Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Poverty and Autoimmune Disorders

More evidence that our wealth and cleanliness are making some of us sick:
Perhaps the best support for this idea comes from a place called Karelia. It’s bisected by the Finno-Russian border. Celiac-associated genes are similarly prevalent on both sides of the border; both populations eat similar amounts of wheat. But celiac disease is almost five times as common on the Finnish side compared with the Russian. The same holds for other immune-mediated diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, allergies and asthma. All occur more frequently in Finland than in Russia.

What's the difference? The Russian side is poorer; fecal-oral infections are more common. Russian Karelia, some Finns say, resembles Finland 50 years ago. Evidently, in that environment, these disease-associated genes don’t carry the same liability.
Maybe one day we will engineer bacteria that stimulate our immune system without causing any symptoms, and escape from this trap. But until then we seem to be stuck with a certain level of autoimmune misery.

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