Why So Many Allergies?
The number of allergies is on the rise, but why so many allergies especially in children?
Allergies and auto-immune disorders occur when our immune system mistakenly identifies an otherwise harmless substance as a threat. It then attacks these inappropriate targets. In the case of an allergy this may be a food, dust, mould, pollen etc or in the case of an autoimmune disease the body is attacked.
So Why So Many Allergies?
The medical profession does not really have any definitive answers as to why the number of allergies is on the rise. There are however several theories.
> The Hygiene Hypothesis speculates that we are not exposed to enough pathogens, parasites and other microbes giving our immune systems too little to do. This hypothesis has been around for several decades.
> Digestive Health and Leaky Gut – around 80% of our immune system is in our gut, if the gut is not healthy, then we will not be healthy.
> Lifestyle factors such as warmer, drier homes and a more sedentary lifestyle.
The Hygiene Hypothesis
Population studies have found that there is a much lower incidence of allergies, asthma and anaphylaxis in developing countries. It is also known that children who grow up on a farm, around animals and spending a lot of time outside have fewer allergies.
The theory is that these children are exposed to parasites and other microbes, which is much more in line with the way that we evolved.
During evolution our bodies adapted to the constant presence of these parasites and other microbes. Now that they have been removed from our environment we have a very active immune system that is effectively itching for a fight.
In other words, our living conditions and food are so clean they don’t offer our immune systems enough to do, so our systems overreact to harmless allergens instead.
Nick Furnham at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and his team have also found similarities between the proteins in parasitic worms and those in pollens. He suggests that our parasite defences will naturally attack the pollen leading to seasonal allergies.
So what can we do?
We are simply too paranoid about “GERMS”
If your house is generally clean it is acceptable for your child to play on the floor. Allowing your child to play outside and to be exposed to dirt is beneficial for the immune system. (Avoid areas that may be contaminated with animal waste)
Also, exposure to animals including pets will have benefits for their immune system and your child’s mental well-being.
Digestive Health and Leaky Gut
It is estimated that 80% of our immune system is found in the gut.
When damage is caused to our gut lining by food allergies and intolerances, reactions to antibiotics or pesticides, or illnesses such as gastro-enteritis it allows bacteria, metabolic wastes and undigested proteins to enter our blood stream.
These foreign substances in the blood stimulate the immune system into attacking and trigger inflammation, allergies and auto-immune diseases.
Allergies are also more prevalent in C-section children. Baby’s digestive tracts are sterile. During a natural birth they will be exposed to the flora found in their mother’s gut. Studies are suggesting that these babies should deliberately be exposed to a swab from their mother in order to populate their gut with the necessary ‘good’ bacteria and other microbes.
So how do we fix this?
“Healing and sealing” your gut has been shown to help alleviate allergy symptoms. The key lies in altering your diet to eliminate any offending foods and introducing healthier choices that will support a proper balance of bacteria in your gut.
It is becoming more generally understood that pesticides in food, processed foods, “junk food”, GMO products and synthetic ingredients in foods can decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, thereby having a negative effect on your immune system.
A registered nutritionist can give you individualized advice on which foods to eat.
Antibiotics should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Following any course of antibiotics it is essential to take a good quality, preferably soil based, probiotic to repopulate the gut with ‘friendly’ bacteria.
Human beings are designed to be active for a greater portion of their day. In our modern world we too often spend many hours sitting down. Our lack of fitness impacts many systems in the body.
We also evolved to be outside in all weathers and temperatures. We live indoors in clean, warm and dry conditions. We are not exposed to challenging conditions and temperature changes that strengthen our bodies.
One study in the UK found that people who took a swim in cold water (sea, river or a lake) daily or several times a week, actually had stronger immune systems, were sick less often and had fewer allergies.
What can we do?
The answer is easy – move more and get out into the fresh air…. If only it were that simple!
Take your child outdoors throughout the year, they will come to no harm in the cold or heat as long as they are properly dressed and protected.
Make sure that they get plenty of exercise and active time – you will benefit too if you play with them.
As an adult, try to make time to be outdoors most days, and plan a time to exercise 5 days a week if you can, even if it is a 30min walk. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether playing ball with your child, building a snow man, going to the gym, a team sport or a regular walking group.
By putting your exercise time into your schedule you will find it easier to achieve. The benefits will be worth the effort!