From Infected to Inflamed: Evolution of Autoimmune Disease

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
November 2, 2020

From Infected to Inflamed: Evolution of Autoimmune Disease

Scientists in real-time are discovering how our immune systems are evolving as a result of modern lifestyle changes from the latest DNA sequencing technology. Researchers are revealing that a Western lifestyle “affects the symbiotic relationships between humans, viruses, and other organisms, and might contribute to the rise of certain autoimmune and inflammatory diseases,” and that human evolution is greatly influenced by the pathogens encountered. Therefore, the immune response to infectious diseases is an evolutionary process controlled by our genes.

As humans adopt a diet high in processed foods and stricter hygiene standards, our bodies are adapting and develop increased “diseases of civilization” such as type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune diseases, as opposed to infectious diseases that plagued societies for centuries, according to a review published in Trends in Immunology. The evidence confirms that our immune system continues to evolve and is highly dependent on geographical location, lifestyle, and diet.

Hunting and gathering tribes in Africa have a much higher diversity in intestinal microflora (and lower inflammatory-related conditions) compared with urbanized African-Americans who consume a diet of processed and packaged foods. In the scientific literature, it is clear that without adequate intake of prebiotic fiber and probiotic-rich foods, like those frequently eaten in traditional diets, diversity of the gut microbiome is significantly impaired, allowing opportunistic bacterial species to increase, which results in various diseases.

Even though contemporary societies have evolved to resist most infectious diseases due to the immune gene response against infection, according to researchers, there has been a significant increase of chronic inflammatory conditions at alarming rates as a result of evolution. DNA that favors resistance to infections has been shown to increase inflammation in the body, making people more susceptible to developing inflammatory conditions like cardiovascular disease later in life. The study demonstrated that those of Neanderthal DNA are more resistant to staphylococcus infections and HIV-1, but more predisposed to allergic rhinitis and asthma. What can you do about it?

A great place to begin may be recommending patients have their genes sequenced, especially for those who may already be experiencing pathologies that are inflammatory in nature. Our genes can be studied to determine disease susceptibility, helping guide health and nutrition choices. The study of how the environment (including the diet) bridges the gap between susceptibility and actually triggering the illness, is responsible for various autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Health care practitioners can use the patient’s genetic profile, shown to be quite informative and accessible information, to determine tailored lifestyle, diet, and environmental practices in order to help minimize the risk of disease susceptibility and possibly even disease reversal.

While practitioners may need individual gene profiles for specific recommendations, no one can deny that reducing processed foods and increasing intake of prebiotic fiber and whole, plant-based foods rich in antioxidants, along with other lifestyle shifts, will have positive effects on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Specific vitamins and supplements, such as D3 Ultra with K and Omega Max, along with full-spectrum probiotics, may also help in lowering a person’s risk of developing modern diseases.  

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