AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

Written by Slawomir Gromadzki (“Swavak”), MPH

Autoimmune diseases cause immense suffering and pain. In people who suffer from various autoimmune conditions, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues. There are about 160 different individual autoimmune diseases or over 80 types categorized according to different parts of the body that are affected.

KEY CAUSES

Vitamin D3 deficiency. There is a growing amount of research which suggests that a lack of vitamin D could be an important factor in causing all 160 autoimmune diseases. Almost every person in England is deficient in vitamin D which is very important also for human nervous and immune system.

In his bestselling book “China Study” Prof Colin Campbell wrote that, “Autoimmune diseases in general become more common the greater the distance from the equator.  This phenomenon has been known since 1922.” This statement leads us to a simple conclusion that all autoimmune diseases have a lot to do with the vitamin D (“sun vitamin”) deficiency, as well as the modern unhealthy lifestyle of North America or Europe. Read more about vitamin D >

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Iodine deficiency (due to soil depletion there is not enough iodine in food). The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce its hormones. In fact, it is believed that iodine’s only role in the body is to make thyroid hormones. However, it is important to know that not only too little of iodine can cause impaired thyroid function, but also too much can interfere with the gland’s ability to produce its hormones. Unfortunately there is disagreement with regards to sufficient iodine daily requirements. Some maintain that the dosage range for iodine supplementation should be 300-400 mcg daily but others suggest that it is way too low.

Magnesium, Zinc, and Selenium deficiency.

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Toxins: Mercury (from dental fillings, tap water, fish, flu shots, etc.) lead, fluoride, and other toxins.

– Food intolerances: Gluten and A1 Casein intolerance.

Hormonal Imbalances: Too much Cortisol (from stress).

Stress, anxiety and depression. A number of published papers have shown that stress and negative emotions contribute to all autoimmune diseases.

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– Consumption of trans fats, margarine and bad oils (high in pro-inflammatory omega 6) and deficiency of omega 3 healthy fats high in foods such as Flax seed, Chia seed, etc..

Bad lifestyle, unhealthy diet high in sugar, processed refined foods, nutritional deficiencies, artificial sweeteners, lack of exercise, stimulants, drugs, medication, and in particular excessive stress, depression and pessimism may lead to the oversensitivity of the immune system which changes its nature and starts attacking own body.

– Consumption of meat and dairy products (can trigger autoimmune response and causes hormonal imbalance), refined, junk and processed foods, refined sugar, white flour products, high glucose (high fructose) syrup, stimulants (including coffee, tea, green tea, cola, etc., nutritional deficiencies, white pasta, white rice, processed foods, stress, lack of exercise, etc.

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– According to Dr Michael Greger, “Alkylphenols, flame-retardant chemicals, and perfluorochemicals, industrial pollutants found mostly in fish and meat, may be associated with thyroid disruption in young children and adults. Alpha-gal antibodies in meat may result in autoimmune conditions, including thyroid disorders. The artificial food coloring Red No. 3, too much seaweed of any type, and processed meat consumption may be linked to an increase risk of thyroid cancer. Poultry workers often have thyroid disorders.”

AN ATTEMPT TO SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF AN AUTOIMMUNE RESPONSE

(IT IS VERY IMPORTANT PART! PLEASE READ EVERYTHING!)

Autoimmune diseases are becoming extremely common nowadays, especially among women. Researchers have proved that all autoimmune disorders basically reflect the same strange phenomenon: The irritated and weakened by different factors (including unhealthy diet, dairy, gluten, toxins, stress, or vitamin D deficiency) immune system, mistakes healthy tissue or organs as foreign and begins to attack them. The only difference between numerous autoimmune diseases is the type of organ or tissue which is attacked. In case of vitiligo, eczema or psoriasis it is skin; in Parkinson’s disease it is dopamine producing brain cells; in lupus it can be different parts of the body including joints, skin, liver, etc. When leukocytes attack pancreas they cause type I diabetes. With ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, it is the colon; and with multiple sclerosis, it is the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. In case of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and Graves’ hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is the target of the immune system.

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It is very interesting that Hashimoto’s disease (the most common cause of underactive thyroid) as well as Grave’s disease (the most common cause of overactive thyroid) are both an autoimmune conditions. However, there is an important difference between these two diseases with regards to the role and influence of the immune system: In Hashimoto’s leukocytes, instead of protecting the gland, strangely treat thyroid cells as if they were some dangerous invaders and destroy thyroid cells making them unable to produce enough hormones. In Grave’s disease, on the other hand, white blood cells go into another extreme, and although there is no physiological need to do this, they stimulate thyroid to make way too much of its hormones.

It means that in both cases the immune system gets “crazy” and instead of protecting thyroid cells it behaves in a very strange way and either decides to kill thyroid gland or cause another harm by forcing overproduction of thyroid hormones!

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Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find a medical website or a scientist that would at least attempt to explain this extremely weird behaviour of human immune system. They are unable to do it probably because scientists look for a very complex scientific answers while the solution may be surprisingly simple and logical. Apart from that, for them the immune system is just a bunch of unintelligent cells that came into existence as a result of evolution and only mechanically perform their physiological functions.

Fortunately, back in Poland I was very lucky to have a privilege of translating a series of health lectures by American physitian Dr. Sang Lee who developed a very interesting explanation of this phenomenon. So let me try to share with you a few thoughts I still remember from his fascinating and unique health seminars.

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When we carefully study the physiology of our immune system we quickly get an impression that somehow our immune system behaves in an incredibly intelligent way. It is also clear that the immune system is very closely connected to the brain and nervous system and that white blood cells respond to different physiological and even psychological needs. One scientist trying to express this idea even suggested that leukocytes behave like “pieces of brain scattered all over the body”.

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There is no doubt brain is the most important part of human body. Brain in our organism is like a “king” or a “boss” and because of that, no cell, including the immune system cells ever question any information, signals or anything coming from the brain. That is why the placebo or nocebo effect (a positive or negative attitude of the brain) can impose such a powerful effect on body’s physiology and health.

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Knowing this we can draw some very important conclusions which will help us to understand how mental attitudes and emotions can influence the immune system cells to either destroy thyroid or stimulate it to make more hormones.

We know that great majority of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are caused by abnormal and harmful response (behaviour) of the immune system. The autoimmune form of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s disease and in case of hyperthyroidism it is Graves disease.

Another fact we need to take into consideration is that autoimmune diseases (including both thyroid autoimmune conditions) are much more prevalent among women than man, even if their diet and lifestyle are similar. Now, that doesn’t mean bad diet, and lack of exercise do not contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, but that there is another cause which should be regarded as even more significant.

The simple conclusion, therefore, is that it is anxiety, depression, worrying and negative mental attitudes that must greatly contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, simply because poor mental health is also much more common among women than men.

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Taking into consideration all those facts Dr Lee suggested that when a woman suffers from chronic anxiety or depression, when she has negative attitude toward life, keeps on thinking about death or suicide, or if she is overwhelmed by any other negative thoughts and emotions, her intelligent and closely connected to the brain immune system gets a clear impression that the “boss” (which is the brain) doesn’t want to live. Therefore, like obedient soldiers the white blood cells feel obliged to fulfil the desire of the “boss”, so they turn against its own body and begin to attack different organs. In case of Hashimoto’s disease it is thyroid.

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The whole situation is made even more dangerous when a depressed woman does not exercise, and since only dead body does not move, the leukocytes draw a conclusion that she is already dead so why they should protect the dead body? If she is dead it is more reasonable rather to attack the body and accelerate the decaying process!

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But, someone may argue that, if pessimism, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, how to explain that sometimes babies or small children are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, eczema, or type 1 diabetes? They couldn’t trigger these conditions through their pessimism.

The answer is obvious, they either inherited overreacting immune system or their immune system was negatively influenced by mother’s nervous system (depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc.) when they were in their mother’s womb. There are many women who during pregnancy were depressed or even attempted to commit suicide and gave birth to children who sooner or later were diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. In addition babies are very often deficient in Vitamin D ad are fed with cow’s milk and it is scientifically proved that both factors also contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases in children.

There are also some nutritional ways to trigger an autoimmune reaction. We already know that heated animal protein, especially the one found in cow’s milk and dairy, is often treated by human immune system as a foreign invader. Because of that leukocytes send antibodies against those heated proteins which get into human body with milk and dairy products. The problem however is that in our bodies there are certain proteins which look exactly like those heated milk proteins so the weakened immune system often mistakenly and simultaneously attack also those body’s own proteins, causing different autoimmune problems.

Apart from pessimism and sedentary lifestyle there are still other “death signals” that may “inspire” the immune system to attack own body. For instance, using stimulants such as alcohol, smoking, illegal drugs, coffee, tea, cola, sugar, etc. could be discerned by the immune system as the “death wish” (“death signals”) of the brain and thus “inspire” the immune system with the idea that the “boss” wishes to die (due to the suicidal lifestyle and diet). The immune system may get this impression because stimulants are harmful and toxic chemicals which slowly contribute to the death of the body.

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Also regular consumption of meat products may trigger similar reaction because meat comes from dead animals.

In addition, any heated (cocked, boiled, fried, grilled) animal protein always triggers immune reaction causing leukocytes to start mobilising and thus leading to increased number of leukocytes in the blood. This phenomenon is called leucocytosis and has bad influence on the immune system. As a result of frequent consumption of heated animal proteins (cooked dairy, meat, poultry, fish, or eggs) the immune system is frequently alarmed, has to overwork and may change its nature. Eventually it often turns against its own body causing numerous autoimmune diseases, including thyroid problems.

In case of the Graves hyperthyroidism, however, the behaviour of the immune system seems to be very opposite than in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or other autoimmune conditions because in Graves hyperthyroidism instead of attacking and destroying the tissue leukocytes just stimulate thyroid to make even more hormones! Now, why on earth in this case the immune system changed its tactics and instead of killing thyroid gland it just decides to “help” it to work very hard?

Well, also in this case Dr Lee got a very interesting explanation. He suggests that if a woman lives a very stressful lifestyle, always tries to do her best in performing her duties at home and work, often in a hurry, dealing with many different things at the same time, if she doesn’t rest and sleep long enough at night, gets often nervous or irritated, drinks coffee or uses other stimulants to increase her energy so that she could be more efficient, then guess what the “intelligent” immune system, which responds to the physiological and psychological needs, do? The immune system says, “Ok, the boss is very restless, wants be more energetic and efficient in performing different duties, let us then go to thyroid and stimulate it to make more hormones, and in this way we will fulfil the wish of the boss.” When over a decade ago I heard this idea for the fists time I said, “Wow! It is so fascinating how our immune system works and how it can be influenced by mental attitudes!”

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Well, if this idea is true, and to be honest I personally like it very much, then the best way to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases (including Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and Graves hyperthyroidism) is by stress control, positive thinking, laughter, frequent smiling, taking care of others, helping people in need, going for a walk and enjoying life and the beauty of the nature. It can be done by avoiding “death signals” (stimulants, meat products and other heated dead foods, etc.). In this way you will show the immune system that you want to live and actually enjoy life. As a result those smart and intelligent invisible tiny soldiers (the white blood cells) will never attack your own body (or will stop doing that) but will protect and fight for you like Kamikazes. Unfortunately, from my long experience I know that for many of us it is very difficult and often even impossible to become a positive thinking person because those negative emotions and fears seem to be part of our nature. Sometimes we even feel like slaves of pessimism. And that is the reason I want to recommand to you a very special, unique and even most important section called “EMPOWRNMENT”. So please read it carefully and after that go alsoto the “GOSPEL OF FREEDOM“, as it reveals the secret of finding the only source of true inward “peace” which according to Apostle Paul “surpasses all knowledge” and which can “guard (protect) our hearts and minds (emotions)”.

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Please read this extremely important part (LINK) very carefully as it reveals the secret of finding true source of strength necessary to overcome bad habits and will help you to gain a powerful motivation to not only practice but also enjoy the new and very healthy way of life.

Combined with true strong faith this message will lead you to freedom from negative emotions such as anxiety or existential fears (one of the key source of deadly free radicals). It will empower you with moral strength necessary to overcome long-cultivated bad habits or addictions, often impossible to defeat on our own. This unique and most wonderful good news of the gospel will also give you a powerful motivation to not only practice but also enjoy the new and very healthy way of life.

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TREATMENT

Autoimune conditions are treated with harmful medication, which have bad side effects. Fortunately it is possible to recover from autoimmune diseases by practicing healthy lifestyle and using natural remedies. The most important element of the treatment is implementing principles from the HEALTH RECOVERY PLAN >

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NUTRITIONAL AND LIFESTYLE RECOMMENDATIONS

Autoimmune diseases can be reversed by practicing the following guidelines:

– Avoid all animal foods including cheese, meat products, all dairy, stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).

– Go on vegan unrefined diet as it gives best results. Eat especially with lots of raw vegetables salads and raw vegetable juices.

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– Proper stress control and positive thinking – extremely important!

– Eliminate all junk food, processed food, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and anything with bad preservatives and chemical.

– Eating whole, unprocessed foods, and choosing as many organics as possible.

– Getting adequate sun exposure if possible (20 minutes a day during summer time between 10 am and 2 pm) to maintain vitamin D levels.

– Avoid gluten (wheat products, etc.). The molecular structure of thyroid tissue is almost identical to that of gluten and therefore the immune system may start sending antibodies not only against gluten proteins but against proteins found in different organs causing autoimmune diseases . In this way gluten can increase the autoimmune reaction. Many people with autoimmune diseases have an autoimmune reaction to gluten, and it usually goes unrecognized. Gluten can cause gastrointestinal system to malfunction, so foods aren’t completely digested. These food particles can then be absorbed into bloodstream where body misidentifies them as antigens and then produces antibodies against them.

– Avoid all dairy products as heated dairy protein (especially A1 casein) often irritates the immune system stimulating it to produce antibodies against different internal organs. The most common allergies and food intolerances today are from wheat and dairy products because of the hybridized proteins of gluten and a1 casein. These proteins can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome which leads to inflammation.

– Use glass bottles as Bisphenol A (BPA) which is found in plastic bottles and cans (they are lined up with plastic) disrupt endocrine system.

– Avoiding chlorine, fluoride (toothpastes with fluoride, etc.), and bromine as they also contribute to autoimmune diseases.

– Avoid hydrogenated fats and trans fats (margarines, doughnuts, cakes, etc.) and proinflamatory omega 6 fatty acids (soy oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc.).

Ray Peat Ph.D., a physiologist who has worked with progesterone and related hormones since 1968, says that the sudden surge of polyunsaturated oils into the food chain post World War II has caused many changes in hormones. He writes: “Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. When the thyroid hormone is deficient, the body is generally exposed to increased levels of estrogen. The thyroid hormone is essential for making the ‘protective hormones’ progesterone and pregnenolone, so these hormones are lowered when anything interferes with the function of the thyroid. The thyroid hormone is required for using and eliminating cholesterol, so cholesterol is likely to be raised by anything that blocks the thyroid function.”

– Detoxifying body from heavy metals by using combination of: Chlorella, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Cilantro.

– Remove any dental fillings containing mercury.

– Increasing intake of healthy fats such as raw coconut oil, coconut milk, avocado, chia seeds (soaked for at least 30 minutes or overnight), ground flaxseed, and hemp seeds as they will balance hormones. Coconut oil is one of the best foods for thyroid. Coconut oil is a saturated fat comprising medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are known to increase metabolism and promote weight loss. Coconut oil is very stable (shelf life of three to five years at room temperature), so body is much less burdened with oxidative stress than it is from many other vegetable oils.

– Increase consumption of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene found in carrots, apricots, green leafy vegetables, etc.

– Eliminate stimulants (anything with caffeine or other similar harmful alkaloids: coffee, tea, green tea, mate, yerba mate, cola, chocolate, etc.).

– Exercise at least 30–60 minutes per day.

– Get enough sleep.

– Practice deep breathing.

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– Address adrenal fatigue. A prolonged stress response can lead to adrenal exhaustion (also known as adrenal fatigue). Find out more about ADRENAL FATIGUE >

– Treat unresolved emotional issues as a source of stress. Autoimmune diseases reflect emotions and mental attitude. When people with autoimmune diseases make progress in treating unresolved emotional issues, their symptoms subside. Stress, anxiety or depression are often key culprits. It is important to identify the stressors and learn use ways such as prayer that can help to control stress and negative emotions.

– Read about the DEADLY CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORGIVENESS >

– Drink and use for cooking only distilled or at least filtered water. Not all water filters remove fluoride, so make sure the one you have does or use only distilled water (buy a water distiller). Taking chlorella and turmeric help to get rid of fluoride and heavy metals such as mercury.

 HERBAL REMEDIES & SUPPLEMENTS

– Apart from Ashwaganda you can use other herbal remedies and adaptogens such as Rhodiola and Three Tulsi (Holy Basil) tea or capsules.

– Boost Glutathione levels which is a most powerful of all antioxidants and strengthens the immune system and is one of the most effective remedies against autoimmune diseases. It increases body’s ability to modulate and regulate the immune system. It is also important to provide body with ingredients that increase glutathione production in the liver by taking turmeric, milk thistle, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), bioactive whey protein, Glutamine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, bilberry, vitamin C, asparagus, broccoli, peaches, avocado, spinach, garlic, squash, grapefruit. Read more >

– Taking selenium supplements and increasing consumption of foods high in selenium (Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, garlic, onions, etc.).

– Increase consumption of omega 3 fatty acids in the form of ground flax seeds, chia seeds. Omega 3s are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function and cell growth.

– Take good quality omega 3 fish oil supplements (HealthAid makes excellent omega 3 fish oil as it is molecularly distilled and therefore perfectly free from mercury and other contaminants >): 1000 mg 2 times a day with meals. I recommand this one also because it is high in both EPA and DHA (DHA omega 3 is more important in improving brain function while EPA in coping with inflammation). Research has confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids can improve the symptoms of ADHD more effectively than drugs.

If you don’t want to use a molecularly distilled omega 3 fish oil (such as the mentioned above one by HealthAid) it’s much better to use high in DHA omega 3 oil from algae (expensive) and not from fish as unlike fish oils, the algae-derived omega 3, is free from toxins that may be present in some low quality fish oils. In case you prefer to avoid swallowing gelatine capsule pierce or cut the omega 3 capsule and squeeze it into a meal or liquid.

Vitamin B12: 1,000 to 2,000 mcg a day under the tongue (must be sublingual Methylcobalamin!). Many people with autoimmune diseases have low levels of this most important vitamin. Read a fascinating article on B12 >

Zinc (helps produce thyroid hormone) – 30  to 50mg a day after breakfast.

– Take good quality probiotic formulas such as Moodprobio or Coliprobio as proper immune system function depends on a sufficient supply of healthy gut bacteria.

– You must take Vitamin D3 because almost all patients suffering from autoimmune diseases patients are deficient in Vitamin D! While using vitamin D3 supplements always remember to take also well absorbed magnesium (such as citrate) as vitamin D supplements lead to magnesium deficiency over time. If you can’t afford higher doses take at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day with meal. But since deficiency of this vitamin is so widespread (especially in the UK) it would be better to take 20,000 to 30,000 IU a day with meals with appropriate doses of magnesium. Another requirement for proper absorption of vitamin D is 200 mcg of Vitamin K2 MK-7 (Derived from Natural Natto) a day. Read more about vitamin D >

Magnesium citrate or another well absorbed magnesium: 2 times a day 200-400 mg between meals. The more vitamin D3 is used the more magnesium must be taken as D3 leads to magnesium deficiency.

 Autoimmune Disease Success Stories >

– Good quality Multivitamin-mineral formula or Vitamin B-complex: 1 tablet after breakfast. Please do not buy cheap formulas as their potency is very low and they contain only short list of inorganic ingredients. It must be a good quality formula such as Healthy Mega (HealthAid), VM75 (Solgar) or Special Two (NOW Foods) which are an excellent multi-vitamin and mineral formulas fortified with alfalfa powder, rutin, citrus bioflavonoids, bromelain, herbs, digestive enzymes and many other super nutrients. If your diet is very healthy and you stay away from refined foods, sugar and stimulants then take only 1/2 tablet after breakfast.

– Since Vitamin B complex (B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Folate) play very important role in dealing with ADHD I recommand getting B complex with a good guality multivitammin-mineral formula which is high in B vitamins. One of my favourite ones is Healthy Mega (HealthAid) as it is not only high in B vitamins and at the same time it contains zinc, selenium, herbs, digestive enzymes, micronutrients, and few super grasses. Compared with other popular formulas Healthy mega may contain even up to 60 times more vitamins per tablet!

Adults may take 1 tablet of Healthy Mega after breakfast, children 1/2 tablet (or less) crushed and mixed with juice after breakfast.

– Beneficial herbs: Tulsi (Holy basil), Lemon balm (Melissa), Tumeric, Valerian root, Chamomile, Hops.

SOURCES

Hafström I, Ringertz B, Spångberg A, et al. A vegan diet free of gluten improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: the effects on arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to food antigens. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2001, 40:1175-1179.

Proudman SM, James MJ, Spargo LD, et al. Fish oil in recent onset rheumatoid arthritis: a randomised, double-blind controlled trial within algorithm-based drug use. Ann Rheum Dis 2013.

Tursi A, Brandimarte G, Papa A, et al. Treatment of relapsing mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis with the probiotic VSL#3 as adjunctive to a standard pharmaceutical treatment: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Am J Gastroenterol 2010, 105:2218-2227.

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Chapter 9 from the book “China Stydy” by T. Colin Campbell

No GROUP OF DISEASES is more insidious than autoimmune diseases. They are difficult to treat, and progressive  loss of physical and mental function  is  a  common outcome. Unlike heart  disease,  cancer,  obesity  and Type  2 diabetes, with autoimmune diseases the body systematically attacks itself. The afflicted patient is almost guaranteed to lose.

A quarter million people  in the  u.s.  are diagnosed with  one  of the forty separate autoimmune diseases each year.  I.  Women are 2.7 times more likely to be afflicted than are men. About 3% of Americans (one in every thirty-one people) have an autoimmune disease, a staggering total of 8.5 million people; some people put the total at as  many as  12-13 million people.3

The more common of these diseases are listed in Chart 9.1. 2  The first  nine comprise 97% of all autoimmune disease cases. 2  The most studied are multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Type  1 diabetes and rheumatic heart disease. 2  These are also  the primary autoimmune  diseases that have been studied in reference to diet.

Others not listed in Chart 9.1  include inflammatory bowel disease,4 Crohn’s  disease,4  rheumatic  heart  disease3 and  (possibly)  Parkinson’s disease.s Each disease  name may sound very  different,  but as  one recent review  points  out,2  ” .. . it is  important  to  consider … these  disorders  as a group.”  They show similar clinical backgrounds,3.6.  7  they sometimes occur in the same person and they are often found in the same populations. 2  MS  and Type  1 diabetes,  for  example,  have  “nearly  identical Graves’ disease  (Hyperthyroidism) 10.  Sjogren’s disease Rheumatoid  arthritis  1l.  Myasthenia gravis Thyroiditis  (Hypothyroidism)  12.   Polymyositis/dermatomyositis Vitiligo  13.  Addison’s disease Pernicious anemia  14.   Scleroderma Glomerulonephritis  15.   Primary biliary cirrhosis Multiple sclerosis  16.   Uveitis Type  1 diabetes  17.  Chronic active  hepatitis Systemic  lupus erythematosus ethnic and geographic distribution.”8 Autoimmune diseases in general become more common the greater the distance from  the  equator.  This phenomenon has been known since  1922.9 MS,  for  example,  is  over a hundred times more prevalent in the far north than at the equator.  10 Because  of some of these  common features,  it is  not too  far-fetched to think of the autoimmune diseases as one grand disease living in different places in the body and taking on different names. We refer in this way to  cancer, which is specifically named depending on what part of the body it resides in.

All autoimmune diseases are  the result of one group of mechanisms gone awry, much like cancer. In this case, the mechanism is the immune

system mistakenly attacking cells in its own body. Whether it is the pan-

creas as in Type  1 diabetes,  the myelin sheath as  in MS  or joint tissues

as in arthritis, all autoimmune diseases involve an immune system that

has revolted. It is an internal mutiny of the worst kind, one in which our

body becomes its own worst enemy.

IMMUNITY FROM INVADERS

The  immune  system  is  astonishingly  complex.  I  often  hear  people

speaking about this system as if it were an identifiable organ like a lung.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a system, not an organ.

In essence, our immune system is like a military network designed to de-

fend against foreign invaders. The “soldiers” of this network are the white

blood cells, which are comprised of many different sub-groups, each having

its own mission. These sub-groups are analogous to a navy,  army,  air force

and marines, with each group of specialists doing highly specialized work.

AUTOIMMUNE   DISEASES  185

The  “recruitment  center”  for  the  system  is  in  the  marrow  of our

bones.  The  marrow  is  responsible  for  generating  specialized  cells

called  stem  cells. Some  of these  cells  are  released  into  circulation  for

use  elsewhere  in  the  body;  these  are  called  B-cells  (for  bone).  Other

cells  formed  in  the  bone  marrow  remain  immature, or unspecialized,

until they travel to  the thymus (an organ in the chest cavity just above

the  heart)  where  they  become specialized;  these are  called  T-cells  (for

thymus). These “soldier” cells, along with other specialized cells,  team

up to  create  intricate  defense  plans. They  meet at major intersections

around  the  body,  including  the  spleen  (just  inside  the  left  lower  rib

cage)  and  the  lymph  nodes.  These meeting  points are  like  command

and control centers, where the “soldier cells” rearrange themselves into

teams to attack foreign invaders.

These  cells  are  remarkably  adaptable  when  they  form  their  teams.

They are  able  to  respond  to  different  circumstances  and  different  for-

eign substances, even those they have never before seen.  The immune

response to  these strangers is an incredibly creative process. It is one of

the true wonders of nature.

The  foreign  invaders  are  protein  molecules  called  antigens.  These

foreign cells can be a bacterium or a virus looking to corrupt the body’s

integrity  So  when  our immune system  notices  these  foreign  cells,  or

antigens,  it destroys  them. Each  of these  foreign  antigens  has  a  sepa-

rate identity, which is  determined by the sequence of amino acids  that

comprises its proteins. It is  analogous to  each and every person having

a different face. Because numerous amino acids are available for creating

proteins, there are infinite varieties of distinctive “faces. “

To  counter these  antigens,  our immune system must customize  its

defense  to  each attack.  It  does  this  by creating a  “mirror image”  pro-

tein for each attacker. The mirror image is  able  to  fit  perfectly onto the

antigen and destroy it.  Essentially, the  immune system creates a  mold

for  each face  it encounters. Every time it sees that face  after the initial

encounter, it uses the custom-made mold to  “capture”  the invader and

destroy it. The mold may be a B-cell antibody or a T-cell-based receptor

protein.

Remembering each defense against each invader is what immuniza-

tion is  all  about.  An initial exposure to  chicken pox,  for  example,  is  a

difficult battle,  but the second time you encounter  that virus you will

know exactly how to deal with it, and the war will be shorter, less pain-

ful and much more successful. You may not even get sick. 186  THE   CHINA  STUDY

IMMUNITY FROM OURSELVES

Even though this system is a wonder of nature when it is defending the

body against foreign  proteins,  it is  also  capable  of attacking  the same

tissues  that  it is  designed  to  protect.  This  self-destructive  process  is

common to all autoimmune diseases. It is as if the body were to commit

suicide.

One of the fundamental mechanisms for  this self-destructive behav-

ior is called molecular mimicry.  It so happens that some of the foreign

invaders that our soldier cells seek out to  destroy look the same as  our

own cells.  The immune system  “molds”  that fit  these invaders also  fit

our own cells.  The immune system then destroys, under some circum-

stances, everything that fits  the mold,  including our own cells.  This is

an extremely complex self-destructive process involving many different

strategies on the part of the immune system, all of which share the same

fatal  flaw  of not being  able  to  distinguish  “foreign”  invader  proteins

from the proteins of our own body.

What does all of this have to do with what we eat? It so happens that

the antigens  that trick our bodies into attacking our own cells may be

in  food.  During  the  process  of digestion,  for  example,  some  proteins

slip into our bloodstream from the intestine without being fully broken

down into their amino acid parts. The remnants of undigested proteins

are treated as foreign invaders by our immune system, which sets about

making molds to destroy them and sets into motion the self-destructive

autoimmune process.

One of the foods that supply many of the foreign proteins that mimic

our  own body proteins  is  cow’s  milk.  Most  of the  time,  our immune

system is  quite smart. Just like an army arranges for safeguards against

friendly  fire,  the  immune system has safeguards  to  stop itself from  at-

tacking  the  body  it’s  supposed  to  protect.  Even  though  an  invading

antigen looks just like one of the cells in our own body,  the system can

still distinguish our own cells from the invading antigen. In fact, the im-

mune system may use our own cells to practice making molds against

the invader antigen without actually destroying the friendly  cell.

This is analogous to training camps in preparations for war. When our

immune system is working properly, we can use the cells in our body that

look like the antigens as a training exercise, without destroying them, to

prepare our soldier cells to  repulse the invading antigens. It is one more

example l  of the exceptional elegance of nature’s ability to regulate itself. AUTOIMMUNE   DISEASES  187

The immune system uses a very delicate process to decide which pro-

teins should be attacked and which should be left alone. ll  The way this

process,  which is  incredibly complex, breaks down with  autoimmune

diseases is  not yet understood. We just know that the immune system

loses its ability to differentiate between the body’s cells and the invading

antigen, and instead of using the body’s cells for  “training,” it destroys

them along with the invaders.

TYPE  1 DIABETES

In the case of Type  1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas

cells  responsible  for  producing  insulin.  This  devastating,  incurable

disease strikes children,  creating a  painful and difficult experience for

young families.  What most people don’t know,  though, is  that there is

strong evidence that this disease is linked to diet and, more specifically,

to  dairy  products. The ability  of cow’s  milk protein  to  initiate  Type  1

diabetes 12

14  is well documented.  The possible initiation of this disease

goes like this:

•  A baby is  not nursed long enough and is  fed  cow’s  milk protein,

perhaps in an infant formula.

•  The milk reaches the small intestine, where it is digested down to

its amino acid parts.

•  For some infants, cow’s milk is not fully digested, and small amino

acid chains or fragments  of the original protein remain in the in-

testine.

•  These  incompletely  digested  protein fragments  may be  absorbed

into the blood.

•  The immune system recognizes  these fragments as  foreign  invad-

ers and goes about destroying them.

•  Unfortunately, some of the fragments look exactly the same as the

cells of the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin.

•  The  immune  system  loses  its  ability  to  distinguish  between  the

cow’s milk protein fragments and the pancreatic cells, and destroys

them both, thereby eliminating the child’s ability to produce insu-

lin.

•  The infant becomes a Type  1 diabetic, and remains so for  the rest

of his or her life.

This process boils down to a  truly remarkable statement:  cow~ milk

may cause one of the most devastating diseases  that can befall a child. For

obvious reasons, this is one of the most contentious issues in nutrition

today.

One  of the  more  remarkable  reports  on  this  cow’s  milk  effect  was

published over  a  decade  ago,  in  1992,  in  the  New  England Journal  of

Medicine. 12  The  researchers,  from  Finland,  obtained  blood  from  Type

1 diabetic children, aged four to  twelve years. Then they measured the

levels of antibodies that had formed in the blood against an incomplete-

ly  digested protein  of cow’s  milk called bovine serum albumin  (BSA).

They  did  the  same  process  with  non-diabetic  children  and compared

the two groups (remember, an antibody is the mirror image, or “mold,”

of a foreign antigen) . Children who had antibodies to cow’s milk protein

must  have  previously  consumed cow’s  milk.  It  also  means  that  undi-

gested protein fragments of the cow’s milk proteins had to have entered

the infant’s circulation in order to  cause the formation of antibodies in

the first place.

The  researchers discovered something truly remarkable.  Of the  142

diabetic  children measured, every  Single  one  had  antibody  levels  higher

than  3.55. Of the seventy-nine normal children measured,  every  single

one had antibody levels  less  than 3.55.

There  is  absolutely  no  overlap  between  antibodies  of healthy  and

diabetic  children.  All  of the  diabetic children had levels  of cow’s  milk

antibodies  that were  higher  than  those  of all  of the non-diabetic  chil-

dren. This implies two things: children with more antibodies consumed

more  cow’s  milk,  and second,  increased antibodies  may  cause  Type  1

diabetes.

These results sent shock waves  through the  research community.  It

was the complete separation of antibody responses that made this study

so remarkable. This study,12 and others even earlier,15-17  initiated an ava-

lanche of additional studies over the next several years that continue to

this day.  13.  18. 19

Several  studies  have  since  investigated  this  effect  of cow’s  milk  on

BSA  antibody levels. All  but one showed that cow’s milk increases BSA

antibodies  in Type  1 diabetic  children,18  although  the  responses  were

quite variable in their magnitude.

Over  the  past  decade,  scientists  have  investigated  far  more  than

just the  BSA  antibodies,  and a  more  complete  picture  is  coming into

view.  Very briefly, it goes something like this 13

,  19:  infants or very young

children of a certain genetic background,2o,21  who are weaned from the

breast too  early22  onto  cow’s  milk and who,  perhaps, become infected AUTOIMMUNE   OISEASES  189

with  a  virus  that may  corrupt  the  gut immune  system,l9  are  likely  to

have a high risk for  Type  1 diabetes.  A study in Chile 23  considered the

first two factors,  cow’s milk and genes. Genetically susceptible children

weaned too early onto cow’s milk-based formula had a risk of Type 1 di-

abetes that was 13.1 times greater than children who did not have these

genes and who were breast-fed for at least three months (thus minimiz-

ing their exposure to cow’s milk). Another study in the U.S. showed that

genetically susceptible children fed  cow’s  milk as  infants had a  risk of

disease that was 11.3 times greater than children who did not have these

genes and who were breast-fed for at least three months. 24  This eleven

to  thirteen times greater risk is incredibly large  (1,000-1,200%!); any-

thing over three to four times is  usually considered very important. To

put this in perspective, smokers have approximately ten  times greater

risk of getting lung cancer  (still less  than  the eleven  to  thirteen  times

risk here)  and people with high blood pressure and cholesterol have a

2.5-3.0 times greater risk of heart disease (Chart 9.2) .18

So  how much of the eleven  to  thirteen times  increased risk of Type

1 diabetes is due to early exposure to cow’s milk, and how much is due

to genes? These days, there is a popular opinion that Type  1 diabetes is

due to genetics, an opinion often shared by doctors as well. But genetics

alone cannot account for more than a very small fraction of cases of this

disease.  Genes do not act in isolation;  they need a  trigger for  their ef-

fects to be produced. It has also been observed that after one member of

identical twin pairs gets Type  1 diabetes, there is only a 13-33% chance

of the  second  twin  getting  the  disease,  even  though both  twins  have

the same genes. l3

, 20,  21, 25. 26

If it were all due to genes, closer to  lOO%  of

the identical twins would get the disease. In addition, it is possible that

the 13-33% risk for the second twin is due to the sharing of a common

environment and diet, factors affecting both twins.

Consider,  for  example,  the  observation  shown in  Chart 9.3,  which

highlights the link between one aspect of environment, cow’s milk con-

sumption, and this  disease.  Cow’s  milk consumption by children zero

to  fourteen years  of age  in twelve  countries 27  shows an almost perfect

correlation  with  Type  1  diabetes. 28  The  greater  the  consumption  of

cow’s  milk,  the  greater  the  prevalence  of Type  1  diabetes.  In Finland,

Type  1 diabetes is thirty-six times more common than in Japan. 29  Large

amounts of cow’s milk products are consumed in Finland but very little

is consumed in JapanY

Cow Milk Consumption (liters/person/year) AUTOIMMUNE   DISEASES  191

As we have seen with other diseases of affluence, when people migrate

from  areas  of the  world  where  disease  incidence  is  low  to  areas  of the

world where disease incidence is high,  they quickly adopt the high inci-

dence rates as they change their diet and lifestyle.

This shows that even

though individuals may have the necessary gene(s), the disease will occur

only in response to certain dietary and/or environmental circumstances.

Disease trends over time show the same thing. The worldwide preva-

lence of Type 1 diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate of 3% per year.

33

This increase is  occurring for  different populations even  though there

may be substantial differences in disease rates.  This relatively rapid in-

crease cannot be due to genetic susceptibility. The frequency of anyone

gene in a large population is relatively stable over time, unless there are

changing  environmental  pressures  that allow  one group  to  reproduce

more successfully than another group. For example, if all families with

Type 1 diabetic relatives had a dozen babies and all the families without

Type  1 diabetic  relatives  died off,  then  the  gene  or genes  that may be

responsible for Type  1 diabetes would become much more common in

the population.  This, of course,  is  not what is  happening, and the  fact

that Type  1 diabetes is increasing 3% every year is very strong evidence

that genes are not solely responsible for this disease.

It seems  to  me  that we now have impressive evidence shOWing  that

cow’s milk is likely to be an important cause of Type  1 diabetes. When

the results  of all  these studies are  combined (both genetically suscep-

tible and not susceptible), we find  that children weaned  too early and

fed cow’s milk have, on average, a 50-60% higher risk of Type 1 diabetes

(1.5-1.6 times increased risk).34

The earlier information on diet and Type  1 diabetes was  impressive

enough to cause two Significant developments. The AmericanAcademy

of  Pediatrics  in  1994  “strongly  encouraged”  that  infants  in  families

where diabetes is more common not be fed cow’s milk supplements for

their first  two years of life.  Second, many researchers

19

have developed

prospective studies-the kind that follow individuals into the future-

to see if a careful monitoring of diet and lifestyle could explain the onset

of Type 1 diabetes.

Two of the better known of these studies have been underway in Fin-

land, one starting in the late  1980S

15

and the other in the mid-1990s.

35

One has shown that cow’s milk consumption increases the risk of Type

1 diabetes five-  to sixfold,36  while  the second

35

tells  us  that cow’s milk

increases  the  development of at least another  three  to  four  antibodies 192  THE   CHINA  STUDY

in addition to  those presented previously (p.  190).  In a separate study,

antibodies to beta-casein, another cow’s milk protein, were significantly

elevated in bottle-fed infants  compared  to  breast-fed infants;  children

with  Type  1  diabetes  also  had  higher  levels  of  these  antibodies.

37

In

short,  of  the  studies  that  have  reported  results,  the  findings  strongly

confirm  the  danger  of cows  milk,  especially  for  genetically  susceptible

children.

THE  CONTROVERSY OF CONTROVERSY

Imagine  looking at  the  front  page  of the  newspaper  and  finding  the

following  headline:  “Cow’s  Milk  the  Likely  Cause  of  Lethal  Type  1

Diabetes.” Because the reaction would be so strong, and the economic

impact  monumental,  this  headline  won’t  be  written  anytime  soon,

regardless  of the  scientific  evidence.  Stifling  this  headline  is  accom-

plished  under  the  powerful  label  of “controversy.”  With so  much at

stake, and so much information understood by so few people, it is easy

to  generate and sustain controversy.  Controversies  are  a  natural part

of science.  Too  often, however,  controversy is  not the result of legiti-

mate scientific debate, but instead reflects the perceived need to delay

and distort research results. For example, if I say cigarettes are bad for

you  and provide  a  mountain  of evidence  to  support my contention,

the tobacco companies might come along and pick out one unsolved

detail and then claim that the whole idea of cigarettes being unhealthy

is mired in controversy,  thereby nullifying all my conclusions. This is

easy  to  do,  because  there will  always  be  unsolved details;  this  is  the

nature of science. Some groups use controversy to stifle certain ideas,

impede  constructive  research,  confuse  the  public  and  turn  public

policy into babble rather than substance.  Sustaining controversy as  a

means of discrediting findings  that cause economic or social discom-

fort is one of the greatest sins in science.

It can be difficult for the layperson to assess the legitimacy of a highly

technical controversy such as that regarding cow’s milk and Type  1 dia-

betes. This is true even if the layperson is interested in reading scientific

articles.

Take  a  recent  scientific  review

38

of the  cow’s  milk-Type  1  diabetes

association.  In  ten  human studies  (all  case-control)  summarized  in  a

paper published as part of a “controversial topics series,”38  the authors

concluded that five  of the ten studies showed a statistically Significant

positive association between cow’s milk and Type  1 diabetes and five did L

not.  Obviously,  this  at first  seems  to  demonstrate  considerable  uncer-

tainty, going a long way to discredit the hypothesis.

However,  the  five  studies  that were  counted  as  “negative”  did  not

show  that  cow’s  milk  decreased  Type  1  diabetes.  These  five  studies

showed  no  statistically  significant  effect  either  way.  In  contrast,  there

are a total of five  statistically significant studies and all five  showed the

same result:  early cow’s milk consumption is  associated with increased

risk of Type  1 diabetes.  There is only one chance in sixty-four that this

was a random or chance result.

There are many,  many reasons, some seen and some unseen, why an

experiment would find no statistically significant relationship between

two  factors,  even  when a  relationship  really  exists.  Perhaps  the study

didn’t include enough people, and statistical certainty was unattainable.

Perhaps most of the subjects had very similar feeding practices, limiting

detection of the relationship you might otherwise see.  Maybe  trying to

measure infant feeding practices from years ago was inaccurate enough

that it obscured the relationship that does exist. Perhaps the researchers

were studying the wrong period of time in an infant’s life.

The point is, if five of the ten studies did find a statistically significant

relationship, and all five showed that cow’s milk consumption is linked

to increasing Type  1 diabetes, and none show that cow’s milk consump-

tion is linked to  decreasing Type  1 diabetes,  I could hardly justify say-

ing, as  the authors of this review did,  that the hypothesis “has become

quite murky with inconsistencies in the literature. “38

In this same review,38 the authors summarized additional studies that

indirectly compared breast-feeding practices associated with cow’s milk

consumption and Type  1 diabetes. This compilation involved fifty-two

possible comparisons, twenty of which were statistically significant.  Of

these twenty significant findings,  nineteen favored an association of cows

milk with disease, and only one did not. Again the odds heavily favored the

hypotheSized association, something that the authors failed to note.

I cite this example not only to support the evidence showing a cow’s

milk effect  on Type  1 diabetes,  but also  to  illustrate  one  tactic  that is

often used to make something controversial when it is not. This practice

is  more common than it should be and is a source of unnecessary con-

fusion.  When researchers do  this-even if they do it unintentionally-

they often have  a  serious  prejudice against  the  hypothesis in  the  first

place. Indeed, shortly after I wrote this, I heard a brief National Public

Radio interview on the Type  1 diabetes problem with the senior author of this review paper.38  Suffice it to say,  the author did not acknowledge

the evidence for  the cow’s milk hypothesis.

Because this issue has mammoth financial implications for American

agriculture,  and because  so  many  people  have  such  intense  personal

biases against it, it is unlikely that this diabetes research will reach the

American media anytime soon. However, the depth and breadth of evi-

dence now implicating cow’s milk as a cause of Type  1 diabetes is over-

whelming,  even  though  the  very  complex mechanistic  details  are  not

yet fully understood. We not only have evidence of the danger of cow’s

milk, we also  have considerable evidence showing that the association

between diabetes and cow’s milk is biologically plausible. Human breast

milk is  the  perfect food  for  an infant,  and one  of the  most damaging

things a mother can do is to substitute the milk of a cow for her own.

Multiple  sclerosis  (MS)  is  a  particularly  difficult  autoimmune  disease, both for  those who have it and for  those who care for  its victims.  It is a lifelong battle involving a variety of unpredictable and serious disabilities. MS patients often pass through episodes of acute attacks while gradually losing their ability to walk or to see. After ten to fifteen years, they often are confined to a wheelchair, and then to a bed for the rest of their lives. About 400,000 people in the U.S. alone have  the disease,  according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.39 It is a disease that is initially diagnosed  between  twenty  and forty  years  of age  and strikes  women about three times more often than men. Even  though  there  is  widespread  medical  and scientific  interest in this  disease,  most  authorities  claim  to  know  very  little  about  causes or cures.  Major multiple sclerosis Internet Web sites all claim that the disease is an enigma.  They generally list genetics, viruses and environ-mental factors as possibly playing roles in the development of this dis-ease but pay almost no heed to a possible role for diet. This is peculiar considering the wealth of intriguing information on the effects of food that is available from reputable research reports. Once again cow’s milk appears to play an important role. The “multiple” symptoms of this disease represent a nervous system gone awry.  The  electrical  signals  carrying  messages  to  and  from  the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and out through the peripheral nervous system to the rest of the body are not well coordinated l and  controlled.  This is because the insulating cover  or sheath  of the nerve fibers, the myelin, is being destroyed by an autoimmune reaction. Think of what would happen to your household wiring if the electrical insulation became thin or was stripped away, leaving bare wires. The electrical Signals would be short-circuited. That is what happens with MS; the wayward electrical signals may destroy cells and “burn” patches of neighboring tissue, leaVing little scars or bits of sclerotic tissue. These “burns” can become serious and ultimately destroy the body. The initial research showing an effect of diet on MS goes back more than half a century  to  the  research  of Dr.

Roy Swank, who began his work in Norway and at the Montreal Neurological Institute during the 1940s. Later, Dr. Swank headed the Division of Neurology at the University of Oregon Medical Schoo1.43 Dr.  Swank  became  interested  in  the  dietary  connection  when  he learned  that  MS  appeared  to  be  more  common  in  the  northern  climates. There is a huge difference in MS prevalence as one moves away from the equator: MS is over 100 times more prevalent in the far north than at the equator,l° and seven times more prevalent in south Australia (closer to  the South Pole)  than in north Australia.44 This distribution is very similar to the distribution of other autoimmune diseases, including Type  1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. 45,46 Although  some  scientists  speculated  that  magnetic  fields  might  be responsible  for  the  disease,  Dr.  Swank  thought  it  was  diet,  especially animal-based foods  high in saturated fats.43 He found  that inland dairy-consuming areas of Norway had higher rates of MS  than coastal fish-consuming areas.

Dr.  Swank  conducted  his  best-known  trial  on  144  MS  patients  recruited from  the  Montreal  Neurological  Institute.  He  kept records  on these  patients  for  the  next thirty-four years Y He  advised  his  patients to  consume a  diet low in saturated fat,  most of whom did,  but many of whom did not. He then classified them as good dieters or poor dieters, based on whether they consumed less than 20 gl day or more than 20 gl day of saturated fat.  (For comparison, a bacon cheeseburger with condiments has about sixteen grams of saturated fat.  One small frozen chicken pot pie has almost ten grams of saturated fat.) As the study continued, Dr. Swank found that progression of disease was greatly reduced by the low-saturated fat diet, which worked even for people with initially advanced conditions. He summarized his work in 1990, concluding that for the sub-group of patients who began the low-saturated fat diet during the earlier stages of their disease, “about 95% .. . remained only mildly disabled  for  approximately thirty years. “Only 5% of these patients died. In contrast, 80% of the patients with early-stage MS who consumed the “poor” diet (higher saturated fat) died of MS. The results from all 144 patients, including those who started the diet at a later stage of disease, are shown in Chart 9.4. This work is remarkable. To follow people for thirty-four years is an exceptional demonstration of perseverance and dedication. Moreover, if this were a study testing a potential drug, these findings would make any pharmaceutical manufacturer jingle the coins in his or her pocket. Swank’s first results were published more than a half century ago, then again and again and again47 for the next forty years. More recently, additional studies have confirmed and extended Swank’s observations and gradually have begun to place more emphasis on cow’s milk.  These new studies show that consuming cow’s milk is  strongly  linked  to  MS  both  when  comparing  different  countries52 and when comparing states  within  the  U.S.51 Chart 9.5,  published by French researchers,  compares the consumption of cow’s milk with MS for  twenty-six populations in twenty-four countries.  52 This  relationship,  which  is  virtually  identical  to  that  for  Type  1 diabetes, is remarkable, and it is not due to  variables such as  the avail-ability of medical services or geographic latitude. 51   In some studies researchers suggest this strong correlation with fresh cow’s milk might ci.. be due to  the presence of a virus in the milk. These more recent studies also suggest that saturated fat alone probably was not fully responsible for Swank’s results. The consumption of meat high in saturated fat, like milk,  was  also  associated  with  MS  in  these  multi-country  studies,54 while  the  consumption  of fish,  containing more  omega-3  fat,  was  associated with low rates of disease. S5 The association of cow’s milk with MS, shown in Chart 9.5, may be impressive, but it does not constitute proof. For example, where do genes and viruses come into play?  Each of these, in theory, might ac-count for the unusual geographic distribution of this disease. In the case of viruses, no definite conclusions are yet  possible. A variety of different virus types have been suggested and a variety of effects on the immune system may be involved.  However, nothing very convincing has been proven.  Some of the evidence is based on finding more viral antibodies in MS patients than in controls, some is based on sporadic outbreaks of MS among isolated  communities,  and  some  is based on finding virus-like genes among MS cases. With  regard  to  genes,  we  can begin  to  puzzle  out their association with  MS  by  asking  the  usual  question:  what  happens  to  people  who migrate from  one population to  another,  keeping their genes  the same but changing their diets and their environment? The answer is the same as it was for  cancer,  heart disease and Type  2  diabetes.  People acquire the risk of the population to which they move, especially if they move before their adolescent years.  This tells us that this disease is more strongly related to environmental factors than it is to genes.  59 Specific genes have been identified as possible candidates for causing MS but, according to a recent report,3 there may be as many as  twenty five  genes playing such a role. Therefore, it will undoubtedly be a long time before we determine with any precision which genes or combinations of genes predispose someone to MS. Genetic predisposition may make a difference as to who gets MS, but even at best, genes can only account for about one-fourth of the total disease risk. 60 Although MS and Type 1 diabetes share some of the same unanswered questions on the exact roles of viruses and genes and the immune system, they also share the same alarming evidence regarding diet.  For both diseases, a “Western” diet is strongly associated with disease incidence. Despite the efforts of those who would rather dismiss or mire these observational studies in controversy, they paint a consistent picture.  Intervention studies conducted on people already suffering from these diseases only reinforce the findings of the observational studies. Dr.  Swank did brilliant work on MS, and you may recall from chapter seven that Dr. James Anderson successfully reduced the medication requirements for Type 1 diabetics using diet alone.  It’s important to note that both of these doctors used a diet that was significantly more moderate than a total whole foods, plant-based diet. I wonder what would happen to these autoimmune patients if the ideal diet were followed. I would bet on even greater success.

THE  COMMONALITY OF AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

What about other autoimmune diseases?  There are  dozens of autoim-

mune diseases and I have mentioned only two  of the more prominent

ones.  Can we say anything about autoimmune diseases as a whole?

To  answer  this  question,  we  need  to  identify  how much  these  dis-

eases have in common. The more they have in common, the greater the

probability that they also will share a common cause (or causes).  This

is  like seeing two people you don’t know,  both of whom have a similar

body type, hair color, eye color, facial features, physical and vocal man-

nerisms and age, and concluding that they come from the same parents.

Just as  we  hypothesized  that diseases  of affluence  such as  cancer and AUTOIMMUNE   DISEASES  199

heart disease have  common causes because  they share similar geogra-

phy  and  similar  biochemical  biomarkers  (chapter  four),  we  can  also

hypothesize  that MS,  Type  1 diabetes,  rheumatoid arthritis,  lupus and

other  autoimmune  diseases  may  share  a  similar  cause  if they  exhibit

similar characteristics.

First, by definition,  each of these diseases involves an immune sys-

tem that has gone awry in such a way that it attacks “self’ proteins that

look the same as foreign proteins.

Second,  all  the  autoimmune  diseases  that  have  been  studied  have

been  found  to  be  more  common  at  the  higher  geographic  latitudes

where there is less constant sunshine. 9

• 10, 61

Third,  some  of these  diseases  have  a  tendency  to  afflict  the  same

people. MS and Type  1 diabetes, for example, have been shown to coex-

ist in the same individuals. 62

65  Parkinson’s disease, a non-autoimmune

disease with autoimmune characteristics, is  often found with MS,  both

within the same geographic regions 66  and within the same individuals. 5

MS  also has been associated-either geographically or within the same

individuals-with other  autoimmune  diseases  like  lupus,  myasthenia

gravis,  Graves’  disease  and  eosinophilic vasculitis. 63  Juvenile  rheuma-

toid arthritis, another autoimmune disease, has been shown to  have an

unusually strong association with Hashimoto thyroiditis. 67

Fourth,  of those  diseases  studied in relation  to  nutrition,  the  con-

sumption of animal-based foods-especially cow’s  milk-is associated

with greater disease risk.

Fifth, there is evidence that a virus (or viruses) may trigger the onset

of several of these diseases.

A  sixth  and  most  important  characteristic  binding  together  these

diseases is  the evidence  that their  “mechanisms of action”  have much

in  common-jargon used  to  describe  the  “how  to”  of disease  forma-

tion.  As  we  consider  common  mechanisms  of action,  we  might start

with sunlight exposure, because this somehow seems linked to  the au-

toimmune  diseases.  Sunlight  exposure, which decreases  with increas-

ing  latitude,  could be  important-but clearly  there  are  other  factors .

The  consumption  of  animal-based  foods,  especially  cow’s  milk,  also

increases with distance from the equator. In fact,  in one of the more ex-

tensive studies, cow’s milk was found to be as good of a predictor of MS

as  latitude (Le.,  sunshine)Y In Dr.  Swank’s studies in Norway,  MS was

less common near the coastal areas of the country where fish intake was

more common. This gave rise to the idea that the omega-3 fats common 200  THE   CHINA   STUDY

to fish  might have a protective effect. What is almost never mentioned,

however, is that dairy consumption (and saturated fat)  was much lower

in the fish-eating  areas.  Is  it possible  that cow’s  milk and  lack  of sun-

shine are having a similar effect on MS and other autoimmune diseases

because they operate through a similar mechanism? This could be very

interesting, if true.

As  it  turns  out,  the  idea  is  not so  crazy.  This  mechanism  involves,

once again, vitamin D.  There are  experimental animal models of lupus,

MS,  rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease  (e.g.,  Crohn’s

disease, ulcerative colitis), each of which is an autoimmune disease. 6

• 7. 68

Vitamin D, operating through a similar mechanism in each case, prevents

the  experimental development  of each  of these  diseases.  This  becomes

an even more intriguing story when we  think about the effect of food on

vitamin D.

The first step in the vitamin D process occurs when you go  outside

on a  sunny day.  When  the  sunshine  hits  your  exposed skin,  the  skin

produces vitamin D.  The vitamin D then must be activated in the kid-

ney in order  to  produce a  form  that helps  repress  the development of

autoimmune  diseases.  As  we’ve  seen  before,  this  critically  important

activation step can be inhibited by foods  that are  high  in  calcium and

by  acid-producing  animal  proteins  like  cow’s  milk  (some  grains  also

produce  excess  acid).  Under  experimental  conditions,  the  activated

vitamin D operates in two ways:  it inhibits the development of certain

T-cells  and  their  production  of active  agents  (called  cytokines)  that

initiate the autoimmune response, and/or it encourages the production

of other T-cells  that oppose  this  effect.  69.  70  (An  abbreviated  schematic

of this vitamin D network is  shown in Appendix  C.)  This  mechanism

of action appears to be a strong commonality between all autoimmune

diseases so far studied.

Knowing the strength of the evidence against animal foods, cow’s milk

in particular, for  both MS  and Type  1 diabetes, and knowing how much

in common all  of the autoimmune diseases  have,  it is  reasonable  to  be-

gin thinking about food and its relationship to  a much broader group of

autoimmune diseases.  ObViously  caution is  called for;  more research  is

needed to  make conclusive statements about cross-autoimmune disease

similarities. But the evidence we have now is already striking.

Today  almost  no  indication of the  dietary  connection  to  these  dis-

eases has reached public awareness.  The Web site of the Multiple Scle-

rosis International Federation, for example, reads, “There is no credible AUTOIMMUNE  DISEASES  201

evidence that MS is due to poor diet or dietary deficiencies.”  They warn

that  dietary  regimens  can  be  “expensive”  and  “can  alter  the  normal

nutritional balance.”7l If changing your diet is expensive, I don’t know

what they would say about being bedridden and incapacitated. As far as

altering the “normal nutritional balance” is concerned, what is normal?

Does  this  mean the  diet  that we  now eat is  “normal”-the diet  that is

largely responsible  for  diseases  that cripple,  kill and make profoundly

miserable millions of Americans every year? Are  massive rates of heart

disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, obesity and diabetes “normal”? If

this is normal, I propose we start seriously considering the abnormal.

There are  400,000 Americans who are  victims  of multiple sclerosis,

and  millions  more  with  other  autoimmune  diseases. While  statistics,

research results and clinical descriptions form the basis for much of my

discussion of diet and disease, the importance of the information comes

down  to  the  intimate experience  of individual  people. Anyone of these

serious  diseases  I’ve  talked about in  this  chapter can  forever  alter  the

life  of any person-a family  member, a friend,  a neighbor,  a coworker

or you yourself.

It is  time  to  sacrifice  our sacred cows.  Reason  must prevail.  Profes-

sional societies, doctors and government agencies need to stand up and

do  their duty,  so  that children being born today  do  not face  tragedies

that otherwise could be prevented.