SCIENCES

An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases

. September 2012. 400p. 978-1-43919-938-1. 28.
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The prevalence of allergies and autoimmune diseases has increased dramatically in the developed world over the past 150 years, and freelance science journalist Velasquez-Manoff finds that greater access to clean water, improved sanitation, vaccines, and antibiotics may be a factor. Before the Industrial Revolution, people were exposed to a wide variety of bacteria and parasites. Immune system cells were kept in balance by the useful bacteria, but when modern improvements eliminated many of these pathogens, the immune system turned against the body’s own cells, and this has led to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and eczema. Some scientists think that the human ecosystem needs to be restored to rebalance the body. The evidence for this is based on observational studies, epidemiological associations, and animal experiments without consideration of factors such as diet, genetics, and other variables. Nevertheless, some people, including the author, have undergone a controversial therapy, deliberately infecting themselves with parasitic worms in the hope of curing disease. ­
VERDICT The author’s objective review of the data, paired with accounts of his own experiences, offers insight into the role of the gut in the immune response and provides a fascinating look at a growing area of medical research. A perceptive look at modern science.
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