Let’s talk about nature. Nature has incredible ways of regulating itself. When any one species multiplies beyond the systems ability to sustain it, there is not enough food and the species in question begins to decline. But what happens when humans mess with this balance in nature?
I spent some time in Australia several years ago and learned about the introduction of the cane toad. The cane toad is a huge toad that eats beetles and Australia had a beetle problem in its sugar cane fields so they imported a bunch of cane toads, a species native to central America. The cane toad has few predators in Australia and those that do try to eat it are poisoned by a secretion from the toad’s glands. What’s worse, the toads, having no true predators have outcompeted native species for food. The upshot? Today, cane toads number in the hundreds of millions and are a huge pest. Perhaps disturbing the delicate balance of nature in this case was not so clever afterall.
But what about vaccination, a technique used to manipulate our immune systems. Is it possible that the noble idea of protecting us from disease actually has drawbacks? What if vaccination actually CAUSES immune system problems so that the immune system is impaired and can’t maintain that delicate balance that should preside inside our bodies?
Well a team of scientists in Japan, interested in understanding what causes autoimmune disease -where the body attacks its own tissues and systems – repeatedly vaccinated mice to evaluate what impact repeated vaccination might have on the immune system. What they found is quite interesting, if not alarming.
They repeatedly vaccinated mice that were not prone to developing autoimmune diseases with the same antigen. (An antigen is something that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies and the presence of antibodies is believed to show that one is immune. The presence of autoantibodies shows that the body has developed an immune reaction against itself.)
So the scientists vaccinated these mice repeatedly with the same antigens – in some mice they vaccinated them two times, in some eight times and in some, twelve times. What happened was that the mice’s immune systems reacted such that they produced not only autoantibodies but also a certain type of immune cell that kills other cells which led to autoimmune tissue injury like that seen in lupus in humans. The authors go on to summarize: “We therefore conclude that systemic autoimmunity necessarily takes place when host’s immune ‘system’ is overstimulated by external disturbance, i.e., repeated exposure to antigen, to the levels that surpass system’s self-organized criticality, and propose here ‘self-organized criticality theory’ explaining the cause of autoimmunity.”
Put anther way, our immune system has an inbuilt mechanism enabling it to regulate the delicate balance between resting in a state of health and fighting invaders, when they occur. But when this delicate balance is disturbed, the immune system becomes stuck in this state of fighting and it fights not only the invaders, but also ourselves. Perhaps this is why we see an epidemic of allergies and autoimmune conditions like asthma, diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and more in the developed world.
You can read the full paper here – warning, it is very technical!