Book Review

Review of The Autoimmune Epidemic 

By Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster,  2008.  New York

This book is written from the U.S. experience but I am sure that the similar conditions apply here in Australia and in other western countries.

The book provides much information and food for thought, and the statistics are quite overwhelming.

To begin with, the book lists almost 100 known autoimmune diseases from Type 1 Diabetes to such diseases as Phemphigus Vulgaris, which like many others on the list are quite unknown to me.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa goes on to say:


                        Autoimmune diseases are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the patient’s lifespan by fifteen years. Not surprisingly, the economic burden is staggering: autoimmune disease represents a yearly health-care burden of more than US$120 billion, compared to the yearly health-care burden of US$70 billion for direct medical costs for cancer.(p24,25)

In his introduction, Douglas, Kerr, MD, PhD, neurologist and neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Maryland. Tells us that 1 in 9 women will develop an autoimmune disorder; 1 in 20 will develop coronary vascular disease; 1 in 14 will develop cancer.

Funding for autoimmune disease is under US$600. For coronary diseases US$2 billion and for cancer US$5 billion.

To underscore the numbers,(US) consider that while 2.2 million women are living with breast cancer and 7.2 million women have coronary disease, an estimated 9.8 million women are afflicted with one of the seven more common autoimmune diseases; lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis  inflammatory bowel disease, Sjögren’s or type 1 diabetes. All potentially fatal.


The Barrel Effect:

Patients that possess the genetic variants predisposing them to autoimmune disease, reaching that threshold at which disease can more easily strike involves a number of factors. You might liken it to the “barrel effect”. You can fill a barrel to the absolute rim. And even while water hovers about the edge, not a drop will spill. But add one more miniscule drop of liquid and the water will begin to cascade over the sides. (p73-74) For some, the final drop may be a virus or an  unexpected environmental hit, pollution, chemical overload etc.,


How is it that autoimmune diseases have remained so obscure? Why do so many of these diseases go undiagnosed for so long? (p 32 A Case of Blinded Science) In the span of the thirty to forty years from 1939, antibiotics and vaccines have been invented that would wipe out polio and prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from rubella and typhus…….

Yet, ironically during the same time span in which cures for ancient scourges were tumbling out of laboratories, the medical establishment had no idea that autoimmune diseases even existed.

The erroneous presumption that the body’s immune system could not turn on itself ………set forth in the early 1900’s by Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich, a charismatic German immunologist who termed this theory horror autotaxicus, (my bolding to accentuate) stood as dogma across the immunology domain for more than half a century.


The Postwar Chemical Explosion¨ A New Plague of “Autogens” (p38-39)

The author writes about the four to five decades when autoimmune diseases were not creating much interest, there was an explosion of:


… chemical products, pesticides to help crop yields, and to fight against lice, fleas, roaches, and termites. Plastics, hair shampoos, detergents, brake linings, carpet pads, cold creams, dry cleaning fluid, foam cushions, paint strippers, household cleaners and bleaches, and bigger, grander cars. ……Over four short decades, between 1940 and 1980 – factory plumes came to shroud small towns, fleets of trucks spewed diesel exhaust as they transported a myriad of newly manufactured goods from coast to coast.


The coincidence in timing - between a medical community turning a blind eye to a mysterious, growing set of diseases with an unknown set of triggers and society’s rapid swell in production of everything from SUV’s to Teflon pans to furniture stuffed with flame-retardant foam -would turn out to be an ominous one, altering the well being of millions of Americans.


The Role of Heavy Metals.  (p146)

To grasp how genetics, toxic agents, viruses, and vaccines become interlocking forces that can kick-start autoimmunity, we have to remember how environmental hits and chemicals can tax the immune system through long, slow, and continual environmental exposures – priming the pump, so to speak, so that the now proverbial barrel sloshes dangerously close to its brim and viruses can all the more easily “spill” the immune system over the brink.

Mercury, in one of its forms, thimerosal, is still used in some vaccines and in some over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. It was present until recently in virtually every vaccine children received throughout the 1990’s 

Many of us are familiar with hearing reports of the heavy metal residues in fish.


Understanding the Stress Connection:

In autoimmune disease, the link between stress and disease is profound. (p248)

In numerous studies, people who experience grinding, ongoing stress show higher levels of inflammatory cytokines in their blood compared to nonstressed individuals.(p251)


Protecting Your Immune System (p257-262)


Clean Green.

Think before you pink. Cosmetics Organic are natural not necessarily so.

Make environmentally sound, common sense choices.

Avoid dark hair dyes and nail polish.

Wash your hands!


Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s book has brought together many aspects of the autoimmune landscape. There is so much more information to be gained from further reading. The book includes an appendix, notes and index.

Reading about the events which have influenced the awareness of autoimmune diseases does clarify in my mind why there has been, and still, is such a lack of knowledge “out there”. In the US this seems to be changing in the medical field and also in the political arena.

We must do everything we can to get the message out here in Australia.

The book will be available to members, from the library within a few weeks.

June Meyer

28th October, 2008


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Please note: The new phone number for the Scleroderma Association of Queensland is 07 32773460. Our postal has changed too; it is PO Box 316, SALISBURY Qld. 4107. The new physical address of our office is 124A Evans Road Salisbury. If you would like to come and browse through some books in our library or have a chat or help, please visit on Wednesday between 9:30 and 12 midday.