There\’s a *possible* explanation for this

A speculative and harsh one, true, but a possible one:

But general practitioners must do more to identify those suffering from the rapid increase in immune disorders, which now affect one in 20 young people in Britain, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) warns.

The vogue for complementary cures may be a consequence of the NHS\’s inadequate response to the problem, Nice believes. Hospital admissions for food allergies have risen by 500% since 1990 and the UK appears to be one of the most severely affected countries.

The most common foods to which children are allergic include: cow\’s milk, fish and shellfish, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soy, wheat and kiwi. Severe allergic reactions, such as the anaphylactic shock experienced by those unable to tolerate peanuts, can lead to difficulty in breathing, swellings and, in extreme cases, fatal heart attacks.

The cause of growing sensitivity among children remains a mystery, said Dr Adam Fox, a consultant in paediatric allergy at Guy\’s and St Thomas\’ hospital in London.

There are various hypotheses put forward. More caesarians (eh?), less breastfeeding, homes that are too clean (both leading to less pump priming of the immune system) the \”chemicals\” in modern life etc.

How about this though. Such allergies are inheritable.

We\’re currently getting perhaps the first (or over the past couple of decades have been getting the first wave of) generation of children born to those who have survived such allergies themselves. We are thus seeing a rise in the allergies as a percentage of the population.

The simple reason being that in previous generations, up until 30-40 years ago, those with the allergies died. Now they survive to have children themselves, leading to an increase in the frequency of said allergies.

Pleas enote, I\’m not saying this is true: only that it\’s possible.

15 thoughts on “There\’s a *possible* explanation for this”

  1. Most food allergies are not fatal enough for this to work – the peanut/anaphylaxis thing is something of an extreme. It can also start at any age, not just in kids so you could already have passed on your genes before croaking of peanut allergy. It’s likely some degree of predisposition is heritable, but my pet theory for the increasing prevalence of food allergies is the same threefold theory I have for the increasing prevalence of everything else: (1) we are living longer and thus have more time to get more diseases, (2) we are much better at diagnosing things, especially once-nebulous things like food allergies, much more specifically than ever before, (3) we have more doctor time than ever before and it’s cheaper (at least basic doctory services) than in the past so are more likely to take nebulous complaints like feeling a bit funny after certain foods to them – stuff that not many generations ago no one would have wasted a week of dad’s wages on to go to the doc’s about.

  2. But most of the stories you find in the media are focussed on one family member, usually a child, and the angle is how difficult it is for everyone in the family to forgo fish/peanuts/soy, etc.

    I haven’t seen one where more than one family member is allergic…

  3. As I understand it, an allergy is defined by a high titre of IgE as occurs with peanut and other nut allergies. Most so-called ‘food allergies’ are NOT allergies. It IS important to know the difference.

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    I expect that the hygiene hypothesis has something to do with this – we are raising children in environments that are too clean and so their immune systems are going weird.

    Mind you, I think a lot of it is also hysterical mothers. I don’t think all those children are allergic. It is just they, and their mothers, get a lot of attention that way. Munchausen’s by proxy in a very mild form.

  5. “Munchausen’s by proxy in a very mild form.”

    Be very wary of this, being told that there’s nothing wrong with you because doctors are too ready to ascribe things to Munchausen’s, when really having a brain hemorrhage is very annoying.

  6. It is attention seeking.

    Children are well known for having their food likes and dislikes which change with age; sometimes based in rebellion against parental authority.

    Children are better informed and more indulged and better equiped to yank the parental chain.

    In times where we are bombarded about “unhealthy” foods, scares about chemicals, propaganda about “ethical” food sources, I would bet children will claim allergy to food they don’t like or feel they should not eat and Mummy and Daddy – being stupid these days – will take note and rush their little dear off to the doctor, also stupid these days.

    Doctors will send Little Dear off to the hospital for “tests” which in most cases will be negative but because the “precautionary principle” is everywhere , Little Dear will be exempt from the suspect food-stuffs, provided with special rations and will be a minor celebrity at school and among friends ‘cos he/she has “an allergy”.

  7. Auto-immune conditions are not inheritable as such ( as far as I know ) but a genetic predisposition to the development of one can be inherited. So this isn’t a totally far fetched idea, it may be that the gene or genes that are possibly causing this have become more prevalent through some other factor.
    I think there’s something in what John B says as well though.

  8. ….Most food allergies are not fatal enough for this to work …

    Maybe not, but in a primitive society where 1 in 5 children die, any weakness will be vunerable. The inability to eat certain foods could be very serious in a world without supermarkets.

  9. @JamesV: your reason (1) wouldn’t appear to explain the increased incidence of allergic reaction in children, would it?

    I go with the excessive cleanliness thing and the hysterical mothers thing.

    Maybe the kids with allergies did all die off before, but I don’t remember any such occurences; surely I would have heard of ONE, given the supposed incidence of one in twenty today?

    I guess also there’s a positive feedback loop: if some sort of mild “allergic” reaction occurs the first time a child is fed (say) peanuts, then huge obsessive colossal efforts are made to avoid any more exposure at all (even trivial levels – like forbidding everyone else on the plane from eating peanuts), resulting in increased sensitivity. In a more robust age, people would just have said “That’s funny, I wonder what will happen next time”, and next time it might have been less as tolerance built up, and eventually no problem. Like I said, hysterical mothers.

  10. @Andrew Duffin,

    True #1 will not be relevant to children but both of the others are.

    We need to know if there really is an increasing prevalence of food allergies before we start looking for the reasons, if any. I’m suggesting that it’s very hard to be sure that there is any real increase in prevalence, because we can now measure this stuff with reasonable accuracy and previously could not. This same lack of measurement ability/data (coupled with the earlier age of death) is also responsible for the arugment of the “cancer never happened in the past” loons. Superficially they are correct, but in reality we can be pretty sure a lot of people 100+ years ago died of cancer without it being formally diagnosed.

  11. My younger son simply refuses to drink milk or to eat cheese or bread if butter is spread on it, so he is not diagnosed as allergic but if we had followed modern convention we should have demanded that he eat “healthy foods” like milk, yoghourt and cheese and (very probably) then reported that he was allergic. As a child I found that compulsory school milk caused me serious “digestive” problems, but that was never recorded as an allergic problem because no-one believed I could be allergic to milk! We both also avoid eggs.
    May I suggest that much of the rise in perceived numbers of those suffering from food allergies is simply due to a rise in perception/reporting?
    My example probably supports your view that some allergies are inheritable, but demonstrates the reporting bias.

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