Autoimmune Disease — an Epidemic Bigger than Cancer and Heart Disease Combined

We have an epidemic in this country, but no one is paying attention. It’s an epidemic from which approximately 50 million Americans or 20% of the population, or one in five people, are suffering (according to the National Institute of Health). In comparison, Cancer affects 9 million and Heart Disease, 22 million Americans. Put them together and you still don’t touch autoimmune illness rates in our country.

Between 2000 and 2030, the number of Americans living with chronic disease is predicted to increase by 37%, but here’s the really upsetting part; with the prevalence of autoimmune disease on the rise, more children are getting sick and at a faster rate. In fact, autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 causes of death for kids aged 1–14 and one of the top 8 causes of death in children and young adults aged 15–24.

Here are some additional alarming statistics:

  • IBD seems to be increasing in children, according to a 12-year study showing an incidence rate doubling over 1991–2002.
  • Best estimates of the total autoimmune disease financial burden are around $100 Billion. However, this number was based on data from the last decade and we suspect it to be much lower than the actual, since psoriasis (one autoimmune disease out of 80+) estimated a total US cost of $112 Billion in 2013.
  • NIH research funding for autoimmune disease in 2003 came to $591 million. In comparison, cancer funding came to $6.1 billion; and heart and stroke, to $2.4 billion (source: NIH).

So, with all of these disturbing and demanding statistics, why aren’t more scientists and folks in the medical community standing up and doing something about it? There’s probably a couple of reasons.

Why Are Autoimmune Illnesses Being Ignored?

  • Symptoms vary depending on the illness and can affect all body organs.
  • Most people with autoimmune illnesses don’t look sick (compared to being sick with cancer).
  • Medical School provides little education on autoimmune illnesses compared with other chronic disease.
  • Initial symptoms are often intermittent and unspecific until the disease becomes acute.
  • There are 80–100 different different autoimmune diseases and they suspect at least 40 additional diseases of having an autoimmune basis. These diseases range from Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis to Juvenile Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Autoimmune Illnesses Affecting Our Kids

Here is some additional information on some of the more prevalent autoimmune illnesses our children are struggling with:

Inflammatory Bowl Disease — A chronic inflammatory bowel disease that was once considered rare in the pediatric population, is currently recognized as one of the most important chronic diseases that affect children and adolescents. IBD is split evenly between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Approximately 3.1 million Americans currently have IBD, based on a national survey, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • One in ten IBD patients are under the age of 18.
  • On average, people are more frequently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis between the ages of 15 and 35, although the disease can occur at any age.
  • As many as 70,000 new cases of IBD are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Celiac Disease — There are 3 million Americans with celiac disease in the United States. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease.

  • 6% of young children suffer from celiac disease and this number has increased by 18% from 1997–2007 (2008 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • 44% of all cases are diagnosed are under the age of 20.

Type 2 Diabetes — The number of children and adolescents with Type 2 Diabetes (most of whom are diagnosed in their early teens) has skyrocketed within the last 20 years, prompting the journal DiabetesCare to call it an “emerging epidemic.” While Type 1 Diabetes is still more prevalent among children nationwide, experts estimate that Type 2 Diabetes has grown from less than 5% in 1994 to about 20 percent of all newly diagnosed cases of the disease among youth in more recent years.

  • More than 80% of all children and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes are overweight, and about 40% are clinically obese.

Alopecia Areata — Approximately 1.7 percent (1,277,000) of the children in the U.S. suffer from Alopecia Areata, another autoimmune disease which causes hair loss on the scalp, face and other areas of the body.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

So, what’s the solution? We know that commonly used immunosuppressant treatments, which are the leading form of treatment for autoimmune disease, can lead to devastating long-term side effects. For many patients, they are finding great success with these drugs. For others, the drugs don’t work, as the side effects are too harsh. For many parents, they are choosing an alternate, more long-term natural approach, using diet and nutrition for healing.

When my son Caleb was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease almost three years ago, we treated him with Chinese herbs and eliminated dairy and most gluten from his diet. It reduced the inflammation in his body and controlled the disease for two years. Then, last year, his inflammation markers started to creep up and it was time for more drastic measures. We had heard about The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is based around the chemical structure of food.

Carbohydrates are classified by their molecular structure. The SCD Diet (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) only allows Caleb to eat monosaccharides, which have a single molecule structure, that allow them to be easily absorbed by the intestine wall. Complex carbohydrates, which are disaccharides (double molecules) and polysaccharides (chain molecules) are not allowed. Complex carbohydrates (like rice and potato’s) that are not easily digested, feed harmful bacteria in our intestines, causing them to overgrow, producing by-products and inflaming the intestine wall. The diet works by starving out these bacteria and restoring the balance of bacteria in our gut.

So, in a nutshell, the SCD Diet eliminates all grains, gluten, sugar, most dairy and preservatives from Caleb’s diet. And guess what? It works. His inflammation markers are almost normalized. Being on the SCD or any special diet that eliminates grains, gluten etc. requires not only a commitment from the child, but from the parents as well. After all, we parents are forced to do 90% of the cooking for everything our children eat.

In today’s world, there is very little that can be bought in grocery stores that meet our diet requirements. Just trying to find food that doesn’t have any preservatives is difficult, let alone food that is sugar free, grain free etc. I make all of Caleb’s crackers, bread, cookies, cakes, jam and snacks.

That’s why we decided to start making our own food for kids that’s grain, gluten, sugar and preservative free. We started a company called Caleb’s Cooking Company because we recognize that kids on special diets just want to feel like regular kids and eat the food they love, like pizzas, chicken nuggets and enchiladas. Food is such a big part of kids’ social lives that being able to share a pizza or pull out chicken nuggets that look and taste like traditional “fast food” is important and has significant psychological ramifications.

Everything we’ve done with our food at Caleb’s Cooking Company is designed to ensure that all kids, whether they have severe allergies or have Celiac, Crohn’s or Diabetes, feel accepted and not alone in their diet or their disease.

If you’d like to check out our food, its all organic, whole, healthy and created with healing in mind. We are selling online now and hope to be in stores soon. BTW — Caleb’s favorite are the enchiladas! Enjoy!