Many new clients who contact our office have been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders – from allergies and asthma to Crohn’s and celiac diseases to fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and MS…just to name a few. Often, they have bounced from health care provider to health care provider in search of healing. Sometimes they have experienced brief respites from their symptoms only to fall sick again. This vicious cycle usually inspires them to learn as much as they can about their conditions and available options, and in doing so, they discover the possibility that dental conditions or oral pathologies could be at the root of their problems. After all, though more and more practitioners are coming to appreciate the relationship between the mouth and the rest of the body, relatively few consider it as a factor in the patient’s current illness.
In general, the number of people with autoimmune disorders has skyrocketed. According to Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s The Autoimmune Epidemic, 23.5 million Americans – or 1 out of every 12 – currently has at least one of almost 100 known autoimmune diseases. This is more than the number of people with cancer or heart disease.
Consequently, we were excited to see this book come into print, especially due to its focus on the role of environment in the etiology of autoimmune disorders. For indeed, as the author – who, herself, has Guillain-Barré – writes, “We are our environment. What we put into it, we also put into ourselves. What we do to it, we also do to ourselves.” In fact, as she writes elsewhere, “two-thirds of the risk of developing autoimmune disease is acquired through some environmental trigger, genetic risk being the smaller part of the equation.” Or put even more bluntly, “While genetics may load the gun, it’s environment that pulls the trigger.”
Nakazawa is at her best here when telling the stories of those who developed autoimmune disorders, how their conditions developed and the process of attempting to heal – especially in her chapter-long chronicle of the lupus clusters that arose in Buffalo in the mid-1980s due to unacknowledged toxic sites in the area. Indeed, she powerfully explains and illustrates the role of the envirotoxins that infiltrate our lives even if we are careful:
You can green your home as best you can, eat organic, avoid dry cleaning the clothes, throw out the solvents, and buy bedding sans flame retardants, but can you find that hallowed ground far from the chemical-driven American industrial machine?
There is, of course, plenty of proof for the impact of envirotoxins on the human body. For instance, in a 2004 CDC study cited by Nakazawa, researchers found traces all all 116 chemicals they looked for in every single one of 2500 Americans from across the country. The following year, a different team of scientists detected 287 different toxins in the fetal cord blood of ten newborns – findings that continue to be replicated elsewhere.
One important and potent source of toxicity, however, gets the short shrift: the mercury people are chronically exposed to via amalgam fillings. This source is barely mentioned, garnering one paragraph about halfway through the book and a few isolated sentences elsewhere. And yet many times, it is arguably the greatest source of toxic exposure for the person with such fillings. They are there in the mouth, mere centimeters from the brain, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, constantly releasing mercury vapor (YouTube). And with any stimulation – through chewing, temperature changes or other event – even more vapor is released. It circulates through the body. It is absorbed into the body’s tissues. There is no let-up. Ever.
Along with root canals and cavitations – two other persistent dental/oral sources of disease – mercury fillings poison the body, giving rise to a whole range of diseases, disorders and dysfunction.
In a way, Nakazawa’s apparent lack of appreciation of this point may well stem from the sense that she largely keeps within the industrial medicine paradigm. Throughout the book, she points to drugs used to “manage” the symptoms of autoimmune disorders and research into new ones that may do the job better. (Indeed, this is the heart of industrial medicine: you never cure a disease, only “manage” it.) She explores the latest research into therapies within this paradigm – some of which are exciting and fascinating (Regrowing myelin sheaths and axonal nerves? Cool!) but neglect the problem that the drugs themselves are yet another contributor to the toxic dumps our bodies can become, polluting the terrain and interfering with the body’s own processes of healing.
That said, the book is of value in exposing the relationship between disease and environment – the focus of just about half of the book. And the case histories are informative in illustrating this, as well as helping us understand what it’s like to develop and cope with such an illness.