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How does exposure to toxins lead to Autoimmune diseases?

Autoimmune diseases constitute a leading cause of death among young and middle-aged women. The National Institutes of Health estimates that up to 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's hypothyroidism, Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Their prevalence is increasing and they lead to life-threatening complications such as kidney failure and heart disease. 


Research indicates that those suffering from 1 autoimmune disease are also at risk of developing other autoimmune diseases indicating the possibility these may have been triggered by a common cause. One possible cause of development and increased of autoimmune diseases is the exposure to toxins. We can classify toxins into

  1. Bacterial Toxins (Endotoxins) such as Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)

  2. Drugs

  3. Environmental toxins-Heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs)


1. Endotoxins (Toxins released by bacteria)

Immunoglobulin A or IgA are antibodies are found in the lining of the lungs, sinuses, stomach, and intestines.Patients with autoimmune diseases often have low IgA. Experiments with mice show that injecting LPS (a potent toxin released by bacteria) leads to a reduction in IgA. These mice are prone to autoimmune diseases like Lupus and Rheumatoid arthritis. Research is increasingly pointing towards gut bacterial toxins such as LPS causing leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine gets damaged, leading to the passage of undigested food, bacterial toxins such as LPS and bacteria through the intestines and into the bloodstream.

Endotoxins can also cause release of inflammatory messengers (cytokines, interleukins and free radicals) that continue to damage other parts of the body. They also stimulate the immune system leading to production of antibodies and migration of immune cells (such as lymphocytes and macrophages).

Endotoxins can also release Histamine from mast cells leading to allergies, asthma and food sensitivities. They also release factors that activate coagulation system leading to blood clot formation. Bacteria also release a toxin called myocardial depressant factor which decreases the ability of the heart to function and increases spasm of blood vessels. LPS has been linked to development and worsening of congestive heart failure 


2. Drugs

Many drugs commonly prescribed have been linked to the development of autoimmune diseases. Below are some examples

  • Antibiotics such as Minocycline, Fluoroquinolones such as Ciprofloxacin & Levofloxacin

  • Statins used for high cholesterol

  • Blood pressure lowering medications such as Hydralazine, Hydrochlorothiazide, Diltiazem

  • Antifungals such as Terbinafine

  • Antidepressants such as Bupropion

  • Acid blockers such as Lansoprazole (Prevacid)

  • Tamoxifen used in the treatment of Breast cancer

  • Biological agents used to treat autoimmune diseases such as Infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Embrel)

There are many other drugs that contribute towards development of autoimmune diseases.

3. Environmental Toxins

Heavy Metals

Examples of heavy metals include Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic, Gold and Thallium. One of the key mechanisms that metals cause autoimmune disease is by changing the genetic expression of DNA (DNA methylation). Research shows that these changes are not only detrimental to the individual but a mother can pass on the genetic changes to her children and her grandchildren. Below is a brief description of some metals that are clearly linked to autoimmune diseases.


  • Mercury has been found to be one of the most important heavy metal implicated in causing autoimmune diseases amongst women between the age of 16-49 years of age. A 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) survey of 1,352 women clearly found that the higher the level of mercury in women, higher was the presence of autoantibodies.


  • Cadmium has been found to increase rates of autoimmunity by increasing production of nonspecific antibodies, Lymphocyte proliferation (Lymphocytes are a special type of White cells implicated in causing autoimmune diseases) and suppression of natural killer cell (Natural Killer cells are special type of White cells implicated in suppressing autoimmunity) activity.


  • Lead is another heavy metal implicated in autoimmune diseases because it causes stimulation and proliferation of T Lymphocytes (Lymphocytes are a special type of White cells implicated in causing autoimmune diseases).


  • Arsenic causes an increase in autoimmune antibodies such as ANA and double stranded DNA (found in Lupus) along with increase in liver function test, and fatty liver.


  • Aluminium has been used in many different vaccines given to children at a very early age. A new autoimmune syndrome termed  Autoimmune Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants has been identified in children who receive multiple vaccines containing Aluminium and similar toxins. These children will experience weakness, anxiety, rashes, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders in addition to the development of a range of autoimmune diseases from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus to Rheumatoid Arthritis many years later.


  • Gold can cause autoimmune associated decrease in platelets (a type of blood cell needed for clotting), autoimmune kidney disease and other autoimmune disorders.


Exposure to Metals

Heavy metals are found in many foods, personal care items and environment such as

  • Mercury in fish, dental fillings

  • Lead in drinking water, cosmetics, and bone broth.

  • Arsenic-drinking water, cosmetics, vegetables, and smoking

  • Cadmium-in different fruits and vegetables as well as Cigarettes.

  • Aluminium: Baby formula, processed foods, antacids, personal care products, and canned food.


Persistent Organic Pollutants

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that cannot be broken down through chemical, biological, and other natural processes. Because of their persistence, POPs accumulate in the environment leading to adverse consequences on human health and the environment. Autoimmune diseases have been associated with POPs. These POPs are present is pesticides, plastics, receipts, cosmetics, automobiles and food products such as fish, milk, cereal etc. POPs have been found to activate the immune system particularly production of immune cells (T lymphocytes), increase in inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) as well as production of antibodies. All of these can lead to development of autoimmune diseases.


Assessment of Toxins


An important aspect of functional evaluation of autoimmune diseases is assessment of the different types of toxins followed by removal of these toxins. Toxins can be removed by specific and non-specific modalities. Specific treatment is based on the type of toxin. Non-specific treatment such as hyperthermic infrared therapy helps with detoxification of many different types of chemicals. Addressing the toxins is critically important because reversing root cause is the only way to stop progression of disease and its reversal. Avoiding toxins and regularly engaging in detoxification processes such as hyperthermic infrared treatments is helpful in preventing autoimmune diseases.



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