Reshaping the immune system: Moises Velazquez-Manoff at TEDxCibeles

Reshaping the immune system: Moises Velazquez-Manoff at TEDxCibeles

was in 1961 that humans first achieved spaceflight and all the millions of years of human evolution as far as we know that was the first time that we escaped Earth's gravitational pull and as the trips became longer with time doctors noticed that for long periods of weightlessness had a very strange effect on the human body muscles wasting away bones lost density even the heart shrank in fact the body seemed to fall apart without gravity I start to talk about the immune system with this anecdote because it illustrates an important rule and the rule is evolution turns the unavoidable into the necessary a body that evolved under the constant pull of gravity ends up requiring gravity to stay healthy we didn't fully appreciate this until we escaped Earth's gravitational pull we're now learning something very similar about the immune system the immune system needs its version of gravity and in this case gravity consists of things we've traditionally thought of as as evil microbes some microbes certain parasites I'll get to them in a minute but the key thing that I want emphasized now is that we may be living in a kind of ideological weightlessness and aspects of our immune system may have atrophied and that weakness may explain our baffling vulnerability to diseases like asthma and hay fever and works I became here to do the interest in this question as you heard because I've had lifelong allergies and asthma when I was 11 I was struck by an autoimmune disease called alopecia areata remind me to have my hair follicles leaving me mostly hairless so I had one disease where I overreacted to proteins in the environment I have one disease where my marine system turned on me what was wrong with my immune system I never got a good answer to that question and 20 years later as a science writer as a journalist I decided to look into it again I did not discover a cure as you can see but I did come upon a kind of revolution in our understanding of our own biology which is what I'm here to tell you about the first clue was simply that I was not alone these diseases were more and more common allergies and asthma increased between 2 & 3 fold in the late 20th century and depending on the autoimmune disease they increased it could have increased by even more scientists use the word epidemic to describe these strengths as an epidemic of asthma epidemic or allergies an epidemic of autoimmunity but not everyone was equally vulnerable to the epidemic in fact half Lewis was a very good predictor the richer your country more likely were to have on these diseases and in developing world where there was a greater spread of experiences the higher your social class you more likely were to have one of these diseases the fact the more your world was like over the past the less likely were to have one of these diseases and that man exposures lots of people exposure to animals exposure to mud and exposure to feces so I'll illustrate with an example the border between Russia and Finland bisects region historically known as Corellia since the end of World War two half the clearly ended up in what was then the Soviet Union and half in Russia the other half of Finland Finland is among the richest countries in the world per capita that area of Russia is very poor Finland has the highest prevalence of type 1 diabetes in the world that's an autoimmune diabetes that's usually child at onset you cross the border it's 1/5 is prevalent celiac disease 1/5 is prevalent allergic disease are 1/4 as prevalent now these values aren't due to lack of diagnosis they come from objective studies and they're not due to genetics both populations are related they're not due to sunlight both populations live in the same latitude they get the same amount of sunlight because they have the same amount of vitamin D and in the case celiac it's not due to different patterns of wheat consumption in fact with Russians eat more wheat than the Finns so what's protecting that right well they're poor they more often drink water that's not treated and they more often have or fecal infections like hepatitis A and Helicobacter pylori how about laurie is a bacterium that's famous for causing stomach cancer and ulcers but now increasingly scientists think that it protects against asthma and other inflammatory diseases we're more generally on the Russian side they just seek to be exposed to microbial wealth the kind of microbial rainforest that's just absent on the Finnish side and their immune system works differently as a result this kind of observation has been made many times before other environments that are enriched with microbes that have this microbial rainforest often seem to protect against allergic disease if you go to a daycare early like you have a lower chance asthma later it's often desert if you have a pet early in life especially a dog low risk later if you're born into a big family with lots of older brothers who make everything or ancestors make everything dirty for you your risk of asthma and allergies is less later and then there's something called the farm effect we tend to think that allergies began as a phenomenon the epidemic in the mid 20th century actually allergies first emerged as hay fever among the upper classes of Britain in the United States in the nineteenth century we always because they bragged about it since it seemed like they were the only ones that wheezed and sneezed wheezing and sneezing became kind of bad your honor civilization and refinement even then they notice that farmers never seem to get hay fever and that was very strange because farms were exposed to just about more pollen than anyone else so scientists rediscovered this phenomenon in the 1990s in Switzerland the small Alpine farms they found that kids who grow up in farms are about one third as allergic as kids who were just down the road in rural areas who weren't farming there wasn't any old farm those farms with animals problems with cows especially farms they drank raw milk and at the end they looked at the microbes it was foreign to the greatest diversity microbes that were the most protective now exposure the timing of exposure was important kids who were born to mothers who worked in the cowshed while they were pregnant and then who loved their their infants along for chores were the least allergic out of everyone and scientists could actually see when they were born that these kids had a different kind of immune system already at birth their immune system was much more able to restrain itself and hold back and not overreact not to do what what my immune system does when I eat a peanut for example um so let's go back to the opening mantra which was evolution turns the unavoidable into the necessary it doesn't take a huge stretch of imagination to see that this environment more resembles the environment that we evolved in a clean apartment in Madrid or New York so the question is does our immune system actually anticipate some of those signals and if so can we actually replace them and actually scientists find they can take microbes from the cow shed and spray them on pregnant mice and the mice have hops that are very protected against allergy so what we have here is a kind of future probiotic it's not nolan selling it yet but for the future that that prevents allergy from ever occurring then it raises an interesting question what else is missing remember those kids in the Russian in Russia Corellia they have that Helicobacter pylori we all used to have Helicobacter pylori maybe 150 years ago now about 5% kids do in the developed world that happened without our even noticing and a lot of people who say as a great thing since it may cause cancer oh but if it helps our immune system calibrate itself then the question is what else are we probably losing out on an easy answer to that our parasites these are large gross worms that we'd rather not think about but if you evolve them planet Earth the fact of the matter is you were parasitized probably they're ubiquitous in the animal kingdom whales half the chimps have them the dinosaurs have parasites have parasites and all the evidence suggests that humans were parasitized until very recently pretty acutely parasites pull off a trick they convince you they live for years for soil inside another animal sometimes decades they do that by convincing you that they belong and it convinced you they belong by suppressing your immune system so imagine you had this constant use of pressure four thousand three millions of years then you suddenly removed it well you'd end up with a hyper reactive immune system and I'm going to illustrate this another story in the early 2000s economic turmoil struck Argentina and a few multiple sclerosis patients there showed up with parasite infections that neurologist who is tending to them understood what I decide about parasites he understood they suppress the immune system he thought maybe would actually help with this autoimmune disease so he gave them a choice I get deworm you or I can leave the parasites and see what happens twelve decided to keep the parasites now multiple sclerosis very serious diseases your immune system turning against your central nervous system sort of eating holes in it and creeping paralysis occurs that an extreme cases ends up with death so what happens pretty remarkable the frequency of new exacerbations these are periods of dizziness and weakness slowed down dramatically the appearance of new lesions in the brain that show up is less dark spots and MRIs they slowed down as well in fact the parasites brought the disease to an almost complete halt five years later some of them weren't really so hot with their parasites and they asked the PD warranty to warn them the disease started right back up here now this is not how we like our science have done it's not the CBO controlled and randomized but actual placebo-controlled studies on children in the tropics show that when you were watching kids you get an immediate increase in allergic reactivity so none of this really means that cars are completely benign they're clearly stealing something from you if they weren't they wouldn't be parasites but remember the mantra evolution turns the unavoidable into the necessary if we evolve with this constant pressure on our immune system might it be that our mean system actually needs parasites present to work optimally there's one more piece of the puzzle to what may have gone wrong huh a lot of slides there um may have gone wrong with our immune system it is called human microbiota these are the microbes that live inside of us right now in your body microbes outnumber your cells by a factor of 10 into one that means you are actually 10% human and 90% microbe in certain respects most of these microbes live in your gastrointestinal tract and most of union activity happens around your intestines as well about 70 percent which means that what lives inside of you may have a great effect on how immune system works now here my gravity metaphor sort of falls apart this is not a force acting upon you this is more like symbiosis these things synthesize vitamins for you they protect you from invaders and return you give a place to live and you feed them so it's a little troubling that it seems that our community of microbes in the developed world when you compare it to people living more traditional ways it seems to be impoverished we have lost diversity relative to people who live in these kinds of conditions now as you remember diversity was good back at Russian Camellia diversity was good on the farm why are we losing diversity it may just be if you haven't inherited our microbes it may also be that our diet isn't doing us any favors the Western diet is high in unhealthy fats and simple sugars and low in complexity and it seems like that kind of diet asks kind of like what happens with the marine dead film you have all this fertilizer washing down the river and hits the ocean and it causes a kind of collapse in the ecosystem another reason may be antibiotics there's this troubling correlation when you use a lot of antibiotics early in life your risk of asthma and some other diseases that I'm talking about goes up so you think this is reverse causation that's because people who are destined to get these diseases are sickly earlier life to begin with but the problem is scientists fire they can give antibiotics to mice knock out these subsets of their microbes and increase the risk of these diseases later both microbes they knock out through your immune system and they help you control yourself and not overreact in fact everything I talked about all these things do various ways and means help your immune system all back and so what's remarkable is that we haven't changed just one of them in the last 150 years we've actually changed them all we've left the farm to move to the cities to pave the roads you've sterilized that water sterilize their food which used to be very fermented on top of being filthy and we've changed our diet and also taken antibiotics you did a lot of this for extremely good reason to stop dying and infectious disease but it may be that in trying to get rid of the things that we're killing us we also got rid of some of the things that were keeping us well and they're not necessarily the same things so what are we going to do about this well nothing right now actually people should ask me about stories I'll tell you stories later but we're not people anything officially right now and the way I like to answer this question is my thinking about a doctor 20 years ago now these days doctors had to ask what's behind us and such symptom what's causing the set of problems but everything I just talks about may result in something missing from an absence so the future doctor is going to ask what's missing can it replace it the emphasis in general is going to be a disease prevention and that project the disease prevention is going to begin with your parents before you're born remember those kids have been born the different immune system on the farm what are they going to use are they going to use domesticated parasites I think it just added subtract members to from your your microbiota or they can add drugs in a drive from these things are they going to use fecal transplants which are exactly what they sound like ask about those to later we don't know yet it's very unclear but what's more important at this point is simply acknowledging the reimagining of the immune system that this approach entails we've historically thought of the immune system as a kind of army with the defensive line something approaches and boom goodbye but clearly it's much more complicated it's more like a sensory organ it's constantly sensing what's there it's more like a diplomatic core it strikes up relationships with other organisms it's more like raining actually that learns and remembers unlike the brain in your head it eats a good education otherwise it develops bad habits so the future doctor is going to educate your immune system it's possible that everything I just said is not true I have to just acknowledge that I'm a science writer I think some of it is I think a lot of it is so I probably a lot more at stake here than just allergies autoimmune disease if it's true humanity recently passed the milestone we're now more likely to doctor the non infectious disease and infectious disease these diseases include cardiovascular disease some cancers dementia they're all linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity and they all share as a collective disease is often called the diseases of civilization a poor feature often of inflammation Z of immune system that just won't shut off is this pure coincidence probably not which means that this future doctor is going to have a very powerful tool to prevent to address the diseases of civilization the irony is this tools can involve pulling to our ancestral past replacing some of these stimuli so these inputs so that we can go forward to a new kind of future and it all begins with a simple rethinking this reimagining of the immune system in its proper evolutionary context and here's what I mean let's go back to those astronauts let's imagine that you are some time space alien doctor that involved in outer space and went to medical in outer space and all you've ever known is weightlessness you come to those astronauts you see here they have bloated faces and wasted bodies and brittle bones and you say what kind of space virus is causing this problem you take all your intergalactic technology and throw it and answering that question now imagine the you our planet Earth you're looking up at the problem you're aware the human beings have evolved on planet Earth you have very different take you would say there's nothing causing that there's one thing missing gravity they need to be rescued from weightlessness bring them home and all those symptoms will resolve thank you


  1. Great lecture, but wth the camera was all over the place. Neither necessary nor does it add. Less is more.

  2. Moises • thank you very much for this talk. I suffer from myriad food allergies & it has destroyed my life thus far… I also have several friends with food allergies & it frustrates me to know we didn't have to be this way. I found the astronaut analogy fantastic.

  3. Very interesting but difficult to listen to for non-English native speakers not because of the vocabulary but because of the speed and lack of clear pronunciation.

  4. 3:00 The Finns and the Russians don't get the same amount of sunlight.  Wealthier people are more likely to be indoors.

  5. The cameramen didn't need to move the camera around so much. More isn't better. The recent trend of incessantly swaying the camera and zooming in and out is stupid. We want to hear the talk. The unnecessary camera work makes it worse.

  6. I Googled info about Karelia/Finland/Russia. There have been several wars in the area, also with Swedes involved, from 1300 to 1900. I have a different theory about the diseases. Both Finland and Sweden as cultures consume high volumes of milk (read milk sugar which feeds Candida yeast, leading to overgrowth and systemic Candida which causes about 170 health problems all around the body). Consumption of dairy in Russia and Ukraine (close to the Karelia region) is half of the consumption in Finland which tops dairy consumption in the world!

  7. Here is his New York Times article, as well "Should We Bank Our Own Stool" (surprising title)

  8. We already have the answers in AYURVEDA= PREVENTIVE MEDICINE……..A way of life…….lifestyle…….what you put in your mouth…

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