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Autoimmune Diseases and Toxic Chemical Exposure – Is there a link?

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What is the Immune System?

The immune system is a network within the body that protects us against disease. It fights off viruses and bacteria that can make us sick. It also helps us recover when we are sick or injured. 

Common immune responses include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling
  • Scabs

The immune system is able to distinguish between the body’s own cells and harmful bacteria or viruses. This way, it can attack harmful pathogens and leave its own cells intact.

What are Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system wrongly attacks the body’s own cells. In these cases, the immune system thinks that healthy cells within the body are actually foreign cells. Thus, it can destroy parts of the body that are important to health.

Some examples of autoimmune diseases are:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Graves’ disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?

Scientists are not in agreement about what exactly causes autoimmune diseases. However, genes, gender, and a person’s environment seem to be contributing factors. 

Who Gets Autoimmune Diseases?

Out of the 23.5 million people in the United States who have autoimmune diseases, 80% are women.

Because so many more women than men are affected, doctors think that altered hormone levels might cause autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune Diseases and Toxic Chemicals

Many toxic chemicals in our daily environment affect the hormones within our bodies.

Since hormones are also linked to autoimmune diseases, some scientists suggest that toxic chemicals in the environment might trigger autoimmune diseases

For example, estrogen seems to play a role in diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and it is known that chemicals such as BPA behave like estrogen in the body. Thus, chemicals like BPA may contribute to autoimmune disease.

Many studies have also shown that everyday toxic chemicals can interfere with the immune system at the cellular level, which could lead to autoimmune diseases and/or make their symptoms worse.

Get Tested

Toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates may contribute to autoimmune disorders. So what should you do if you have an autoimmune disorder or are at risk for one? As always, follow the advice of your physician. But avoiding toxic chemicals is a prudent step.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, as they are found in everyday products. You can reduce exposure from personal care products by using products from our Approved Product List

You can also get tested to see if you are being exposed to toxic chemicals. Our test can help you identify sources of exposure, and reduce chemical exposures in your life.

Have questions about toxic chemicals and your health? Contact Million Marker!

Jenna Hua, RD, MPH, PhD, is the founder of Million Marker, a service for people to measure personal exposure to everyday environmental chemicals in their body. Jenna is a registered dietitian and environmental health scientist by training, Jenna’s past research has focused on how our surrounding environment impacts our behaviors and health. An ardent believer in disease prevention, she wants to provide personalized preventive strategies to everyone to lead a healthier life.

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