Scientists have been studying serious allergic reactions in humans for a long time, and they may have finally found a molecular cause for the troubling conditions.
It should be mentioned that their research does not concern standard pollen allergies resulting in a stuffy nose, but rather serious allergic reactions that can, in some cases, be life threatening.
According to researchers, allergies are immune reactions that have gone haywire. The body reacts in ways that it shouldn’t, leading to anything from an upset stomach to a deadly experience of anaphylactic shock.
While science has become quite adept at understanding allergy triggers and how to prevent them, why some humans have such reactions has long been a mystery.
However, a new analysis of the proteins involved in allergic reactions showed that the body’s natural immune response is being misdirected against triggers that should be harmless.
The new theory is that humans have cohabited with parasitic worms throughout our history. In recent years, these parasites have largely disappeared because of improvements in hygiene, which has led to an increase in allergy rates. This is because the immune systems of humans have not properly adapted to an environment where they have virtually no parasite to combat.
Instead of fighting parasites, the body is now fighting against allergens, which should be harmless.
Hygiene expert Nick Furnham said, “It's a very aggressive response, with the idea to quickly get rid of the parasite. This is the same branch of the immune system which is elicited when you have an allergic response."
According to Furnham, an antibody of the immune system known as IgE is leading the charge against allergens. It is this antibody that scientists believe causes allergic reactions.
However, since people don’t typically develop long term allergies to traditional parasites, scientists believe the body should have a mechanism for stopping permanent allergies. For whatever reason, this mechanism is not being properly activated.
Furnham elaborated, “It's poorly understood just how that mechanism works, but the immune system gets kind of played down when you have a prolonged parasitic infection, so you don't get a long-term, crazy overreaction.”