By Moises Velasquez-Manoff
Reviewed by Rosalind Michahelles, Certified Holistic Health Counselor
Moises Velasquez-Manoff is a journalist – a science writer primarily — who has taken on the job of translating an ambitious scope of research for the non-medical reader. The central thesis is that we evolved with parasites, mostly insects and worms, and without their stimulus our immune systems get restless and look for targets that often end up being some part of ourselves. This sort of ‘friendly fire’ becomes allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases. It’s important to point out that the many examples in the book are based on correlation, not causality. The correlations are indeed compelling, however. One, for instance, is that mothers who live on farms with animals have children with less asthma and fewer allergies. Another correlation links the end of malaria in Sardinia to a rapid rise in two autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis and type-1 diabetes. This book is dense with such examples.
It is a book built on the premise that such immune-mediated disorders “arise in direct proportion to affluence and Westernization.” We no longer live in the kind of environment that we – including our immune systems – evolved to expect. And that leads to problems: allergies, asthma, autism and autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and nearly a hundred others. Why is this? The author, a sufferer from both allergy and alopecia (his immune system attacked his hair follicles when he was a boy so he has been bald since then) has done a very extensive search for the answer to that question and believes that “…much of our immune system evolved precisely to manage the problem of parasites.” That being so, those parasites aren’t really dispensable and are, in fact, even symbiotic, what he calls ‘mutualists.’ They need us and we need them. The result is a delicate balance for the immune system in which force to control the invaders must not become so much force as to destroy the self. He even claims that “parasites more than any other factor (diet, climate) have influenced our evolution.” In short, we are their creatures, not the other way around!