Why are allergies increasing?

Allergies are on the rise: a third of the population believe they have allergies, and although some of these people may be wrong, they all agree that eczema, asthma, hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, etc. ., are more and more frequent. common. So what happened?

It is often unclear why a person tends to be allergic or intolerant to a variety of substances. Doctors speak of “atopic individuals”: atopic means “out of place.” To those who don’t know, this sounds like a medical diagnosis, but in fact all it means is: you have a tendency to have allergies; You may have several different symptoms caused by your allergic reactions. this often runs in families; we do not know why. Describing someone as an atopic individual is not saying anything that the person does not know about themselves!

Genetic predisposition

Allergy problems are undoubtedly hereditary, so there may be a genetic component, although the exact mechanism is not clearly understood. Some small genetic mutation can make the immune system activate more easily, so that all family members who share this mutation will have a tendency to allergic reactions, although not necessarily to the same substances, but this does not explain the increase in the incidence of allergies in recent years.

Serious virus infections

A serious viral infection can cause damage to the immune system, making the individual more likely to develop allergies in the future. Again, although this may explain why someone has allergies, the incidence of virus infections is not increasing.

So we have to look elsewhere to explain the increase, and there are several completely different possibilities.


One allergy theory that is being proposed now is that a lack of the right enemies (liver flukes, tapeworms, etc.) has led a sluggish immune system to find an inappropriate job in allergic reactions. There are many antibodies produced in the body to protect it against invasion by harmful organisms. IgE antibodies quickly and efficiently cope with the extreme danger of infection by large parasites, such as tapeworms. The effect of parasites on health can be devastating, so over the years, people with efficient IgE mechanisms have lived to reproduce and pass their genes at a higher rate than people with a lower IgE mechanism. efficient. IgE antibodies are also involved in allergic and hypersensitivity reactions, so people with these efficient inherited IgE mechanisms are more likely to suffer from allergy problems than people who have inherited a less efficient system. This supercharged immune system was an advantage to the distant ancestors of a person suffering from asthma who inhabited a world with many life-threatening parasites, but now it leads to an inappropriately triggered ‘trigger happy’ immune system.

Other doctors (notably Hulda Clark in ‘Cure For All Diseases’) take the opposite point of view and see many allergy symptoms as a reaction to a parasite infestation.

Excessive cleaning

The obsession with the danger of “germs” is believed to have caused an increase in allergies. Much of this obsession with cleanliness seems to be media and advertising driven. Headlines about ‘killer bugs’ and advertisements claiming that one product kills even more germs have led many people to buy more and more products to take down these dangerous enemies. An opinion that is gaining traction among many researchers and some doctors is that a certain level of dirt is good for us, particularly during infancy and early childhood, when the immune system is maturing.

Helper T cells of the immune system recognize foreign antigens and then secrete substances to activate other cells to fight the invader. During pregnancy, helper T cells that attack invaders directly without producing antibodies (Th1 cells) are less active, as they could lead the mother’s system to reject the fetus. This means that the helper T cells that are responsible for antibody reactions (Th2 cells) are more prominent. These are the ones that are involved in allergic reactions. The immune system of the new baby has the same emphasis that the mother had during pregnancy. Exposing the very young to a certain level of “dirt” is believed to be beneficial because it helps rebalance the immune system to emphasize helper T cells that are not involved in the allergy process.

In an excellent article (‘New Scientist’, July 18, 1998), Garry Hamilton talks about ‘the softer side of germs’. If young people are not exposed to “dirt”, the immune system does not go through this rebalancing process and it can result in a tendency to allergy. Linda Gamblin in ‘The Allergy Bible’ cites several medical research projects, which support the idea of ​​allowing children to expose themselves to dirt and minor infections to help protect against allergies.


Our children are now being vaccinated against a growing range of diseases. While some of these are serious, many are minor illnesses that were once considered part of a normal childhood. Many alternative practitioners believe that these childhood illnesses help prime the immune system to cope with a wide range of illnesses later in life. This opinion is not accepted by the majority of the medical profession and, in fact, it would be difficult to prove. However, there is some evidence that vaccination alters the ratio of T helper cells and T suppressor cells. This is likely to have an effect on the susceptibility of the vaccinated child to allergic reactions. Most vaccines are also known to stimulate the branch of the immune system that deals with the most extreme immune reactions to invaders such as parasites (‘New Scientist’, July 18, 1998).

Ubiquitous presence of some foods

Before the advent of freezers and air travel, most people ate local, seasonal foods. Now most fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year, so our systems are exposed to the same foods continuously without rest.

There has been a dramatic increase in people experiencing a soy allergy, as soy has become a common ingredient in many processed foods. In Europe and North America, allergy to rice is relatively uncommon, while in Asia, where it is most commonly consumed, it is much more common.

Technological developments

Advances that make modern life more comfortable have also led to an increase in allergies. With the advent of air conditioning, central heating, and wall-to-wall carpeting, dust mites and molds like alternaria have an ideal environment to thrive. Modern offices with sealed windows mean that everyone is exposed to the perfumes worn by other people. The increasing use of plastics, formaldehyde, benzene, etc. It has led to all of us being exposed to an astonishing variety of chemicals.

Pollution by environmental pollutants

The chemicals in diesel fumes are known to damage the outer membranes of pollen. This means that when pollen is inhaled, the pollen proteins are immediately in much closer contact with the delicate membranes of the mouth, nose, and lungs than they would be if the pollen had not been damaged in this way.

Now it has also been suggested that the immune system is reacting to some harmless substances because they have been contaminated by environmental pollution: the immune system does not recognize food, for example if it has tire rubber molecules attached to it. These molecules sometimes appear similar to the enzymes produced by parasites, so the immune system attacks the “parasite.”

Although more and more evidence is accumulating on the role of environmental pollutants, this does not explain why New Zealand, which is relatively free from pollution, has one of the highest asthma incidences in the world.

Electromagnetic pollution

An increase in electromagnetic pollution has paralleled the increase in allergies. The scientific jury is still out on the danger of cell phones, power lines, etc., but many people are increasingly concerned about our constant exposure. People sensitive to computers, etc. they also often show many typical symptoms of allergy sufferers. In some cases, correcting this sensitivity to electromagnetic sources causes the disappearance of all or most of the adverse reactions. (I recommend health kinesiology for this).


The pace of life accelerates all the time: modern technology gives us more possibilities and many of us want to experience as many as we can. One survey found that half of the 950 20-year-olds interviewed said they would feel like a failure if they were not homeowners at 26, were not married at 27, and were not rich and parents at 29. Many of those interviewed said they were willing to sacrifice a healthy diet and lifestyle to achieve this. These expectations and pressures are not conducive to long-term health and can also lead to stress and allergies. Processed and packaged foods eaten in front of the television, excess alcohol, lack of fresh air, and exercise take their toll.

Sometimes particular traumatic events can explain a particular allergy. One of my clients was allergic to wool and tea. She told me that when she was little she had a cup of hot tea. At the time she was wearing a woolen sweater, and the tea soaked the sweater and burned her badly.


It is now well known that bottle-fed babies are more prone to allergy problems than those who are breastfed. Sudden or early weaning can also contribute to the problem.

Unfortunately, the modern diet can be high in calories, but there is growing evidence that it is low in some important nutrients. People consume more pre-processed foods, which can be nutritionally compromised.

The soil is depleting of some minerals because plants that grow in the soil absorb them for a long time. If the mineral is not in the soil, it cannot be in the plant, so it is not available in the food we eat either.

There is unlikely to be a simple answer as to why people are generally allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to particular substances. Research is still being done in this fascinating area. Fortunately, with the tools available, it is not necessary to know why someone has allergy problems in order to detect and correct them.

Written by Jane Thurnell-Read

September 9, 2020
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