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Autoimmune Disorders in Women Possibly Triggered by Seafood
- Updated: February 11, 2015
Autoimmune disorders cause the body’s own immune system to attack healthy cells. According to the latest statistics, roughly 50 million people in the United States alone, mostly women, live with some type of autoimmune disease. The best-known disorders include lupus, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, irritable bowel disease (IBS), and rheumatoid arthritis.
Many studies confirm that autoimmune diseases are among the top 10 causes of death in women. The challenge is that experts still do not fully understand why so many people develop autoimmune disorders.
Emily Somers, associate professor in departments of internal medicine in obstetrics & gynecology, rheumatology, and environmental health sciences divisions at the University of Michigan Medical and Public Health Schools headed up a new study whereby women between the ages of 16 and 49 were analyzed.
Because there are so many cases of autoimmune disorders that genetics cannot explain, Somers felt it important to look at environmental factors for explanation, not only how autoimmune disorders develop but also why. Based on the study findings, she feels that intervention can make health outcomes better.
It was discovered in the study that the primary risk factor for women developing autoimmune disorders was mercury, which is found in certain types of seafood. Autoantibodies are major predicators for autoimmune disorders and as such, could be used to predict symptoms and diagnosis of different autoimmune disorders. However, Somers stressed that just because autoantibodies are present does not automatically mean an autoimmune disorder will develop.
At greatest risk are women of childbearing age, as well as mothers still nursing young children. Having identified the highest risk group, it is essential for these women to track how much seafood they consumed. Findings of the study were published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, which clearly points out that seafood is one of the primary sources of mercury.
Also reported was that increased levels of mercury exposure is linked to a higher rate of autoantibodies. Although there are risks, Somers and other authors of the study noted there are also distinct health benefits of consuming seafood, to include being loaded with vital nutrients. However, for women at risk, it is essential to choose fish wisely.
Seafood with the highest level of mercury are tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish, while seafood with the lowest level includes salmon, shrimp, and canned light tuna.
In light of the study’s findings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have determined that eating up to 12 ounces of seafood weekly is safe for pregnant and nursing women but as indicated by Somers’ study, anything more puts women at risk for developing an autoimmune disorder.