I recently attended a conference on autoimmune disease back in January. I've been very interested in this topic over the last year because I believe, as the conference & my many recent readings have pointed out, that as the triggers for autoimmune disease have multiplied, our health has entered a state of crisis. I am not writing this to scare you but rather to raise awareness & share how you can make a difference for the future of your health & the future of the health of our planet. I honestly wish I knew some of this information before. But as my mom says in our native tongue, "Your morning starts the moment your eyes widen." I am no longer ignorant to the environmental impact on our health, so I want to share this with you!
Autoimmune disease by definition is condition in which the body's own immune cells attack the 'self.' Normally, your immune system protects you from foreign intruders like viruses and bacteria but when your immune system sees the body's own healthy cells as invaders, it relentlessly continues to attack.
In rheumatoid arthritis there is an attack against joint tissue. In Hashimoto's or Grave's, the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Many alopecia areata (head hair loss) suffers are battling the immune system's attack on hair follicles. In multiple sclerosis, the body's immune cells eat away at nerve coverings, in type 1 diabetes the pancreas is under attack, and the long list continues. So, is our immune system at fault? No, I don't believe so. I learned in medical school that the checkpoints in our body are complex. Did you know that we make 'cancer' cells every day and that every day our body successfully finds & corrects these 'mistakes'? In order for our body's innate immunity to go awry, the invader has to be relentless to conquer or evade all the checkpoints in place.
You might be thinking, so then, what is responsible? There has been a trail of evidence suggesting that environmental factors are largely at play. I learned at the conference I attended, specifically in my colleague, Dr. Lyn Patrick's lecture, that the environmental toxicants over time burden our bodies by creating oxidative stress. Basically, environmental toxicants stress the body, eventually triggering autoimmunity. Interesting, right?
While genetics determine whether autoimmunity is in the forecast, it is environmental factors that determine the outcome. I learned about many toxicants that can determine whether autoimmunity is triggered but I am going to share the three, I believe, have the greatest impact:
(1) Mercury: We are exposed to this neurotoxin via amalgam fillings, certain fish/shellfish (NRDC has a great guide) & thimerosal (mercury containing vaccine preservative). Thimerosal was taken out of childhood vaccines in 2001 but the yearly flu vaccine still contains thimerosal as preservative. If you have amalgam fillings, see a biologic dentist to have them looked at. In some cases it is advised not to touch them & in some cases removing them might be the best decision for your health. It is very important to vet the dentist you work with if you decide to have them removed. Removing mercury from your mouth is expensive & a big deal. So, you want the right person for that procedure.
(2) TCE (Trichloroethylene): This solvent has been identified by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as a known human carcinogen. How are we exposed to it? According to the ATDSR (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Agency) we can be exposed & thus absorb TCE through contaminated drinking water, air & soil vaporization.
(3) BPA: We have heard & read a lot about BPA. But what I didn't know until recently, is that BPA instead of BPA, many BPA-free products contain BPS & BPF. BPS & BPF have structures similar to BPA.
I am sure there are many of you reading this, that intuitively knew to stay away from all plastics once you heard about BPA. But, for those of you, who didn't, the science now points to similar and in some cases worse outcomes with the use of BPS and BPF. Plastics, though, in our society are unavoidable. But what are the greatest contributors to BPA absorption in our bodies?
a. The highest BPA exposure is through food and drink packaging specifically canned food, plastic water bottles, baby bottles, some plastic tableware and food storage containers. Even in BPA-free cans, there is a possibility that BPS or BPF may still be present.
b. BPA is still used in thermal paper. So, receipts & airplane tickets are another we are exposed to BPA. Click HERE for a really interesting study, I learned through Dr. Patrick's lecture, on BPA & thermal receipts.
c. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, BPA is also found lining bottle tops and water supply pipes.
Three BPA take-aways: (1) Try not to store food in plastics & if you do, don't microwave your food in them (2) Reduce consumption of canned foods (3) Wear gloves if your job requires you to handle receipts frequently (i.e. cashier).
There is so much more to say on this subject, but I am going stop here for today. I will continue this conversation in next week's blog post!