The links between autoimmune diseases, infections, genetics and the environment are complex and mysterious. Why are people who live near airports more susceptible to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus? How do hormones in meat trigger the onset of a disease?
Our immediate environment interacts with our genetic programming and can determine if we will succumb to an autoimmune disease, says rheumatologist Prof. Michael Ehrenfeld of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine, who is seeking to unravel those mysteries. Prof. Ehrenfeld recently published a report in Autoimmune Reviews on how "Spondylo-arthropathies," a group of common inflammatory rheumatic disorders, appear to be triggered by environmental factors. He has also done research on how the dry-eye and mouth disease "Sjgren's syndrome" can be triggered by environmental influences.
Minimizing the risks
"The onset of autoimmune diseases is a mixture of genetics, which you can't change, and environmental factors, which in some cases you can," says Prof. Ehrenfeld. While he cites pollution as a trigger in many autoimmune disorders, "there are some environmental factors harder to avoid. For example, reactive arthritis is caused by a severe gastro-intestinal, urinary or sexual infection in some people," he says.
Afflicting more than 2 million Americans, rheumatoid arthritis, is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease, three times more prevalent in women than men. The disorder causes the body's own immune system to attack its joints, leading to pain, deformities and a substantial loss of mobility.
It is still impossible to tell which genes encode this disease and make some people more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, but there are some basic behaviors that may keep these disorders at bay. One root cause of arthritis is extreme stress, says Prof. Ehrenfeld, for which there are already therapeutic strategies. And some
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University