Autoimmune Diseases are a diverse class of afflictions caused by a compromised immune system, that are scary, debilitating, and even deadly. For unknown reasons, cases are rising annually, especially for those age 50 and older.
Fredrick Miller, M.D., scientist emeritus with the Environment Autoimmunity Group at the National Institutes of health, says “I’ve been trying to unravel the mysteries of autoimmune diseases for four decades. Autoimmune conditions like most conditions are diseases of age”. He adds, if they are increasing, as the research shows, over the next 50 years autoimmunity will be one of the most common and expensive diseases in society.
Over 100 diseases can lead to autoimmunity. The most common of these in the U.S. are Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s Disease, Celiac Disease, and Psoriasis. The one common factor of these diseases is that the immune system is battling with some part of your body. Either an organ, your nerves, your joints, or your skin.
“With an auto immune disease, your immune system attacks healthy tissues and structures,” says Timothy Niewold, M.D., director of the Langone Judith and Stewart Colton Center for Autoimmunity. “These normal defenses, which work to keep viruses and bacteria at bay and prevent illness, have essentially gotten confused and send “friendly fire” against their own body.
Many celebrities suffer from or have died because of autoimmune diseases. But it was wasn’t until a research team assembled and analyzed the blood of 14,211 people, ages 12-90, taken over more than two decades, looking for antinuclear antibodies (ANA), the most common biomarker of the diseases. “ANA do not tell if you have an autoimmune disease, though in many cases the can be the first sign of some immune irregularity that could later lead to autoimmunity,” the research team goes on to say, “Similar to cancer, we think autoimmune diseases have to develop over years. There needs to be a genetic component and an environmental exposure that starts a process towards illness.” ANA could be present for years before any symptoms start, or it may not ever develop into a disease.
Yet the team study results did show about 11% of the individuals tested between 1988 and 1991 had ANA in their blood, indicating about 22 million Americans were affected. Individuals that tested between 2011 and 2012, had percentages that rose to nearly 16%, meaning about 41 million affected with autoimmunity, nearly doubling.
The biggest rises appeared in two groups, adolescents and older adults. After adjusting differences in sex, smoking, alcohol, body mass index, etc., the results compared to those 25 years earlier, older adults have a 50% higher risk of having ANA appear in the blood.
What is going with this rise? That is the big question. The factors that could be the cause are our changing environment and life styles. Over 80,000 new chemicals have been approved for use in the U.S. over the last 30 years. Change in diet such as processed foods, additives, and fast food. Sedentary life styles, an epidemic in obesity, and different patterns of infections , such as COVID-19 have had a major impact. And we can not overlook the radiation from cell phones and computers, or the increase in noise and stress in today’s society.