Today, about 32 million Americans have food allergies, which is higher than ever. The CDC reports that 1 in 13 children – or about two students in a classroom – have a food allergy. The question is, what is causing this epidemic?
In an article published today in the magazine Cage, four Yale immunobiologists suggest that over-activation of our food quality control system is largely to blame for the increased prevalence of food allergies. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)
Prior to this study, the prevailing theory suggested that the absence of natural pathogens – such as parasites in the modern environment ̵
Immunobiologists now say that our current food quality control system, which is designed to protect us from eating harmful foods, may be the culprit why so many Americans develop allergies to ordinary foods. Between unnatural substances in highly processed foods and environmental chemicals in dishwashing detergent, for example – in addition to the lack of natural exposure to microbes – all violate the food quality control program.
So how does this affect you or your loved ones? Think of it this way: how should we treat these allergies without knowing it why happens?
“We can’t think of ways to prevent or treat food allergies until we fully understand the basics of biology,” said co-author Ruslan Medzhitov, a professor of immunobiology and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in a statement. Eat this, not that! “You can’t be a good car mechanic if you don’t know how a normal car works.”
There is a type of immune system reaction that is triggered when we ingest toxins and works to neutralize the threat. However, this same response causes allergies – both to the environment and to food. Again, this hypersensitivity to pollen and gluten – for example – arises as a result of the lack of real natural threats (parasites) in today’s food system.
According to this original theory, this immune response targets harmless proteins found in certain food groups, such as those found in the major 8 food allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy).
However, Yale researchers are now theorizing that three other environmental factors have affected the natural food quality control system, claiming that they also contributed significantly to the hypersensitivity of our immune system to various foods.
“One factor is the increased use of hygiene products and the excessive use of antibiotics and, second, a change in diet and increased consumption of processed foods with reduced exposure to naturally grown food and altered intestinal microbiome composition,” Medjitov said.
“Finally, the introduction of food preservatives and environmental chemicals, such as dishwashing detergents, has introduced new elements for monitoring the immune system.
In short, the authors of this article suggest that this behavior is what prompts the immune system to attack dietary proteins in the same way it would act on toxic substances.
Until more research is done and we have no more clarity about the actions we can take on a daily basis to reduce exposure to these unnatural substances and chemicals, in the meantime, what better reason to further limit the consumption of processed foods?
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