A lot of buzz has emerged lately about the possible connection between allergies and the supposedly over-hygienic environments that many highly developed nations have created.
Dubbed the “hygiene hypothesis,” the theory is that our use of antibiotic drugs and antibacterial products has toned down our immune defenses. Because we are no longer exposed to as many germs, our bodies overreact to normally benign substances such as milk, nuts or pollen, according to several sources.
New York University’s Scienceline and the Washington Post reveal the following statistics about food and environmental sensitivities:
- At least one allergy afflicts more than 50 percent of the U.S. population
- Twelve million people in the U.S. have an allergy to certain foods or drinks
- Peanut allergies doubled from 1997 to 2002, a year in which they showed up in one out of every 125 children
- In the past few decades, allergies and immune disorders, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, have doubled, tripled or quadrupled
The Post reports the “hygiene hypothesis” also takes into account changes in diet (the consumption of more highly processed foods), air pollution and unhealthful lifestyles as reasons for an increase in allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.
Researchers claim that people in less developed countries, as well as children raised with pets or on farms, are not as likely to develop some modern immune and allergy problems, according to the Post. The theory is that people in these environments have less sensitive immune systems because they are exposed to more microbes.
As a potential therapy, some scientists are trying to train the immune systems of children by slowly introducing larger amounts of foods that trigger allergic reactions, the Post says. Others are addressing immune problems with harmless parasitic worms, which patients swallow.
Cooked and processed foods in our modern diets lack natural food enzymes, which aid in digestion. This lack of enzymes can decrease nutrient absorption and use up energy for immune function. However, when proper digestion is supported with the use of enzyme supplements, the body is able to more easily break down and assimilate nutrients in food. In addition, digestive enzyme supplements displace the burden on digestive organs to produce all of the enzymes required for digestion. As a result, more energy is available to support immune function.