This is the best time to be alive, if you want to live to a very old age: although life expectancy has risen more slowly in recent years, it is still increasing. At age 65, you can expect to live another 18 years on average. If you reach age 80, you can expect an average of another 6 years. At age 90, another 4 years on average. The longer you live, the longer you can expect to live statistically. That is because you have already passed hurdles that others didn’t at earlier ages. You may credit medical advances for taking you over some of those hurdles.
But wait! How about quality of life? Unfortunately, the statistics on disease and chronic health conditions are trending the other direction. In America, 45% of the population has at least one chronic disease, and is expected to cross over 50% in about 20 more years at current rates, according to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. While we congratulate ourselves for increasing life span, we have managed to reduce health at the same time!
The rise of autoimmune disease
There are over 100 categorized autoimmune diseases. Some familiar ones are: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune disease is a malfunction of the immune system, where it attacks healthy tissue. In Arthritis & Rheumatology, researchers looked for a typical marker of autoimmune disease in a large sample of Americans in 1988-1991, in 1999-2004, and in 2011-2012: this marker was only in 11% of people sampled in the first time period, 11.5% in the second, and 15.9% in the third period.
The International Journal of Celiac Disease reviewed results of 30 studies over 30 years and found the following annual percentage increases per year of four types of autoimmune disease:
- Rheumatic: 7.1%
- Endocrinological: 6.3%
- Gastrointestinal: 6.2%
- Neurological: 3.7%
These rates of increase are too rapid for generational genetic factors to be involved. The causes would have to be primarily environmental, whether internal or external (or both). Since the causes are environmental, the solutions should also be.
How does immunity work?
On the surface of cells are specific proteins called antigens. “Antigen” is short for “antibody generator”. These protein chains can be molecularly quite complex, and the sequence of building blocks that make up the proteins also make them very distinctive: like a password or a sequence on a combination lock, these proteins are coded information that can be “read” by special immune system cells.
There are two types of antigens. Heteroantigens are foreign to the body, while autoantigens are internal. The immune system is supposed to learn which are which, and ignore the autoantigen sequences. When a normal body cell is damaged, such as when invaded by a virus, the damaged cell calls the immune system, which reads the encoded bits of protein left behind in the damage. It is from those codes that the immune system builds its “key” to the invader’s antigen sequence.
The immune system gets trained over time, like a student learning a complex curriculum. It develops a set of keys to invaders, which are antibodies, that allow it to quickly identify the invader next time. However, if it “learns” a key to an autoantigen, it is going to attack cells with that antigen regularly even though they are normal body tissue. Once this incorrect learning has occurred, the immune system is now spending effort in doing damage to that normal tissue, and the typical medical response is to suppress the whole immune system, sparing the healthy tissue from attack while simultaneously opening the door to a weak immune response to real invaders.
Deal with it
Let’s put the pieces of the puzzle together. Autoimmune disease is clearly on the rise. The immune system is constantly on the lookout for anything that should not be in the body. Infections, food particles passing through “leaky gut”, food allergies, and toxins all signal the immune system to go into high gear. When the immune system is very active for a sustained period of time, its chances of mistaking an autoantigen as an enemy increases. Stress, lack of rest, and lack of exercise also push the immune system into overdrive. We live in a stress-filled, toxic, nutrition-poor, performance-driven world, and in that sense, perhaps this is not the best time to be alive if you are going to follow the standard American formula, because modern advances have made an unhealthy lifestyle far too easy. Fortunately, these problems of modern life can be dealt with if you take responsibility for your health.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Your immune system’s purpose is to keep you alive and kill every pathogen. It is already overloaded just with normal bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and cancer cells that develop in your body. Add to this chemicals, toxins and large food particles leaking through a compromised small intestine and you have just increased the load at least 10-fold. This means autoimmune highly reactive immune cells shooting inflammatory molecules everywhere to keep up with the load, and normal cells get caught in the line of fire. If you do not solve the inflammation root, then this progresses to more advanced disease. We have had patients heal most every type of autoimmune disease at Total Health Institute over the last 35 years. This begins with finding the root cause of the inflammation, then putting the fire out.