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An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases Hardcover – September 4, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1439199381 ISBN-10: 1439199388 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

An Epidemic of Absence explores recent research into the causes of human immune system malfunction against a background of evolution and human history. This book is a fascinating read for lay-persons, and it will even excite the very laboratory scientists whom it quotes by providing additional insights into the broader significance of their work. Ground-breaking and ambitious, An Epidemic of Absence should also be compulsory reading for all medical students.”

—Graham A. W. Rook, professor of immunology at UCL (University College London)

"Modern medicine gave us antibiotics and hygiene, which saved untold lives. But it also altered the intimate balance between our bodies and their residents--the viruses, bacteria, fungi, and worms that infected our ancestors for millions of years. An Epidemic of Absence is an absorbing, impressively researched look at the result of this medical revolution: a global disruption of immune systems."

-Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and A Planet of Viruses

"A brilliant and important book that will change the way you think about illness, medicine, genetics, and even evolution. Modern living has vanquished many serious health challenges, but also created many new ones. Moises Velasquez-Manoff forces us to confront the very personal ramifications of biological interdependence. Humans will never stand apart from our ecology. The sooner we realize that, and embrace it, the better off we'll all be."

- David Shenk, author, The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ

About the Author

Moises Velasquez-Manoff covered science and the environment for The Christian Science Monitor, and his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Slate, among other publications. He graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s Master of Arts program, with a concentration in science writing.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439199388
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439199381
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

As a physician, I found Velasquez-Manoff's book a fascinating read.
Jack
If you have a stake in allergies, autoimmune disorders or even cancer and heart disease, you will find this book very interesting and possibly helpful for treatment.
Sally Kirk
Indeed, if I were to have the time, this would have been the book that I would have liked to write.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Lowan Stewart on September 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Moises Velasquez-Manoff's book "An Epidemic of Absence" is nothing less than revolutionary. Speaking as a physician, we have known for some years about the mysterious connection between "hygiene" and some allergic diseases such as asthma; however, the mechanism and evolutionary history involved have been mostly unexplored. Velasquez-Manoff rigorously lays out a detailed synthesis of what cutting-edge scientists have discovered about the connections between autoimmune disease (asthma, allergies, arthritis, inflamatory bowel disease etc.) and the recent eradication of symbiotic bacteria and intestinal parasites in the modern world. He is very thorough in his review of the current scientific knowledge about the topic, and is able to weave together parts of this puzzle giving the reader a front row seat in the unfolding of a new chapter of our understanding of human health. The author tells this story from a personal and sometimes humorous perspective, taking us on a fascinating journey through our bodies and evolution. As a physician, a father, and as a human, I can tell you that this will be one of the most important books you will read, illuminating your understanding of human health and our connection to the living world around us (and inside us)!
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Jack on September 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a physician, I found Velasquez-Manoff's book a fascinating read. "An Epidemic of Absence" is quite obviously a labor of love by the author, as he poured through thousands of scientific studies to answer the question: Are our own healthy habits actually making us more unhealthy? More than ever, our Western society is focused on germs - eradicating and avoiding them. Could it be that eradicating these germs actually opens ourselves up to diseases that we wouldn't otherwise be exposed to?

Velasquez-Manoff points to our gastrointestinal tract as, quite possibly, the most important organ in our body. It is filled with billions of intestinal microbes that function as more than just digestive aids. He hypothesizes that these microbes also function to educate the immune cells of our body, and altering these microbes (such as with antibiotics, sanitary measures, and even de-worming pills) can wreck havoc on our bodies. Our immune systems then go out-of-control, contributing to such conditions as allergies, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn's disease, and even autism. He also hypothesizes that the alterations to our immune system can also contribute to other, seemingly-unrelated, diseases such as depression.

If the hypotheses in this book are proven correct, then its ramifications to the practice of modern medicine are profound. In this book, the author presents his findings in interesting and even self-deprecating ways. He even enters the somewhat unusual group of patients who purposely infect themselves with intestinal worms. Do the worms help the author improve his balding? You'll have to read to find out!

This book joins another book released this year that I consider a 'must read.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Merope on September 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The "Hygiene Hypothesis" has been around a long time, but I certainly have never encountered such a complete explanation of it before this book! As the other reviewers have said, basically the author's argument is that humans evolved with so many parasites and commensal bacteria and other organisms that our immune systems function with them. And when we live in such a "clean" environment that they are cleared from our bodies our immune systems misfire, causing allergies, at the least, and autoimmune dysfunction at the worst. It is a powerful argument, especially for anyone considering having children ... the message I took from the book was expose them to as much as possible before age 2 -- other children, crowded subways, farm animals, the mass of humanity that so many of us try to shield young children from!

The second argument of the book is that re-habitation by our former passengers, parasites, might be used to treat or cure autoimmune diseases like MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc is equally compelling, and the author goes so far as to infect himself with hookworm.

The only place his argument was not particularly compelling was trying to tie the hygiene hypothesis to cancer ... the chapter did not convince me, though I learned quite a bit from it.

Finally, I would encourage all parents of autistic children to read this book. Whether or not you buy his argument that autism is partly an autoimmune dysfunction it doesn't hurt to try some of the things he (and others) suggest, particularly the gluten free diet that has proven so remarkably effective in autistic children.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 24, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In a comprehensive and compelling book, Moises Velaquez Manoff has provided an updated version of the hygiene hypothesis to explain: Why is there more autoimmune diseases in the modern world?

While the idea that we are now no longer exposed to enough pathogens and therefore our immune system is beginning to attack our bodies is certainly not new, the author has provided a comprehensive review of the lots of new evidence supporting this hypothesis.

This area of research is growing rapidly and as an active research scientist in this field, I found this book to be a terrific compilation of almost all the most important studies out there. Through interviews with most of the leading scientists in this field, the author has been able to synthesize their thoughts into laypersons terms.

I gave this book to my parents after reading it, because it explained to them the concepts behind the type of research that I was doing now. Indeed, if I were to have the time, this would have been the book that I would have liked to write. There are very few things missing in it, and indeed many more ideas and stories that I had never come across.

The book is also livened up by personal stories of individuals who have taken matters into their own hands by infecting themselves with parasites to treat their symptoms of auto-immunity. Indeed, the author chronicles his own voyage in this regard. His writing captures the personalities of some of these individuals very well and reminds us that these autoimmune diseases are devastating many lives in our modern world.
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