Climate Health Pharma

Environment, lifestyle behind epidemic of autoimmune diseases

Alembic FDA nod

HQ Team

November 28, 2023: An escalating global crisis is unfolding as an increasing number of individuals grapple with autoimmune diseases, conditions wherein the immune system loses its ability to distinguish between healthy cells and external invaders. Autoimmune disorders now afflict approximately one in ten people, a higher incidence than previous estimates that ranged from 3-9%.

James Lee, an expert from London’s Francis Crick Institute says there is a surge in autoimmune cases over the past four decades, not only in the West but also in regions that previously had minimal occurrences. A rising prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease in the Middle East and East Asia, regions historically unfamiliar with such ailments has been observed

The spectrum of autoimmune diseases encompasses a myriad of conditions, ranging from type 1 diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and lupus. In each instance, the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues instead of infectious agents.

Prevalence patterns

Experts ascertain that environmental factors likely play a pivotal role in the surge of autoimmune diseases being that human genetics haven’t altered much. Alterations in diet, particularly the adoption of Western-style diets and increased consumption of fast food, to changes in the microbiome are the major causes. This complex network of microorganisms in the gut influences various bodily functions and is implicated in triggering more than 100 identified types of autoimmune diseases.

A recent comprehensive study of a vast cohort of 22 million individuals in the UK, sheds light on the prevalence and patterns of autoimmune disorders.

The study scrutinized 19 of the most common autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, and sought to discern trends in their occurrence.

Notably, the researchers found that collectively, these autoimmune diseases affect 10% of the population, with a higher prevalence among women (13%) compared to men (7%).

The research also unveiled that individuals with one autoimmune disease are more likely to develop a second.

This was particularly evident in rheumatic and endocrine diseases. However, multiple sclerosis exhibited lower rates of co-occurrence with other autoimmune diseases, hinting at distinct underlying mechanisms.

Risk factors for autoimmune diseases
  • Sex as a Risk Factor:
    • Overall, 78% of individuals affected by autoimmune diseases are female.
    • Specific conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and Sjogren’s syndrome predominantly affect females, with up to 95% of patients being women.
    • Arthritis and multiple sclerosis occur in females around 60% more frequently than in males.
  • Genetic Predisposition:
    • Certain autoimmune disorders like lupus and multiple sclerosis tend to run in families.
    • Genetic predisposition involves inherited variations that impact immune response, with the epigenome playing a role in how genes are expressed.
  • Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome (MAS):
    • Individuals with one autoimmune disease are at risk of developing more.
    • Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome (MAS) is observed in approximately 25% of patients with three or more autoimmune conditions.
    • Conditions like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, or Sjogren’s are associated with MAS.
  • Obesity and Autoimmune Diseases:
    • Obesity, affecting 35% of the global population, is linked to over ten autoimmune diseases.
    • Excess weight increases the risk of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.
  • Smoking and Exposure to Toxins:
    • Smoking is a risk factor for autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and multiple sclerosis.
    • Exposure to other toxins like air pollutants, crystalline silica, ultraviolet radiation, or organic solvents is associated with autoimmune diseases, especially in individuals with a genetic predisposition.
  • Medications and Autoimmunity:
    • Certain medications, including blood pressure medications, statins, and antibiotics, may trigger drug-induced autoimmune conditions like lupus or autoimmune hepatitis.
    • Immune system function can be affected by pharmaceuticals, leading to autoimmune reactions as potential side effects.
  • Infections and Autoimmune Susceptibility:
    • Early exposure to certain infections increases susceptibility to autoimmune diseases.
    • The Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is associated with systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
    • Group A Streptococcus bacteria can trigger autoimmune diseases affecting the heart, joints, and brain.
    • The SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, is associated with various autoimmune diseases, including Guillain-Barre syndrome, antiphospholipid syndrome, and lupus. Ongoing research explores the relationship between COVID-19 and autoimmune conditions.

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