Friday, July 6, 2018

Autoimmune Disease Rates Rise While Infectious Disease Rates Fall

In a recent newspaper article by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Ms Sicily Kariuki, a detailed analysis of non-communicable diseases as a leading cause of our health burden was laid bare. She captured the current and anticipated trends of non-communicable diseases and the need for a combined approach in combating threats posed by the diseases. In particular, the CS singled out cardiovascular dis-eases, diabetes and obesity-driven diseases.

It is, however, important to note that autoimmune diseases are also on the rise.

In the US, scientists have noted increased incidence of autoimmune diseases with a decline in infectious diseases. The hygiene hypothesis partly explains the high incidence of autoimmune diseases.

The hypothesis postulates that a decline in exposure to certain micro-organisms is likely to increase chances of developing autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases (AD) refer to a group of diseases caused by the attack of body tissues by the immune system.

Naturally, the immune system is supposed to recognise and protect body tissues against foreign substances but, occasionally, the system treats its own body tissues as foreign and mounts attacks with serious consequences such as organ failure and, ultimately, death.

Examples of autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, arthritis, myasthenia gravis, systemic lupus and many more.

Important to note is the new approach of cancer treatment — immunotherapy, which has improved cancer treatment. It involves the use of drugs that augment or boost the immune responses to cancer.

Immunotherapy is becoming the method of choice in cancer treatment because the collateral damage of non-cancerous tissues is less compared to the use of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

However, the development of autoimmune diseases has been highlighted as a major drawback in immunotherapy. With the incidence of cancer increasing and with increased use of immunotherapy, autoimmune diseases are likely to become more frequent.

It is, therefore, crucial that research in attenuating and preventing autoimmune diseases be funded and encouraged. There is also a need to educate the populace on the effects of the early exposure of children to certain diets.

Children who are exposed to diets that promote growth of useful bacteria in the digestive system are less likely to develop autoimmune diseases in future. Breast feeding and early exposure of children to fibre-rich meals is a critical factor in ad-dressing the autoimmune disease burden.


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