More than 32 million people have proteins which attack their own bodyJanuary 26th, 2012 | Posted by in Cancer | Illness | Men | Prevention | Women
A recent study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) revealed that more than 32 million people in the United States have autoantibodies in their systems. Autoantibodies are proteins created by one’s own immune system and which are directed against one or more of the individual’s own protein. In other words, they attack the body’s own healthy cells, tissues, or organs, causing inflammation and damage.
These autoantibodies have been known to cause diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. At this time, it is unknown exactly how these autoantibodies are formed but researchers hypothesize that drugs, cancers, or other infections can leader to higher levels of autoantibodies in one’s system. Yet, simply having autoantibodies does not necessarily mean one will suffer from an autoimmune disease.
The study of over 4800 individuals was the largest of its kind and researchers were hoping to find the most common autoantibody, the antinuclear autoantibody or ANA. Drawing from a bigger data set was important for the scientists to draw more substantial conclusions about autoantibodies in the human population. Their findings included a few groundbreaking facts:
- Presence of antinuclear antibodies was about 14 percent and was slightly higher in blacks than in whites
- Frequency generally increased with age
- Higher in women than in men (with the ratio hitting its highest levels between the ages of 40-49) – Linda Birnbaum, director of U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and author on the paper, believes this may be an indication of the role hormones play in the development of autoantibodies.
- Frequency of antinuclear antibodies was lower in overweight and obese people than in those with normal weight. According to another author on the paper, Dr. Minoru Satoh, associate professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Florida, this discrepancy might be due to a unique protein which could be secreted by the fat tissues and plays a role in stunting the development of the autoantibodies. Yet, he asserts there is not enough data to come to a solid conclusion and more research is required to back up his theory.
This study is actually a very important advancement in the study of autoantibodies. Never before has the sample size been this large (> 4800) and been more representative of the United States population. Thus, the study breaks new ground into learning about the role of ANA and also provides stellar insights into why autoantibodies are formed. Possibly armed with this data, future researchers can figure out a way to stop these proteins from attacking our own body’s immune system.