Recently, twin sisters Jennie Gunhammar, a photographer and her sister, Jessie, a lecturer at the London School of Economics both died within a year of each other of the autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythamatosus (SLE or lupus) aged just 35 (Jennie and Jessie pictured right).
The story hit the UK headlines because Jennie's long term boyfriend, Andrew Clinch, has set up a charity in her name and held an art auction to raise money for a specialist unit at London's St Thomas's hospital.
The incidence of lupus
The tragedy is that these young, talented and beautiful women are far from alone because systemic lupus erythematosus is not a rare disease at all.
The numbers of those affected in the US had been estimated to be around 500,000, but a recent telephone survey commissioned by the Lupus Foundation of America suggested that up to 2 million Americans could be affected by the illness. Using this revised figure would mean that approximately 400,000 UK citizens have SLE – ten times the current estimate.
Although lupus can be diagnosed at any age, like other autoimmune diseases, it is primarily a disease affecting young women of childbearing age and oestrogen is thought to play a large role in the illness. The female-to-male ratio in children is 3:1, in adults it can be as high as 15:1 and then it declines in post-menopausal women to approximately 8:1, averaging out at 9 times as many women as men affected by SLE.
The illness is also more common in people of Asian and Hispanic descent than amongst Caucasians, and up to four times more common amongst people of Afro-Caribbean descent. The highest rate of incidence in the US was found in the predominantly black population surrounding Birmingham, Alabama where as many as one in every 200 women were found to have SLE.
The incidence of all autoimmune diseases – including lupus – are also increasing dramatically with estimates suggesting between a 3 and 8 fold increase in recent decades although whether this is due to better diagnosis or to an increasing frequency of the disease is not known.
The other alarming fact is that autoimmune illnesses – once extremely rare – are now being diagnosed in childhood. The rates of childhood type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Grave's disease, for example, are escalating at an alarming rate.
Autoimmune disorders are diseases associated with the developed world and people migrating from low-incidence to high-incidence countries acquire immune disorders with a high incidence at the first generation. No socio-economic link has been found. Lupus and other autoimmune diseases are also more common in urban than rural areas.
The allopathic world takes this to be evidence supporting the 'hygiene hypothesis'. In essence, the idea that the immune system will turn upon the body when not kept occupied fighting infectious organisms.
The incidence of all autoimmune conditions have increased to the extent that they are now one of the leading causes of death among younger women, although nearly 80% now live for 20 or more years after diagnosis.
Famous SLE sufferers include Michael Jackson (who also had vitiligo); the singers Seal, Elaine Paige, Toni Braxton and Lady Gaga (who has tested borderline positive for SLE but is currently asymptomatic) and Ferdinand Marcos, the former president of the Philippines who died of the complications of lupus.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues. This causes inflammation and tissue damage and can affect any part of the body including the heart and blood vessels, the joints, skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. The disease typically has periods of remission interspersed with flare-ups known as flares which can be life-threatening.
As with so many other disorders, the cause of SLE is a mystery to allopathic medicine and is said to be multifactorial with a number of predisposing factors. The illness tends to run in families, but no causal gene has been identified. The onset of SLE may be associated with infections in general although no specific pathogen has been consistently linked to the disease. Onset may also be associated with taking pharmaceutical drugs or other factors such as collagen breast implants or exposure to ultraviolet light.
The symptoms of SLE vary widely, may imitate a host of other illnesses and can come and go unpredictably, meaning that accurate diagnosis can be elusive and many may have suffered for years – if not decades – before a diagnosis of SLE is finally made. The symptoms of SLE include:
Fever Malaise and fatigue Arthritic joint pains and swelling especially in the joints of the hand and wrist Muscle pain Rashes on the cheeks and elsewhere which may be made worse by exposure to ultraviolet light as shown below. A variety of pulmonary and cardiac disorders Ulcerations of the mouth, nose, throat and vagina Blood disorders including anaemia, low white blood cell and platelet counts Kidney disorders including passing protein and/or blood in the urine which can lead to renal failure Immune dysfunction leading to serious infections Anxiety and depression. Depression affects up to 60% of women with SLE. Alopecia Headaches Various neurological symptoms including weakness, loss of sensation, pins-and-needles sensations, burning pain and seizures Temporary cognitive dysfunction Mood disorders and psychoses Insomnia and Reduced fertility and an increased rate of spontaneous abortion and foetal death in female SLE sufferers.
Allopathic medicine: The diagnosis and treatment of SLE
Cells throughout the body each have a limited life span after which they are dismantled by white blood cells known as macrophages and the components recycled to make new cells. This programmed cell death is known as apoptosis and is dysfunctional in people with SLE. In those affected by lupus, the macrophages in the lymphatic system are smaller, fewer in number, die sooner, rarely contain material from apoptotic cells and free nuclear debris is often found outside the macrophages.
The triggers for SLE such as viral infections and various drugs all cause damage to the cell which may expose the nucleus and cause the body to produce antinuclear antibodies (ANA), in addition to the generation of circulating immune complexes and activation of the complement system.
Laboratory tests for lupus may include testing positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) or anti-extractable nuclear antigen (anti-ENA), although some physicians may also test for other biomarkers such as complement levels, electrolytes, renal function, liver enzymes, and do a complete blood count.
Allopathic treatment attempts to control symptoms using immunosuppressants, corticosteroids and to relieve pain using analgesics.
Natural medicine: The case for metal toxicity as a cause of lupus
Toxic metals in general and mercury in particular undermine the immune system, cause massive oxidative damage inducing apoptosis and produce a host of other destructive biochemical effects throughout the body. Toxic metals can be derived from a number of different sources such as food packaged in aluminium foil, lead and copper piping used for water supplies and nickel in hydrogenated fats.
In 1974 the World Health Organisation acknowledged that heavy metal toxicity was a major cause of world disease and yet this fact still seems to have gone largely unacknowledged by allopathic medicine. Many people have significant exposure to a variety of toxic metals through their restorative dental work and in particular to mercury from dental amalgam fillings.
Dental amalgam never truly sets but becomes a very stiff paste. The galvanic currents that are created by the various metals used both within the amalgam filling itself (silver, copper, tin, etc) and those used in other restorations such as crowns (gold, palladium, nickel, etc) create electrical activity within the moisture of the mouth and cause the liquid mercury within the amalgam fillings to evaporate. Please refer to the Smoking Tooth video for evidence.
The World Health Organisation also determined in 1991 that the majority of mercury exposure (65-90%) for most people comes from their dental amalgam fillings, although the mercury preservative used in vaccinations (thimerasol) and eating the larger predatory fish are also key sources.
The causative role of mercury in immune dysfunction in lupus
A high percentage of patients with autoimmune disorders have significant immune reactions to mercury (72-94% depending upon form), palladium, gold, and nickel using MELISA blood tests. In particular, for those with chronic conditions, fatigue has been shown to be primarily associated with hypersensitivity to inorganic and organic mercury, nickel and gold.
In addition, studies in animals confirm that exposure to both inorganic mercury and organic methyl mercury have been shown to induce autoimmune disorders.
The mechanism is that when metal particles enter the body they bind with proteins. In some people this protein-metal complex is identified by the immune system as being foreign and the white blood cells, or lymphocytes, perceiving an attack go into defence mode.
Brain structures such as the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands (the HPA axis) are also up-regulated and this constant and chronic stress on all bodily systems can cause exhaustion and ultimately death. This stress will last as long as the inflammatory process is fuelled by the presence of toxic metals.
The metalloprotein compounds that mercury forms also alter gene expression which affects cellular respiration, metabolism and enzymatic processes and have been shown to have a relation to autoimmune reactions in significant numbers of people.
Mercury is also highly toxic to the immune system damaging and inhibiting T and B lymphocytes and neutrophils and inducing tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) and the formation of antinuclear antibodies (ANA). TNFa regulates the immune system and can induce apoptosis and inflammation, and inhibits the formation of cancerous tumours and viral replication.
When taken together, the effects of mercury poisoning make the affected individual much more vulnerable to viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections which are often regarded as the trigger for autoimmune diseases.
Mercury and the neurological symptoms of lupus
Toxic metals cause oxidative damage to the fats present in the brain and nerves and promote the release of inflammatory cytokines. This inflammation disrupts brain neurotransmitters resulting in reduced levels of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) affecting mood and sleep.
Mercury in particular is also highly attracted to, and highly destructive of, nervous tissue and this explains the neurological symptoms such as paralysis and tingling and also the severe psychological symptoms including depression and psychosis. Please refer to the Mercury and Neuron Degeneration video for evidence.
In addition, the antibodies produced to attack the metalloprotein compounds can result in some of the more serious neurological symptoms of lupus as nerve tissue is targeted.
Heredity and lupus
The reason why the autoimmune diseases appear to run in families has to do with a specific genetic blood factor (type APOE-4) which causes the individual to bioaccumulate mercury, resulting in susceptibility to chronic autoimmune conditions such as lupus as early as age 40. Those with type APOE-3 have a somewhat compromised ability to excrete mercury and those with APOE-2 readily excrete mercury and are less susceptible and are therefore unlikely to contract an autoimmune disease.
Exposure to mercury will also vary with the individual and oestrogen exacerbates the symptoms of mercury toxicity making women more vulnerable than their male relatives.
The symptoms of mercury poisoning and lupus are the same
Many of the symptoms of autoimmune diseases are the same as those of mercury poisoning including: fatigue, insomnia, headaches, rashes, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, immune dysfunction, oral ulceration, muscle and joint pain, cognitive and mood problems, and many different neurological symptoms.
The body burden of toxic metals can take years to reach some kind of threshold and oestrogen appears to be synergistic with mercury which may account for the increased incidence of lupus among women of child bearing age.
Other factors such as the widespread introduction of high copper (non gamma II) amalgam in the 1970s may partly account for the rapidly rising numbers of autoimmune disease sufferers. This is because high copper amalgam emits at least 50 times the mercury of the previous formulation in addition to high amounts of toxic copper.
The relentless introduction of more and more vaccinations which often contain the mercury preservative, thimerasol, in addition to other toxic metals such as aluminium which are included as adjuvants (irritants intended to provoke the immune system to respond) is also possibly a key factor.
In the US, the Center for Disease Control now recommends 24 vaccines and boosters by the age of just two, in addition to dozens more vaccinations throughout childhood, for adults undertaking foreign travel, for various occupations (hepatitis B for those exposed to body fluids) and annual flu vaccinations over the age of 50. For some people this literally translates to the best part of a hundred vaccines in a lifetime – all required to keep you 'healthy'!
Have we, in short, exchanged protection against some infectious diseases (arguable) for a growing number of people afflicted with lifelong, chronic, disabling and potentially fatal conditions?
This would also, at least in part, account for the growing number of young children being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases as their immune systems are assaulted by more and more vaccines at an ever younger age.
Lupus symptoms improve when amalgam fillings are removed
Patients with autoimmune conditions are often found to have a lot of high negative current dental amalgam fillings which work to drive metal ions into the tissues of the mouth. Symptoms in sufferers usually improve significantly after dental amalgam filling removal and levels of autoimmune antibodies also decline. The common finding of mouth ulceration in lupus sufferers may be a direct indicator of the source of the problem.
The anti-amalgam dentist, Dr Hal Huggins, has successfully treated over a thousand patients with chronic autoimmune conditions like lupus. He claims that approximately 85% experienced a significant improvement in their health following a careful programme of amalgam filling removal and mercury detoxification to reduce their body burden of mercury.
Mercury impairs detoxification
Mercury also reduces the available levels of glutathione, the liver enzyme required in order to detoxify mercury and many other environmental and endogenous toxins. Toxic metals such as mercury also form a variety of inorganic compounds which can inhibit many cellular enzyme processes, coenzymes, hormones, and blood cells.
A consistent finding in patients with SLE is that they tend to have greatly elevated blood plasma cysteine to sulphate ratios and therefore have insufficient sulphates available to carry out necessary bodily processes. Mercury has been shown to diminish and block sulphur oxidation and thus reduce glutathione levels.
As the body becomes more toxic, the processes of energy production are impaired, the liver detoxification system is burdened and fatigue and/or muscle pain can develop from toxic stress as the body becomes unable to detoxify harmful waste products or environmental toxins.
Epidemiological evidence supports mercury toxicity as a cause of lupus
The fact that autoimmune diseases such as lupus are almost exclusively diseases of the developed world suggests that the cause is environmental. The incidence of SLE in western Africans is very low compared to black Americans with west African ancestry, which strongly suggests the factor is related to our way of living. Within one generation of immigration the incidence of autoimmune diseases increases dramatically.
Many suspect the vaccination programme – which is mandatory in most states of America – of being responsible for these findings possibly in association with toxicity from the metals used in dentistry. Note that tooth decay rates also increase dramatically within one generation as the diet of the developed world is adopted necessitating more dental treatment.
The fact that the incidence of SLE is higher in urban areas also suggests an environmental factor. It is possible that rural children receive less medical care (vaccinations) and dental care (amalgam fillings) than their urban cousins and also that they are exposed to less in the way of environmental toxins.
The natural medicine view of SLE
The rashes on the hands and face associated with lupus are found at the ends of energy meridians and are the body's attempt at detoxifying the mercury. Suppression of this response using corticosteroids is a triple whammy as far as the body is concerned. This is because not only are its attempts to detoxify being thwarted, but adrenal function in specific and endocrine function in general are also steadily being undermined along with the immune response.
Natural medicine regards SLE as being caused by toxicity and effective treatment has to systematically address the underlying cause. Please refer to Chronic Fatigue, ME and Fibromyalgia: The Natural Recovery Plan for a programme of amalgam filling replacement and mercury detoxification as it is important to be fully informed.
Studies have shown that total avoidance of dairy products helps alleviate symptoms in many autoimmune disease sufferers and exclusion of dietary excitotoxins such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame is also strongly advised.