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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Allergies: The Solution May Surprise You

As Summer approaches we all become familiar with the pollen count. Some of us have sniffles, others more severe effects. But what are allergies? And a deeper question why are they almost unknown in third world countries?

An allergy defined by Wikipedia:

An allergy or Type I hypersensitivity is a immune malfunction whereby a
person's body is hypersensitized to react immunologically to typically
nonimmunogenic substances. When a person is hypersensitized these substances are
known as allergens. The word allergy derives from the Greek words allos meaning
"other" and ergon meaning "reaction" or "reactivity".

There are two current theories on the reason for allergies one is genetic, but the other is far more interesting and most likely correct.

This is how I understand it. In third world countries people are constantly battling parasitic infections. The immune response systems, designed over millions of years makes responses. Sniffles are an attempt to shed yourself of the parasites. Sometimes there is a more dramatic response when your air ways close to deny entrance to fend of parasites.

In developed countries, the dangers of parasites have nearly been eliminated. But our immune system is still functioning and in the absence of parasites have found new inappropriate targets like pollen.

Knowing this history of how allergies happen, there is a current effort in research to re-introduce parasites to prevent allergic reactions.

This reported from The Observer in the UK:

A team of British scientists investigating whether a tiny tropical hookworm
could provide a cure for asthma and hay fever have committed the ultimate act of
bravery by infecting themselves with the parasite to observe the effects

This from a site called Damn Interesting:

At the University of Iowa, some people are drinking a regular dose of whipworm
eggs. The eggs hatch in the digestive tract, and the worms attach to the lining
of the intestine where they skim off a supply of nutrients. Again, the
side-effects are negligible, and most patients report a drastic reduction of
allergic symptoms. Just don’t look into the toilet bowl before you flush.

What we have eliminated from our past may need to be reintroduced to keep our immune system on track.


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