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Autoimmune disease – is diet to blame?

Autoimmune diseases are becoming more common around the world and two UK scientists think our western diet could be the culprit.

James Lee and Carol Vinuesa run research groups at the Francis Crick Institute in London. They say that while genetic factors determine susceptibility to autoimmune conditions, diet plays an important role, with western-style diets including fast food linked to growing case numbers around the world.

Autoimmune diseases are those in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, tissues and organs, such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

The rise in autoimmune conditions began to rise in the west about 40 years ago and are rising by between 3-9% annually worldwide.

The researchers say that as human genetics have not changed in that time, there must be some kind of environmental factor involved, and they are pointing the finger at our diet.

Eating habits in the western world are not ideal, lacking in fibre and key nutrients with excessive quantities of salt and sugar. The rise of fast food over recent decades correlates with the rise in autoimmune disease.

Adding to the evidence, autoimmune diseases are now growing quickest in the Middle East and East Asia, where they were previously rare. Lee and Vinuesa say this correlates with the introduction and growing popularity of western-style fast food.

The researchers stress that genetics are fundamental – if you are not genetically predisposed to a condition you will not get it simply from eating burgers – but the popularity of unhealthy eating habits has led to a growing health problem around the world.

At PIM we have a particular interest in the role of diet and nutrition in our health and wellbeing. Contact us to learn more.

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