Do allergies actually benefit your health?
April 25th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Do allergies actually benefit your health?

Depending on severity, allergies can range from annoying to deadly. Millions of Americans are familiar with the sneezing, itching and coughing that come along with spring allergies to toxins, while others suffer hives or even airway blockage if they eat the wrong food.

And we know that food allergies are on the rise, partly because of awareness but experts say something else may be going on. It’s a mystery why industrial countries see more and more children having reactions to common foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat or soy.

But there’s a deeper question to ask here: Why do humans have allergies at all?

One view is that the immune response seen in allergies is the same sort of defense your body uses against parasitic worms. It’s thought that what we know as “allergy” evolved against those worms, but has become mistargeted in some people, so that common substances such as pollen and dust set them off, too.

However, common environmental and food allergens have little in common with parasitic worms. There’s an explanation for why the immune system would respond to something that's not microbial, says Ruslan Medzhitov, professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine.

In a perspective article in the journal Nature, Medzhitov and colleagues probe the question: Is there another explanation for allergies? They argue that, in fact, allergies are meant to remove harmful substances from the body.

For the case of seasonal allergies to tree or grass pollen, symptoms typically include runny nose, teary eyes and extra mucus production in the respiratory system. All of these things have the effect of trying to expel something from your body that you don’t want there.

Similarly, when you have itchy skin in contact allergies, the impulse is to scratch, which has the effect of removing offending particles in the skin. But sometimes it becomes extreme: Uncontrollable itching that’s chronic, which is no longer serve the purpose of taking offending substances off the skin.

Food allergy symptoms often include vomiting and diarrhea, which also expel unwanted substances. Anaphylactic shock, the most severe and deadly reaction, involves swelling of the mouth or throat and even breathing problems. Medzhitov explains this as an extreme form of the normal allergic reaction; it has gone out of control and may cause death in and of itself, the way that septic shock is an extreme form of natural inflammation.

Experimental treatment may help food allergies

“There are things that are meant to perform some beneficial rational function; if they get disregulated, it can cause problem,” Medzhitov said.

The unpleasant experiences also make you stop eating the food that caused the reaction, and avoid that food in the future.

But wait: Plenty of people eat peanuts and other common food allergens without incident. Why do some people have extreme reactions and others enjoy these foods in peace?

Medzhitov points out that there are certain components of the foods we eat everyday whose effects on the body we still don’t exactly know. There may be certain chemicals in some foods that have noxious effects on our cells that are slightly toxic.

He hypothesizes that some people are better at detoxifying those substances than others. And those who are deficient in those detoxifying mechanisms have instead allergies to defend themselves.

And then there’s allergies to pollutants in the air. The production of mucus in allergic people, theoretically, gives them increased protection from the particulate pollutants in the air, since they will inhale less of them. That would mean that if those pollutants are carcinogenic, the allergic person would have increased protection against certain forms of cancer over time. Or you might avoid that environment altogether, thereby also taking you out of a toxic situation.

The hypothesis that allergies protect against particular cancers does have some evidence backing it up. In fact, a 2011 study suggested that allergies may stave off gliomas, which are the most common form of brain tumor. But more research needs to be carried out to back up this idea.

So what are we to make of all of this? Even if true, we can't use this knowledge to help people with allergies - yet.  But maybe one day, says Dr. Robert Wood, Director of Allergy/Immunology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, who was not involved in this study.

"“This is a fascinating paper that sheds new light on why some people develop allergies and others do not. It also suggests reasons why the prevalence of allergic disease, including food allergy, asthma, and hay fever, have all increased over the past 20-30 years," Wood said. "Hopefully the theories presented here could eventually be used to design prevention strategies for allergy, but at the present time they remain just theories that will not lead to any immediate approaches to treat or prevent allergy.”

soundoff (955 Responses)
  1. movie theater near me


    June 13, 2021 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. rv dealers near me


    June 13, 2021 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. equipment rental near me


    June 13, 2021 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. staples near me

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this post! It's the little changes which will make the most significant changes. Many thanks for sharing!


    June 13, 2021 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. propane near me

    This web site really has all of the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 13, 2021 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Zisseloh

    what is the maximum dosage of cialis you can take cvs cialis coupon tadalafil vs cialis

    June 13, 2021 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. best chinese food near me


    June 13, 2021 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. poke near me


    June 13, 2021 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. pizza places near me

    Very nice post. I definitely love this site. Keep it up!


    June 13, 2021 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. wegmans near me


    June 13, 2021 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bbq near me

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!


    June 14, 2021 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. coffee shops near me

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the most useful blogs on the web. I will highly recommend this site!


    June 14, 2021 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. drive-thru testing near me

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this site. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal blog now 😉


    June 14, 2021 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. powder coating near me

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!


    June 14, 2021 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. bath and body works near me


    June 14, 2021 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. vons near me

    I used to be able to find good advice from your articles.


    June 14, 2021 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. jamaican food near me


    June 14, 2021 at 18:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. chicken wings near me

    Great blog you have got here.. Itís hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


    June 14, 2021 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sprinter Repair Near Me


    June 14, 2021 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Seal Beach


    June 14, 2021 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sprinter Repair Costa Mesa

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this website. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own website now 😉


    June 15, 2021 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Repair Around Me

    There's definately a lot to learn about this topic. I love all of the points you have made.


    June 15, 2021 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Camper Repair Shop Near Me

    An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you ought to write more on this subject, it may not be a taboo subject but usually people don't talk about such issues. To the next! Many thanks!!


    June 15, 2021 at 05:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Edgar Neese

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is basically a online game where you can do anything you want. SL is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these second life authors and blogs


    June 15, 2021 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Repair Near Me

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article plus the rest of the site is really good.


    June 15, 2021 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. RV Repair Around Me


    June 15, 2021 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Repair Around Me


    June 15, 2021 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Sprinter Repair Costa Mesa

    I like it when individuals get together and share thoughts. Great site, stick with it!


    June 15, 2021 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Camper Repair Near Me


    June 15, 2021 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Repair Nearby


    June 15, 2021 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Repair


    June 15, 2021 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. RV Repair California

    Saved as a favorite, I like your site!


    June 15, 2021 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Camper Repair Shop Near Me

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you should publish more about this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but typically people don't discuss these topics. To the next! All the best!!


    June 16, 2021 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Camper Repair Near Me

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thanks for providing this information.


    June 16, 2021 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Repair Fountain Valley


    June 16, 2021 at 01:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. RV Repair Santa Ana


    June 16, 2021 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RV Repairs Near My Location

    Very good post! We will be linking to this great content on our site. Keep up the good writing.


    June 16, 2021 at 06:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Repair Around Me

    You've made some really good points there. I looked on the net for additional information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this site.


    June 16, 2021 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. tires near me

    After I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there an easy method you can remove me from that service? Thank you!


    June 16, 2021 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. speedway near me


    June 16, 2021 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. credit unions near me

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you need to publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but typically people don't talk about such issues. To the next! Best wishes!!


    June 16, 2021 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. boba tea near me


    June 16, 2021 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. brewery near me

    I quite like reading through an article that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!


    June 16, 2021 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. xfinity store near me


    June 16, 2021 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. dmv near me

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It is the little changes which will make the most important changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!


    June 16, 2021 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. chinese delivery near me

    Great post. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..


    June 16, 2021 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. cheap apartments near me


    June 16, 2021 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. rv dealers near me


    June 16, 2021 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Repair Shop

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I can't subscribe to it. Is there anyone else getting the same RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    June 16, 2021 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Nearby RV Repair

    I used to be able to find good information from your blog posts.


    June 17, 2021 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Leave a Reply to DJfrLurSOn


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.