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British experts say global spread of autoimmune diseases is due to the “Western diet” rich in fast food

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Two experts, James Lee and Carola Vinuesa of the Francis Crick Institute in London, have set up separate research groups to help identify the exact causes of autoimmune diseases.

“The number of cases of autoimmune disease began to rise about 40 years ago in the West,” Lee told Observer. “However, we now see some appear in countries that have never had such a disease before,” according to The Guardian.

For example, the largest recent increase in cases of inflammatory bowel disease has occurred in the Middle East and East Asia. “They had hardly seen the disease before.”

Autoimmune diseases range from type 1 diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. In each case, the immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of infectious agents.

In the UK alone, at least 4 million people have developed such conditions, with some people suffering from even more diseases. Internationally, an increase of 3% to 9% per year in autoimmune diseases is now estimated. Most scientists believe that environmental factors play a key role in this growth.

“Human genetics have not changed in decades,” Lee said. “So something must have changed in the outside world in a way that increases our predisposition to autoimmune diseases.”

This idea was also supported by the researcher Vinuesa. She pointed out that a key factor was the changes in diet that took place as more and more countries adopted “Western-style” diets and people bought more fast food.

“Fast food products lack certain important ingredients, such as fiber, and the evidence suggests that this change affects a person’s microbiome – the collection of microorganisms we have in our gut that plays a key role in controlling various body functions. Said Vinuesa.

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“These changes in our microbiome then trigger autoimmune diseases, more than 100 types have been discovered.”

The two scientists pointed out that individual susceptibilities have been implicated in contracting such diseases, conditions that include celiac disease, as well as lupus, which triggers inflammation and swelling and can cause damage to various organs, including the heart.

“If you don’t have a certain genetic susceptibility, you won’t necessarily have an autoimmune disease, no matter how many Big Macs you eat,” Vinuesa said. “We can’t do much to stop the global spread of fast food franchises. So instead, we try to understand the fundamental genetic mechanisms that underlie autoimmune diseases and make some people susceptible, but not others. We want to address the issue at that level, “she said.

This task is made possible by the development of techniques that now allow scientists to identify small differences in DNA between a large number of individuals. In this way, it is possible to identify common genetic patterns among those suffering from an autoimmune disease.

“Until recently, we just didn’t have the tools to do that, but now we have this incredible power to sequence DNA on a large scale, and that has changed everything,” Lee said. “When I started doing research, I knew about six DNA variants that were involved in triggering inflammatory bowel disease. Now we know about more than 250. (…) If you look at some autoimmune diseases – for example, lupus – it has become clear that there are many different versions of them, which can be caused by different genetic pathways “, said Vinuesa . “And that has a consequence when you try to find the right treatment.

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“We have a lot of potentially useful new therapies that are being developed all the time, but we don’t know which patients to use, because now we realize we don’t know exactly what version of the disease they have. And this is now a key goal for autoimmune research. We need to learn how to group and stratify patients so that we can offer them the right therapy. ”

Lee also pointed out that there is an increase in cases of autoimmune diseases around the world, which means that new treatments and drugs are now needed more than ever.

“Currently, there are no cures for autoimmune diseases, which usually develop in young people – as they try to finish their studies, get their first job and start families,” he said.

“This means that more and more people are having to undergo surgery, or have regular injections for the rest of their lives. A grim scenario for patients and massive pressure on health services. Hence the urgent need to find new, effective treatments “, the expert concluded.

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