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Why Is Autoimmune Thyroid Disease Becoming More Common

There is compelling evidence that today’s thyroid epidemic is multi-factored, rather than due to chemical agents alone. In other words, various nonchemical factors might be combining with the chemical siege to cause our immune systems to make antibodies against our own thyroid glands. If you have a family history of low thyroid, diabetes, or other rheumatic/autoimmune illness, then almost any serious physical or mental stress might trigger the primed immune system into mischievous action against the thyroid, one of its favorite body targets.

Other than genetics and chemicals, are there other risk factors that could account for the low-energy epidemic? Could radiation, for example, be another cause? We know how deleterious this can be on sensitive immune balance. With the depletion of the ozone layer, our exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is increasing. What about our exposure to whatever radiation is emitted by cell phones, computer screens, or countertop microwave ovens? Do you suppose this exposure is on the increase?

Not only is the neck a likely place to receive much of this added new radiation, but the thyroid gland is particularly sensitive to it.

Even more directly sensitizing to the delicate thyroid is the increased irrigation of food crops with brackish water containing significant amounts of radioactive iodine 131. This potentially toxic isotope is known to head straight for the thyroid gland and become concentrated there.

One nonchemical immune irritant that may be on the increase is intestinal parasites. Once thought to be a problem confined to third world populations, a wide variety of mild parasitic conditions now affects the average city dweller in the United States. Sometimes, without causing severe distress, their presence is like a thorn in the side of the immune system, which makes increased levels of antibodies against them. Increased antibody production against the parasites has a subtle way of spilling over into increased antibody production against the thyroid.

Still another possibly suspicious trend on the increase is the widespread fluoridation of municipal water supplies. This well-intended activity has been so widely accepted in today’s society that it is shocking to read the mounting research casting doubt on its safety. The short-range goal of reducing tooth decay seems to have blinded many to the long-range risks to sensitive immune balance posed by fluoridation.

We’ll discuss these and other risks in detail in Steps 8 and 9.

The high stress of daily life may be as big a factor in thyroid disease as it is in heart disease. Anxiety and depression are known to have deleterious effects on immune balance. Also, the increasingly rapid pace of life may leave little time for immune-restoring activities such as aerobic exercise, muscle building, or slow stretching. What is disruptive to the immune system now may be disruptive to a thyroid gland later.

According to medical textbooks, these complex and subtle issues are medically significant. They may all be contributing to the higher prevalence of this enormous autoimmune problem.

Richard saw one of these effects firsthand. A few years ago, he was asked to serve on an ad hoc medical committee in the San Francisco area. A major oil company had accidentally released an unusual chemical mix into the air above its refinery. The nearby isolated town of Crockett, population 3,000, was soon covered with a misty shower of a supposedly nonpoisonous substance known as catacarb.

Within hours, people were flooding local emergency rooms seeking relief from disturbing skin, eye, and nasal symptoms. These initial symptoms resolved over a period of days or weeks with treatment and a healthier lifestyle, although the heightened allergic responses lasted for several months longer.

One major health effect, however, does not seem to be resolving but is intensifying especially in people who made no lifestyle modifications.

A large segment of the population exposed to the chemical spill is experiencing a gradual reduction in thyroid function. This reduction is almost certain to be autoimmune glandular disease, triggered by acute chemical exposure. Although the acute toxicity was soon gone, it must have triggered the delicate workings of the immune system into an ongoing response.

Similar but milder events could be taking place in other locations around the country, as the result of various other kinds of exposure.

Thus, we all may need to learn some simple, effective ways to respond to these episodic chemical onslaughts against our immune/glandular system, for surely there will be more toxic assaults in the future.