In a recent BSACI on line symposium Professor Stephen Holgate called for urgent action to tackle the environmental causes of the global explosion in allergy cases: the loss of biodiversity, pollution, diet and urbanisation. This followed on from his keynote speech at the two day workshop organised by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation last autumn in which he cited recent studies showing that “livestock farming and other aspects of the rural environment clearly protect against the development of allergy”. These included a comparative study of farming practices in the Amish and Hutterite communities in the States, the former practising traditional family farming on single farm working manually in cattle sheds, the latter practising the American communal farming lifestyle and using mechanical farming. While the Amish appeared to be largely protected against allergic sensitisation, the Hutterites were not.
This is all excellent stuff and will hopefully lead to the ‘urgent programme of clinical trials around the world, focusing on developing immunity among infants, which could…. turn the tide on the spike in allergy cases’ that Professor Holgate is calling for. However, this is no new revelation.
I have just been looking back at the research that we were reporting on FoodsMatter 10-15 years ago. It was alerting us, in 2007, that ‘pregnant mice exposed to inhaled barnyard microbes gave birth to allergy-resistant pups’ and reporting in 2012 that ‘Amish farm children were freer from allergies than even Swiss farm children’.
In a BSEM conference, Novelties and Controversies in Allergy and Hypersensitivity in July 2012, Dr John McLaren Howard suggested that environmental chemical pollution could impact on our DNA causing damage that could in turn lead to increased sensitivity, while Dr Vera Stejskal was suggesting that ‘metals (including titanium which had been thought to be inert) can cause systemic (whole body) effects/reactions, chronic inflammation, autoimmune and neuro-degenerative diseases including skin conditions such as psoriasis’.
When asked, as I am sure any of us who are involved in allergy frequently are, what has caused the dramatic increase in allergies since the 1990s, my standard answer is, ‘what we have done to the world over the last 70 years’:
- degradation of the nutritional value of the soil in which we grow our foods by monoculture and intensive farming
- pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, fertiliser residues which theoretically do not leach through to our food supplies but inevitably do even if only in small quantities
- pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers that are sprayed polluting the air we breathe and all of the other flora and fauna that they drench
- air pollution from industry, exhaust fumes etc etc
- water pollution through industrial and agricultural run off
- over processing of ingredients and the foods they are made into
- excess sugar and salt in over processed foods
- enormous increase (by many many thousands) in our use of chemicals (some harmless but many not) to clean ourselves, our houses and our environments – not to mention kill off many of the crucially important invertebrates that are now under threat
- lack of excercise – disappearance of play grounds and sports centres and, on a domestic level, use of lifts instead of stairs, remote controls, electric windows in instead of wind up etc etc
- man-made electromagnetic pollution created by our inter-connected wireless world
- overuse of antibiotics putting the bacterial population of our guts (our microbiome) at serious risk
- and – as Tom Ogren points out in his comment below:
- huge over-use of male clones in urban landscaping, resulting in excessive pollen in cities
- cross-reactivity between pollen and proteins in foods which is far more widespread than most know or understand.
All of which impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing and, consequently, the health of our immune systems. Small wonder that, increasingly, our immune systems get confused and react inappropriately to harmless substances from pollen to peanuts.
So bravo to Professor Holgate for making the call. Given the forces ranged against him it will be a long road, but that should not deter him.
Food Standards Agency allergy research survey
If you want to help – and if you suffer from a food allergy – you could contribute to the Food Standards Agency’ research.
The FSA are looking for people who have had an allergic reaction to food or drink or have narrowly avoided having a reaction in the last 5 years?
They would like you to fill in a survey to help them better understand the experiences of people who have had allergic reactions to food or drinks, or have narrowly avoided having a reaction. The survey, which is being conducted by Professor Rebecca Knibb at Aston University, will take approx 20 minutes and your answers will be anonymous.
If you would like more information or to enquire about this research, please get in touch with Dr Rebecca Knibb at email@example.com
Thank you to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation for alerting me to Professor Holgate’s remarks and the FSA survey.