Published 12/22/2013. Last updated 1/17/2014.
If you’ve read the SYMBIOSIS VERSUS DYSBIOSIS page on this site, you’ll recall that keeping our GUT MICROBIOME (the large colony of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, parasites, etc living in our guts) well balanced is essential to our overall health – and that we get ill when it’s out of balance.
Having an unhealthy gut microbiome disrupts or skews the constant two-way communication that takes place between our gut and the rest of our body, allowing pathogenic bacteria, fungi or parasites to proliferate. When the imbalance crosses a threshold, the body develops a recognizable disease – often an allergy.
ALLERGIES AND INFLAMMATION
Inflammation is the body’s effort to protect itself when threatened by toxins, germs, environmental pollutants, injury and stress. Troops get sent to fight the battle and inflammation results. But this process goes awry in people with allergies – the immune system becomes overly reactive and launches attacks against perceived threats so people with allergies have high levels of inflammation. And we know that chronic inflammation eventually causes disease.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the growing allergy problem around the world, here are some statistics from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology:
About 7.8% of people 18 and older in the U.S. have hay fever.
10% of children 17 and younger had hay fever in 2009.
Allergic rhinitis affected 10-30% of the population worldwide.
Sensitization (IgE antibodies) to foreign environmental proteins are found in 40% of the population worldwide.
10% of American white children and 7% of black children had hay fever in 2010
Adverse drug reactions may affect as many as 10% of people around the world and 20% of all hospitalized patients.
Adverse drug reactions may be responsible for up to 20% of fatalities due to anaphylaxis.
A 2009-2010 study of 38,480 children between infancy and 18 found 8% have a food allergy – including:
6% aged 0-2 years
About 9% aged 3-5 years
Nearly 8% aged 6-10 years
About 8% aged 11-13 years
More than 8.5% aged 14-18 years
38.7% of food allergic children have a history of severe reactions.
30.4% of food allergic children have multiple food allergies.
Of food allergic children, peanut is the most prevalent allergen, followed by milk and then shellfish.
Worldwide, in up to 50% of individuals who experience a fatal reaction, there is no documented history of a previous systemic reaction.
Roughly 13% of people 18 and over in the U.S. have sinusitis.
13% of American children aged 17 years and under had a skin allergy in the past year.
17% of black children in the US, 12% of white children and 10% of Asian children had skin allergies in 2010.
Lifetime prevalence of urticaria (hives) is above 20% worldwide.
Prevalence of allergic diseases has continued to rise in the industrialized world for more than 50 years.
Worldwide, sensitization rates to one or more common allergens among school children are currently approaching 40%-50%. (American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, 2014)
SO THE BIG QUESTION IS “WHAT’S BEHIND THE CONTINUING INCREASE IN ALLERGIES IN THE DEVELOPED COUNTRIES?”
Let’s consider the example of peanut allergies.
Robyn O’Brien, a former financial analyst now covering the food industry as an author, founder of the Allergy Foundation and mother of four, recently turned her attention to the topic. These are some of her findings:
According to a recent survey done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 20 American children has at least one food allergy – a 50% increase since the late 1990’s. The prevalence of peanut allergy doubled between 1997 and 2002. And, compared with children without food allergies, children with a food allergy are two to four times more likely to have asthma and other types of allergies as well.
Children with serious allergies to peanuts and bee stings carry an EpiPen containing a life saving injection of epinephrine should an allergic reaction occur. In 2012, sales of EpiPens were expected to reach $640 million in 2013, a 76% increase over the previous year. (O’Brien, 2013)
O’Brien asks the question, “Are we allergic to food or what’s been done to it?” She goes on to answer that question with the following information about “conventionally” grown peanuts:
Peanuts are actually beans (legumes), not nuts growing on trees. But instead of growing on vines like other legumes, the peanut pods grow buried in the soil.
The peanut’s shell is soft so easily absorbs chemicals added to the soil.
Peanut crops are often rotated in fields with genetically engineered cotton, a controversial crop treated with glyphosate, a weed killer linked to cancer and infertility, numerous times per year.
Glyphosate severely damages the beneficial microorganisms in the soil, leading to an increased population of opportunistic organisms living in the soil. These bad organisms in turn cause an increase in the number of diseases adversely effecting the peanut crops. This leads to an increase in the population of opportunistic or bad organisms in the soil. The bad organisms cause an increase in the number of diseases adversely effecting the peanut crop – requiring farmers to use more insecticides and fungicide on their peanut crops.
It is common for conventional peanut crops to get sprayed with some type of pesticide every 8-10 days during the growing season.
Most of the peanuts now consumed in the US are one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods we eat.
Negative impact on the body from all these chemicals is insidious, manifesting slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. The EPA is conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited. (O’Brien, 2013)
In light of this onslaught on our immune systems, it’s so important to keep our gut immunity as high as possible.
See also THE SOIL’S MICROBIOME for more information on how we’re undermining the health of our soil – along with the health of our planet.
Although celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and gluten allergies are all reactions to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), they operate via different mechanisms. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness describes the differences in this way:
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune digestive disease triggered by consumption of gluten that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. Essentially the body of a person with celiac disease attacks itself every time it is fed gluten. Untreated celiac disease can lead to malnourishment and longer term complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease and cancer.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease but yet who lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease. Early research suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response (such as autoimmune) or allergic reaction.
Gluten Allergy, like all allergies including those to wheat, is associated with positive IgE assays. Diagnosis is made through skin prick tests, wheat-specific IgE blood testing and a food challenge. Individuals who have gluten-related symptoms but test negative for a wheat allergy may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 2011)
IgE-mediated allergies are the most common group of food allergies. IgE (immunoglobulin E) is an antibody, a type of protein that works against a specific food. The FDA identifies these as the top eight allergens: wheat, eggs, soy, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish and fish, although there are hundreds of other foods that have been identified as allergens. (Kupper, 2011)
For more information also see ADDICTIONS – GLUTEN. There’s also information there about the meaning of the Certified Gluten Free label and how it may not apply to those of us with a gluten ALLERGY rather than Celiac Disease .
INCREASING YOUR GUT IMMUNITY
If you’re suffering from allergies – or chronic illness, disease, disorder or condition – of any kind, it’s important to boost your gut immunity. And if you have no allergies, increasing your gut immunity will likely keep you from developing them. See the SUPER IMMUNITY pages for ways to greatly improve your health.
Remember: It’s a lot easier to PREVENT illness than try to CURE it after you’ve become ill.
And also see the KEFIR page for information on two probiotics, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, that are helpful in the management of allergies and asthma.
CHILDREN, DOGS AND THE HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS
In a fascinating article called Dust-borne bacteria from houses with dogs can prevent allergies in mice by changing their gut microbes, Ed Yong presents research evidence that living with a dog can increase the diversity of bacteria in house dust. When this bacteria-rich dust was fed to mice, it shifted the microbes in their guts towards species that prevented their immune systems from overreacting to airborne allergens.
After eating the dog dust, the mice had fewer allergic reactions to varied substances, including cockroach allergens and a protein found in egg whites. When they came into contact with these chemicals, they produced fewer immune cells, had less inflammation in their airways and produced less immunoglobulin E (IgE)—an antibody associated with allergic diseases like asthma and atopic dermatitis. Essentially, ingesting the dog dust improved the microbial communities inside the mice’s guts – made their immune systems stronger. (Yong, 2013)
An article called “Child’s Best Friend: Want to protect your child against allergies? Increasingly science is saying: get a dog, and get it early” in the useful magazine Allergic Living summarizes the results of six studies on the relationship between dogs and allergies, concluding that living with a dog early in life protects children from developing allergies to a wide variety of things – pollen, pets, dust mites and foods.
The explanation is thought to be found in the Hygiene Hypothesis – the theory that modern society is too clean, too sterile and too prone to kill off beneficial gut bacteria with antibiotics, causing our immune systems to overreact to otherwise harmless things like pollen, peanuts and foods.
Researchers analyzed the microbiomes in the dust of homes with dogs, homes with cats and homes with no pets. They found a far greater variety of bacteria, in much greater quantity, in the home with dogs. And the distribution of different types of bacteria was better balanced as well. Some of the homes with cats had similar microbiomes – but only if the cats went outdoors. Dogs go outside and bring microbes back into the home with them – which they’re glad to share with their humans. (Cagne, 2014)
So if your parents refused to get you a dog or cat when you were growing up because ‘they’re so dirty’, they were right on that count but wrong in thinking that the dirt would be bad for you.
See also the NON-ALLERGENIC CATS AND DOGS? page for how I seem to have made my cat non-allergenic by feeding her wheat free foods.