Thursday, August 28, 2014

The End of Allergies

Let's get down to the nitty gritty, practical. No, not whether or not Taylor Swift's new "Shake It Off" outtakes proves she hates running, but how to raise children or yourself, for that matter.

The strangest, most dramatic change in human health (other than the virtual elimination of diseases such as small pox, polio, measles, diphtheria) is the meteoric rise in allergies. How does thousands of years of evolution break down in 10 years? I talked with a parent recently who said that all school parties have been eliminated because so many kids have life threatening food allergies. No more cupcakes, or anything, on Valentine's Day, or any holiday. Food allergies have increased about 50% in children since 1997—50%! How did this happen?

I have changed my thinking, as I often do, as to the principle causes of this phenomenon. But currently I am leaning more and more toward the "End of Eternity" theme as written by Isaac Asimov. I'll summarize it this way, by concentrating on the safety of humanity, humanity was being destroyed. This article, entitled A Gut Microbe That Stops Food Allergies is a study (yes, another one) that lends some evidence that bad things have to happen to us in order to make us stronger. Safety through antibiotics use or through restrictive (parental) fears may be detrimental to children (or ourselves).


James R said...

I feel used, a fool. I swear I posted this before it ever showed up on Kottke.

Big Myk said...

I thought that the problem was that toddlers don't eat dirt anymore. Let Them Eat Dirt.

James R said...

So, two years later (Your referenced study was published in 2012.) more evidence is provided. I'm no doctor, but this latest study seems to be dealing with different microbes. Perhaps we need many varieties of ills, problems, hardships, and evils to make us better.

Here, I must confess to errors I have made in the past few years explaining this concept in poetry. A couple of times I confused Ozymandias with Mithridates. Let me get this straight. Ozymandias, of couse, is Shelley's poem on the ephemeralness of life. Mithridates, who I should have referenced, is the king in a great A. E. Housman poem, where the poet references the king who (re: "The Princess Bride") built up a tolerance for poison by sampling it during life. The last lines of the poem are:
"—I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old."

Big Myk said...

Also, to be fair, your article concerned food allergies and mine addressed auto-immune disorders, both of which are on the rise these days.

The principle seems consistent with the point of Jared Diamond in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel. The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations ended up conquering the world. He rejects the notion that Eurasian hegemony is due to intellectual, moral or genetic superiority. Instead, he credits geography.

Among other things, Eurasians lived among animals that could be domesticated and, by living in such close proximity to these animals, exposed them to diseases that non-Eurasians never came in contact with. This improved their immune system and made them more resilient to disease. Bringing diseases to which Europeans had become immune to the new world sounded the death knell for indigenous Americans.

Weight-lifting applies the same principle: lifting causes trauma to muscle fibers which the body then repairs, and improves the muscle in the process.

We also hear that that by engaging in intellectually demanding activities like chess, learning a new launguage or writing improves brain function.

Thus, it seems that the more we are exposed to difficulty and the adverse elements of the world, the better off we are.

Peter H of Lebo said...

Really cool, and antibiotics should be used per protocol. But parents are being a bit silly.

Quickly, couldn't find her sources but the rate is 3.4% in 97 increased to 5.1% by 2011 so if you round down and round up then yes 50 percent (uptodate). Still a large number and important to investigate the increase.

Also keep in mind food allergies are a accumulation of many foods. So the 5.1 percent is split.
2.5 out of 100 kids has an allergy to cow's milk though 80% grow out. 1-2 kids for every 200 have a peanut allergy 1/1000 shellfish etc. I guess its weird to cancel the party when parents know by age 2 if their child has an allergy because they have already fed the killer food to their child and had to go to the er. Interestingly, 1/3 of parents think their child has food allergies so its not as much as no one eating dirt than it is parents freaking out

Also a majority of children grow out of it with adults prevalence 3-4% and that has been static.

Big Myk said...

It's nice to have every once in awhile someone comment who knows what he's actually talking about.

That said, I still worry about overuse of antibiotics and overprotecive parents.

James R said...

I also enjoyed Peter's measured comment. He implied the somewhat misconnect between a real rise in allergies, but, perhaps, an overreaction by society, the press, the schools (and myself). In talking to parents I'm being told they are concern even when a playmate comes over to the house. There is no peanut butter in lunch rooms and no parties. Peter's comment makes me pause and ask is it really that bad. Perhaps the overprotective parents are being overprotective about the problem.

Big Myk said...

I recently read an article that identifies the first half of the 20th century as "The Golden Age of Play" -- that narrow slice of time betwen the end of child labor and the beginning of heavy adult-orchestration of children's lives. In my view the golden age extended at least partially into the 50's and 60's. While we had homework, Little League, day camp, piano and swimming lessons, for most of the time we weren't in school we were pretty much free to take up whatever pursuits we wanted.

This description of the golden age is not too far off my own experience: "When I was a child in the 1950s.... [w]e played in mixed-age neighbourhood groups almost every day after school, often until dark. We played all weekend and all summer long. We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us."

This resisitence to allowing children to negotiate the world on their own seems to stem from a growing belief in the perilousness of the world and the particular vunerability of children.