Cincinnati--According to a growing number of physicians including
Evelyn V. Hess, MD, MACP, professor of medicine at the University of
Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, as environmental exposures
increase so do the number of patients with autoimmune diseases such as
lupus or scleroderma. Autoimmune diseases are the result of our bodies'
defenses turning against us. Recent research suggests exposure to
industrial chemicals in the environment may cause autoimmune disorders.
Hess said contaminated cooking oil was responsible for 35,000 cases of
autoimmune diseases in Spain.
"An autoimmune disorder epidemic in
the United States was traced to a contaminant in L-tryptophan, a
dietary health supplement," Hess said. L-tryptophan, an amino acid
found in protein foods, was sold as a weight-loss aid in health-food
stores. "L-tryptophan, the naturally occurring hormone that makes you
sleepy after eating a Thanksgiving dinner, was sold over-the-counter
until banned by the Food and Drug Administration in recent years," Hess
More than 90 percent of lupus sufferers are female and researchers want to know why. In a special supplement to the Journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
entitled "Environmental Health Perspectives," Hess wrote that "anything
we eat, drink, breathe or absorb into our bodies can be environmental
agents that trigger autoimmune diseases." In the same journal,
researchers from the University of California-Davis reported a long
list of xenobiotic (foreign) substances that were examined. Many of
these substances were found to trigger an autoimmune response. The list
of known substances that trigger antibodies to attack their own tissues
includes: mercury, iodine, vinyl chloride, silica, UV radiation and
Some people are genetically predisposed to autoimmune
diseases, but may not show signs of lupus or rheumatoid arthritis until
exposure to certain environmental substances. Infectious agents, such
as retroviruses, measles, rubella, influenza and the Epstein-Barr
virus, could trigger an immune system response so strong that it can do
severe damage to the body it is trying to protect. The researchers
quoted in "Environmental Health Perspectives" concluded many chemicals
found in the environment today need further study to see if they
trigger these chronic immune diseases.
Drugs that have been
definitively associated with "drug-related" lupus include:
chlorpromazine, hydralazine, isoniazid, methyldopa, minocycline,
procainamide, and quinidine. Since 1957, at least 70 drugs and other
agents have been linked with autoimmune diseases.