Debate swirls around the reality of the autism phenomenon, and rightly so. Diagnostic criteria have changed repeatedly, and awareness has increased. How much — if any — of the “autism epidemic” is real, how much artifact?
YET when you consider that, as a whole, diseases of immune dysregulation have increased in the past 60 years — and that these disorders are linked to autism — the question seems a little moot. The better question is: Why are we so prone to inflammatory disorders? What has happened to the modern immune system?
There’s a good evolutionary answer to that query, it turns out. Scientists have repeatedly observed that people living in environments that resemble our evolutionary past, full of microbes and parasites, don’t suffer from inflammatory diseases as frequently as we do.
This article, while brief, still manages to be one of the best treatments I’ve read on these topics. Velasquez-Manoff, instead of being an adherent to any side’s often-extreme position, looks with an open mind at a variety of possible relationships among these big, thorny issues.
It’s not just about autism, and there’s a lot to look at.
- Has our industrialized, sanitized lifestyle helped explode the incidence of inflammatory and autoimmune-related conditions?
- Is living without our parasitic fellow travelers doing us more harm than good?
- What steps might we take to slow down or reverse the trend toward overactive immunity?
I’m hoping his book, An Epidemic of Absence, will go into greater depth on all these and more when it comes out next week. (I just noticed you can read the first chapter at that link.)
Time to go eat some dirt. Sounds gross, but it beats a worm milkshake. Probably…I do love some milkshakes.