Massive Indian study seeks cause for allergy in modern life

It has long been suspected that the environment and the modern way of life are in some way responsible for the rise in allergies in the Western world.

In the Indian cities of Mysore and Bangalore the affluent middle classes are growing at a rapid pace and its members are pursuing increasingly westernised lifestyles. They live alongside poorer rural and urban communities, which retain a more traditional way of life.

As the ranks of the middle class have expanded, doctors have observed that so has the incidence of allergic asthma. The speed and scale of development in these two south Indian cities (a 50% rise in asthma over the last five years) plus the proximity of different social groups has made them ideal locations for the examination of the impact of modern lifestyle on allergy.

The main hypothesis that study leader Dr Mahesh Rao, associate professor at JSS Medical College in Mysore, and his colleagues are setting out to examine is that affluence and the modern lifestyle is related to the rise in allergic asthma.

In the traditional communities, children are exposed to bacteria and animals at an early age. They are generally breastfed, eat healthy food and get plenty of exercise. They do not have access to junk foods, perfumes, soaps and chemicals which are thought may be factors in the growth of allergic asthma.

Dr Rao is concerned that unless more is understood about the causes of allergic asthma, the number of cases will continue to rise, which could present an alarming economic and social burden as India continues to become more westernised.

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First published in July 2009

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