For those who did not see it, a report on the recent Horizon programme on allergies – Micki Rose

Just fifty years ago around one person in thirty had an allergy. In the UK today, that figure is now thought to be closer to one in ten. Why?

The programme questioned experts across the globe and, whilst there were some interesting theories, the conclusion was that allergy is poorly understood, under-researched and most probably the result of what one expert called ‘a perfect storm’ – a combination of many factors.

I believe is that this is indeed the case, and it is only by addressing the factors we know about – and finding those we don’t – that we will get to the bottom of this ‘modern plague’.

Half the in-bred population of the remotest inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha, off the coast of Africa, has diagnosed asthma. Experts have isolated a particular gene there which suggests that allergy is a genetic problem. But, they believe, genetic predisposition is only part of the answer.

Other scientists pointed to the rapid environmental change in our modern world, and believe that the level of chemical toxins to which we are now exposed (the highest-ever) is causing overload. They cited huge increases in allergy near cities and towns, and in places like Barbados where rural communities have become very rapidly industrialised.

Have we got out of sync with the environment and lifestyle we were born into? Early man was described in the programme as naked, eating raw food and parasite-ridden, a very different environment from the chemically-toxic one we inhabit today. Evolutionarily-speaking, this change has happened in the blink of an eye and we may either not have adapted yet, or have adapted wrongly.

One expert theorised the allergy antibody IgE was originally made by the body to bind to parasites such as worms. Now that we do not have any worms the antibody has gone awry and is binding to innocuous proteins such as house dust mite and foods.

Some people’s allergy, it was suggested, could be caused by stress, which triggers histamine production and hence allergy-type symptoms. This was not to suggest that the allergy is all in the allergic person’s mind but that the fear of an allergic reaction may actually trigger allergy symptoms.

Leaky Skin
Rather like the more well-known leaky gut, we may have leaky skin. Allergy sufferers could have too little of the protein that maintains the skin’s barrier, allowing through foreign
substances which should be kept out.

The programme ended with the bleak – and slightly sensationalist – suggestion that allergy is, currently at least, out of control. Personally I felt buoyed up by the long-awaited recognition of toxic overload as a trigger. Perhaps a future programme can address the
issues of poor diet and lack of digestive ability too. I look forward to it.

First Published in 2009

If this article was of interest you will find many other articles on unlikely allergies and allergy connections here – and links to many relevant research studies here.

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