Skin Exposure to Toxic Chemicals Linked to Billions of Chronic Diseases

Your largest organ–your skin (more specifically, the skin’s epithelial cells)–is meant to protect your organs from potentially harmful environmental toxins–including bacteria, viruses, environmental toxins, pollutants and allergens.  Unfortunately, in today’s environment where we are inundated with toxins, that protective barrier is falling short.   If the skin and mucosal barriers are damaged or leaky, foreign agents can enter into the tissue and cause local, often chronic inflammation. This has both direct and indirect consequences…

Rise in allergic and autoimmune conditions

Some scientists argue that the epithelial barrier hypothesis* provides an explanation as to why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been increasing for decades – they are linked to industrialization, urbanization and westernized lifestyle. Today many people are exposed to a wide range of toxins, such as ozone, nanoparticles, microplastics, household cleaning agents, pesticides, enzymes, emulsifiers, fine dust, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke and countless chemicals in the air, food and water–all of which are now believed by scientists to harm the epithelial barrier and are subsequently responsible for up to two billion chronic, non-infectious diseases.

“The epithelial barrier hypothesis proposes that damages to the epithelial barrier are responsible for up to two billion chronic, non-infectious diseases.  In the past 20 years, researchers at the SIAF alone published more than 60 articles on how various substances damage the epithelial cells of a number of organs…these harmful substances represent one of the greatest threats to humankind.”

-Dr. Cezmi Akdis, Director of the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF), the University of Zurich (UZH)

Asthma, Alzheimer’s et al.

Local epithelial damage to the skin and mucosal barriers lead to allergic conditions, inflammatory bowel disorders and celiac disease. But disruptions to the epithelial barrier can also be linked to many other diseases that are characterized by changes in the microbiome

In the gut, leaky epithelial barriers and microbial imbalance contribute to the onset or development of chronic autoimmune and metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or ankylosing spondylitis.

Moreover, defective epithelial barriers have also been linked to neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorders and chronic depression, which may be triggered or aggravated by distant inflammatory responses and changes in the gut’s microbiome.

*Abstract: “There has been a steep increase in allergic and autoimmune diseases, reaching epidemic proportions and now affecting more than one billion people worldwide. These diseases are more common in industrialized countries, and their prevalence continues to rise in developing countries in parallel to urbanization and industrialization. Intact skin and mucosal barriers are crucial for the maintenance of tissue homeostasis as they protect host tissues from infections, environmental toxins, pollutants and allergens. A defective epithelial barrier has been demonstrated in allergic and autoimmune conditions such as asthma, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, chronic rhinosinusitis, eosinophilic esophagitis, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, leakiness of the gut epithelium is also implicated in systemic autoimmune and metabolic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ankylosing spondylitis and autoimmune hepatitis. Finally, distant inflammatory responses due to a ‘leaky gut’ and microbiome changes are suspected in Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, chronic depression and autism spectrum disorders. This article introduces an extended ‘epithelial barrier hypothesis’, which proposes that the increase in epithelial barrier-damaging agents linked to industrialization, urbanization and modern life underlies the rise in allergic, autoimmune and other chronic conditions. (source)


Journal reference:  Akdis, C.A. Does the epithelial barrier hypothesis explain the increase in allergy, autoimmunity and other chronic conditions?  Nature Reviews Immunology Journal, April 12, 2021,  DOI https://doi.org/10.1038/s41577-021-00538-7