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Why Are Allergies On The Increase
Allergies are on the rise – a third of the population believe they suffer from allergies, and although some of these people may be wrong, everyone agrees that eczema, asthma, hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome etc. are now on the rise. common So what happened?
It is often unclear why a person tends to be allergic or intolerant to a variety of substances. Doctors talk about ‘atopic individuals’ – atopic means ‘without a place’. To the uninitiated, this sounds like a medical diagnosis, but in fact all it means is: You have a tendency to have allergies; you may have several different symptoms caused by your allergic reactions; this often runs in families; we don’t know why. Describing someone as an atopic individual is not saying anything the person doesn’t already know about themselves!
Allergy problems definitely run in families, so there may be a genetic component, although the exact mechanism is not clearly understood. Some small genetic mutation can cause the immune system to activate more easily, so that family members sharing this mutation will all have a tendency to allergic reactions, although not necessarily to the same substances, but this does not explain the increase in the incidence of. allergies in recent years.
Severe Viral Infections
A severe viral infection can cause damage to the immune system, so that the individual is more likely to develop allergies in the future. Again, while this may explain why someone has allergies, the incidence of viral infections does not increase.
So we have to look elsewhere to explain the increase, and there are several completely different possibilities.
One allergy theory now proposed is that the lack of the proper enemies (liver fluke, tapeworm, etc.) led to an inactive immune system finding an inappropriate job in allergic reactions. There are many antibodies produced in the body to protect it against invasion by harmful organisms. IgE antibodies deal effectively and quickly with the extreme danger of infection by large parasites, such as tapeworms. The impact of parasites on health can be devastating, so over the years individuals with efficient IgE mechanisms have lived to reproduce and pass on their genes at a greater rate than people with less efficient IgE mechanisms. The IgE antibodies are also involved in allergic and hypersensitivity reactions, so people with these inherited efficient IgE mechanisms are more likely to suffer from allergic problems than people who have inherited a less efficient system. This overloaded immune system was a plus for the distant ancestors of an asthmatic inhabiting a world with many life-threatening parasites, but now leads to a “trigger-happy” immune system firing inappropriately.
Other therapists (notably Hulda Clark in “Cure For All Diseases”) take the opposite view, and see many allergic symptoms as a reaction to parasite infestation.
The obsession with the danger of “germs” is thought to have led to an increase in allergies. Much of this obsession with cleanliness seems to be driven by the media and advertising. Headlines about ‘killer bugs’, and advertisements that claim a product kills even more germs have led many people to buy more and more products to eradicate these dangerous enemies. A view now gaining ground among many researchers and some doctors is that a certain level of dirt is good for us, especially during infancy and early childhood when the immune system is maturing.
T-helper cells in the immune system recognize foreign antigens and then secrete substances to activate other cells to fight the invader. In pregnancy the T helper cells that attack invaders directly without producing antibodies (Th1 cells) are less active, as these could cause the maternal system to reject the fetus. This means that the T-helper cells that are responsible for antibody reactions (Th2 cells) are more prominent. These are the ones that are involved in allergic reactions. The new baby’s immune system has the same stress as the mother’s had during pregnancy. It is believed that the exposure of the very young to some level of “dirt” is beneficial because it helps to rebalance the immune system to emphasize the T-helper cells that are not involved in the allergic process.
In an excellent article (“New Scientist” July 18, 1998) Garry Hamilton talks about “the softer side of germs”. If the young are not exposed to “dirt”, the immune system does not go through this rebalancing process, and a tendency to allergy may result. Linda Gamblin in “The Allergy Bible” cites several medical research projects that support the idea of allowing children to be exposed to dirt and minor infections to help protect against allergies.
Our children are now vaccinated against a greater and greater range of diseases. While some of these are serious, many are mild illnesses that were once considered part of normal childhood. Many alternative practitioners believe that these childhood illnesses help improve the immune system so that it can better deal with a whole range of ailments later in life. This view is not accepted by most of the medical profession, and indeed would be difficult to prove. However, there is some evidence that vaccination changes the ratio of T-helper cells and T-suppressor cells. This would likely have an effect on the vaccinated child’s susceptibility to allergic reactions. It is also known that most vaccines stimulate the branch of the immune system that deals with the more extreme immune responses to invaders such as parasites (‘New Scientist’ July 18, 1998).
Ubiquitous Presence Of Some Foods
Before the advent of freezers and air cargo most people ate local foods in season. Now most fruits and vegetables are available year-round, so our systems are constantly exposed to the same foods over and over again.
There has been a dramatic increase in people experiencing a soy allergy as soy has become a common ingredient in many processed foods. In Europe and North America rice allergy is relatively uncommon, while in Asia where it is consumed more often it is much more common.
Developments that make modern life more comfortable have also led to an increase in allergies. With the advent of air conditioning, central heating and wall-to-wall carpeting dust mites and molds like alternaria have an ideal environment in which to thrive. Modern offices with sealed windows mean that everyone is exposed to the perfumes that other people wear. The increasing use of plastics, formaldehyde, benzene etc. has led to us all being exposed to an amazing variety of chemicals.
Pollution Of Environmental Pollutants
The chemicals in diesel fumes are known to damage the outer membranes of pollen. This means that when the pollen is inhaled, the pollen proteins are immediately in much closer contact with the delicate membranes in the mouth, nose and lungs than they would be if the pollen had not been damaged in this way.
Now it has also been suggested that the immune system reacts to some harmless substances because they have been contaminated by environmental pollution: the immune system does not recognize the food, for example, if it has molecules from tire rubber attached to it. These molecules sometimes seem similar to enzymes produced by parasites and thus the immune system attacks the “parasite”.
Although more and more evidence is accumulating for a role of environmental pollutants, this does not explain why New Zealand, which is relatively unpolluted, has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world.
An increase in electromagnetic pollution ran parallel with the increase in allergies. The scientific jury is still out on the danger of cell phones, power lines, etc., but many people are more concerned about our constant exposure. People who are sensitive to computers etc often also show many symptoms typical of allergic individuals. In some cases correcting this sensitivity to electromagnetic sources, results in all or most adverse reactions disappearing. (I recommend health kinesiology for this.)
The pace of life is always faster: modern technology gives us more options and many of us want to experience as many of them as possible. A survey found that half of the 950 young people in their 20s interviewed said they would feel like a failure if they didn’t own a home by 26, weren’t married by 27 and weren’t both wealthy and parents by 29. Many of those interviewed said they were prepared to sacrifice a healthy diet and lifestyle to achieve this. These expectations and pressures are not conducive to long-term health and can also lead to stress and allergies. Prepackaged, processed foods eaten in front of the TV, too much alcohol, too little fresh air and exercise all take their toll.
Sometimes particular traumatic events can explain a particular allergy. One of my clients was allergic to wool and tea. She told me that when she was a small child she drew a cup of hot tea to herself. At the time she was wearing a woolen sweater, and the tea soaked into the sweater and burned her very badly.
It is now well known that bottle-fed babies are more likely to be prone to allergy problems than breast-fed babies. Abrupt or early weaning can also contribute to the problem.
Unfortunately the modern diet may be high in calories, but there is increasing evidence that it is low in some important nutrients. People are eating more pre-processed foods that can be nutritionally compromised.
Soil is depleted of some minerals, because they have long been taken by plants grown in the soil. If the mineral is not in the soil, it cannot be in the plant, and therefore it is also not available in the foods we eat.
It is unlikely that there is one simple answer as to why people are allergic, intolerant or sensitive in general or to particular substances. Research is still being done in this fascinating area. Fortunately, with the tools available, it is not necessary to know why someone has allergy problems in order to be able to detect and correct them.
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