The Chemical Connection

Dr Paula Baillie, author of Stop the 21st Century Killing You, looks at how certain chemicals are poisoning our immune systems and may be leading to allergy, eczema and chronic illness - and what we can do about it.

Common Diseases Associated with a Malfunctioning Immune System

Allergies
Arthritis
Asthma
Autoimmune disorders
Cancer
Connective tissue disorders (SLE, Sjogrens syndrome)
Diabetes
Eczema
Food allergies
Food intolerances
Hayfever
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Infections
Inflammatory disorders
Urticaria or hives

The number of people suffering from diseases caused or exacerbated by an imbalanced immune system is at an all time high. In addition to the well known immune related conditions (allergies, immune suppression and autoimmune disease) there is increasing evidence linking an imbalanced and damaged immune system to a selection of other 'modern' ailments.

The transformation of previously rare immune conditions into common health problems suggests that something about our modern lifestyle is fundamentally damaging our immune systems.

For example, asthma was relatively unheard of at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet now it affects 100-150 million people worldwide - roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the Russian Federation. It is obvious, even to the most casual observer that the current situation is spiralling out of control.

The annual worldwide budget for treating these conditions with expensive pharmaceuticals runs to billions of pounds, yet relatively little importance has been given to investigating exactly what is behind this phenomenon. This lack of interest is truly tragic because it is becoming increasingly obvious that the answer to this multi-billion dollar question is staring us all in the face.

It appears clear that many important aspects of 21st century living play a major role in triggering and exacerbating the immune disease pandemic. Identifying these key triggers would allow significant action to be taken, not only to reverse the upwards disease trend but to tackle and reduce existing symptoms. A growing body of research suggests very clearly that the two most important causes are our ever increasing exposure to toxic chemicals and our nutrient deficient diets.

Toxic Poisoning
The immune system is crippled by 21st century chemical toxins. With the publication of each new research paper on the subject, it becomes more apparent that the immune system is exquisitely vulnerable to poisoning by synthetic chemicals and toxic metals. These substances appear to be able to attack every aspect of our immune systems. Indeed there is now a separate branch of medicine, known as immunotoxicology, that specialises in this field.

Daily Exposure
Unfortunately some of the most immune-system damaging chemicals are those to which we are exposed to on a daily basis. They include:

• pesticides (in foods and household products);
• toxic metals - such as mercury in amalgam fillings and as a common vaccine additive;
• lead in old paint or pipes;
• aluminium in vaccines, soft drink containers and foods (as additives);
• environmental pollutants - particularly industrial waste products, dioxins and PCBs;
• solvents - in foods, cosmetics and many other household products;
• halogens - such as fluoride, chlorine and bromine;
• plastics.

These chemicals appear to impact on the smooth functioning of the immune system in two main ways: by suppressing it (immunosuppression) and causing it to be underactive - or by sending it into overdrive so that it is overactive. Most chemicals trigger a mixture of the two responses.

Immunosuppression
If suppressed, the immune system cannot tackle invading bodies properly. As a result the person becomes more vulnerable to infections and is at a greater risk of developing cancer.

Immune Over-activity
Immune system overdrive causes a different set of problems. The person affected becomes sensitive or allergic to more and more substances, producing symptoms such as hives, runny nose, wheezing, and in extreme cases anaphylactic shock.

Another consequence of a continually chemically revved up immune system is an increased risk of developing autoimmune system disorders.

Numerous studies have found that the higher the levels of toxic chemicals found in the body, the larger the quantity and variety of autoantibodies spontaneously generated. Ever growing levels of autoantibodies ultimately trigger autoimmune disease. For instance, if autoantibodies against the thyroid gland are continually produced, at some stage that person may develop an auto-immune thyroid disease, such as Graves disease.

Inflammation
Long-term immune system overactivity also results in a greater degree of tissue inflammation. This causes more severe symptoms and accelerated disease progression. The awareness that chemicals can act as a constant source of tissue inflammation is important in the treatment of chronic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disorders, where suppression of inflammation is key to reducing symptoms and slowing disease progression.

Toxic Chemical Manipulation
Chemicals can also be deliberately used to manipulate the immune system.

Toxic chemicals have been known to possess immune system distorting qualities for a long time - they have been exploited by vaccine producers for decades. For example, toxic metals such as aluminium and mercury (hidden under the name of thimersol) are deliberately used as common vaccine components or ‘adjuvants’ because of their ability to artificially hype up the immune system. This over-egging effect tends to make vaccine production far cheaper, as it reduces the need for expensive antigen components, whether it be tetanus, hepatitis B or influenza, to get a ‘good' or heightened response.

'Adjuvants help the antigen to elicit an early, high and long-lasting immune response with less antigen, thus saving on vaccine production costs.'
(Gupta RK, Adjuvants for Human Vaccines - Current status, problems and future prospects. Vaccine 1995;13(14): 1263-76.)

Unfortunately, the addition of the heavy metal not only boosts the immediate response to the antigen, but revs up other important parts of our immune system triggering diseases such as hives, angioedema and anaphylactic reaction in their own right.

Long-Term Effects
This over-activation continues for as long as these chemicals remain in our bodies. Because of the inherent difficulty of removing them, this could be a very long time; in the case of mercury, for many decades. This could explain why human populations which are routinely vaccinated have a higher incidence of many autoimmune disorders.

Pesticides
Heavy metals are by no means alone in their ability to upset the immune system. Pesticides are also common culprits. Constant exposure to pesticides in foods, and in the environment from treated wood, agricultural spraying of crops, domestic treatments for gardens, pests, fungi, wood rot, etc has been linked to virtually every type of immune system disease.

In 1996 the World Resources Institute in Washington DC published a report called Pesticides and the Immune system: The Public Health Risks. This important document brings together an extensive body of experimental and epidemiological research from around the world documenting the effects of widely used pesticides on the immune system and the attendant health risks.

The Others ...
But it does not stop there. The list of chemicals that can trigger and enhance allergic reactions is far more extensive. It includes:

• fluoride and chlorine;
• plastics and solvents;
• food preservatives, colourings and other additives;
• cosmetics, sun screen, perfumes and other toiletry components;
• medications such as aspirin, antibiotics, painkillers and insect repellents;
• cigarette smoke;
• synthetic rubber;
• wood preservatives.

What to do?
The number of chemicals linked to immune system diseases are in their thousands, so tackling them all would be too complicated. However, the good news is that by identifying and actively reducing exposure to the major sources of toxic chemicals, while working on their removal from the body, it becomes possible to make huge health advances. Not only will cutting down on chemical exposure help reduce chemically triggered allergic reactions, it will also help to stabilise the immune system so that it becomes less likely to react to the entire range of allergens. The results will be fewer allergic episodes and less severe symptoms.

Chemical avoidance combined with lowering existing levels of chemicals in the body can also help improve many existing disease states. For example, one study showed that the greater the number of mercury dental fillings, the greater the risk of developing asthma. Removal of such fillings brought about a great improvement in the asthma symptoms.

My book, Stop the 21st Century Killing You, looks at individual immune system disorders and their chemical connections. It has been designed to enable the reader to see for themselves how certain chemicals are linked to certain diseases, as well as how they can be tackled.

The important role that nutrients play in preventing immune system diseases cannot be disregarded. Given the number of nutrients which we know are vital to an efficiently functioning system and the poor diets that most people now eat, it is a miracle that our immune systems work at all.

So what are these nutrients and what happens if we don't get enough in our diet?

Vital Nutrients
The main nutrients involved are:
• vitamins A, B6, C, D, E, biotin and folic acid;
• minerals magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and selenium;
• omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids;
• a sufficient and high quality supply of proteins. Although they all are needed for the immune system to work properly, some of these nutrients are more critical than others - magnesium and vitamin C (which act as natural antihistamines), zinc, iron, vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.

Deficiency or Sub-optimal
Unfortunately deficiencies in these nutrients are amongst the commonest found in the developed and developing world.

But for the immune system, even a slightly lower, or sub-optimal nutrient intake - nowhere near the level which would class as a ‘deficiency - will reduce its operational efficiency. This means that the vast majority of the non-supplementing population, as well as many of those on inadequate levels of supplements, are effectively putting themselves at risk.

Trace Minerals
Apart from the minerals mentioned above, many dozens of trace minerals, which are essential for proper immune system functioning, are simply not found in foods anymore as a result of modern intensive farming methods. Since they are also absent from most supplements, they need to be included in any ongoing nutritional programme. The easiest way to present them to your body is by adding dead sea salts to your bath water as the body then absorbs what it needs via the skin.

The Effects of Nutrient Deficiency
So what happens if the level of a vital nutrient falls? Curiously, the responses appear to mimic those of chemical poisoning: suppressing certain parts of the immune system, making other aspects overactive, or, in many instances both simultaneously. If nutritional deficiency continues for any length of time, this too increases the chance of developing an autoimmune disease.

How to Turn the Situation Around
The beauty of the detox approach is that by lowering the body's exposure to chemical toxins while giving the immune system the nutrients it needs to work properly, you will allow your strengthened immune system to treat itself, as nature intended. As a result your resistance to infection should increase dramatically, while your reactivity to substances such as pollen or foods should drop. The distressing inflammatory symptoms of many of the autoimmune conditions should also improve, which will allow you to reduce dependence on powerful drugs such as steroids which are commonly used to suppress an over-active immune system.

The Good News!
The good news is that if you reduce your outer and inner exposure to immune system bashing toxic chemicals, and simultaneously feed your immune system with sufficient levels of nutrients, you will find that most immune system diseases do improve.

This is because, using this approach, you will be positively dealing with two of the most important causes of immune system imbalance and malfunction.

By treating the cause of diseases such as hay fever, eczema, urticaria, hives and food intolerances, not only can you lower the incidence of symptoms, but they can completely disappear. If so symptoms will only re-appear when you are exposed to very high levels of chemicals or forget to take your nutritional supplements regularly.

Whilst not all immune system diseases can be so dramatically improved, I have found that most can be helped. The degree of benefit depends on the disease involved, the individual's level of toxic chemical build-up and their previous nutritional history.

First published 2005

 

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