autoimmune disease every day, so determining any triggers you may have can set you on a path toward a much healthier, happier quality of life.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on the Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories (www.joincyrex.com). Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine and environmentally-induced chronic disease.