I am currently reading An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases by Moises Velasquez-Manoff. In a nutshell, it is about how the decreasing biodiversity of our environment is creating more disease. It is about how our agricultural methods, sanitation methods, and compulsive cleaning have in very short order eliminated many of the microorganisms and parasites that we evolved to deal with. We for the most part no longer live with farm animals. We seldom come in contact with excrement where in our not so distant past, it was all around us. Our agricultural growing and distribution methods result in near-sterile produce. Now that our immune systems have little to contend with, they turn on ourselves. We are seeing increasing asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases with each new generation living in an environment devoid of the organisms our immune systems are familiar with.
The book begins in a bizarre way. The author is seeking to infect himself with hookworms in a desperate hope to improve allergy and autoimmune conditions. The very idea of it is so counter to the paradigm of eradication that we have been living in for the past century or two. We think we are doing a good thing when we eliminate parasites; and yet when one practitioner dewormed pregnant women, she discovered that their offspring suffered from allergies at a greatly increased rate. In contrast, some who have purposefully infected themselves with worms have seen reductions in allergic and autoimmune symptoms. Lest anyone think to do the same, it must be remembered that the science of balancing one’s internal biology is still in its infancy. We are a long way off from having dependable protocols for balancing the immune system in our modern world.
This book points to a new health specialty coming maybe ten or twenty years in our future, I would guess. Practitioners of this specialty will use genetic testing, culture testing, and multigenerational environmental history to develop custom protocols for balancing internal biology and preventing allergies and autoimmune diseases. The genetics of our immune systems are highly complex. They were shaped over time by the prevailing biological environment in any given locale. Since there is vast variation in environments, there is likewise vast variation in the immune strategies developed in our genetics. What will stimulate one individual toward health could cause in another an immune system meltdown. For this reason, protocols will ideally be custom-made for each patient.
So what does all of this have to do with diet? Early attempts at achieving biological balance have included probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, and cultured vegetables, as promoted in The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz. This may not be entirely without risk. For instance, Moises Velasquez-Manoff says in his book that overabundance of even a generally friendly organism such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in the small intestine can cause problems for some, resulting in a condition called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. Chris Kresser addressed this topic with Steve Wright in a recent interview. In this interview, Chris Kresser mentions that he has found the use of soil-based organisms to be helpful in the treatment of SIBO. Indeed, my understanding of what I have read of the topic so far would indicate that a diversity of organisms is needed for best results. I look forward to the day when the science of balancing internal biology reaches its maturity.