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The number of people with allergies is on the rise in developed countries and no one knows why.

I've seen and heard speculation that the causes might involve too much modern hygiene, or our processed modern diet, or the types of things we are exposed to when very young, and so on. But no one has the answer yet.

I'd like to add a hypothesis to the mix: Humans in modern economies no longer eat much locally-grown food.

You've probably heard it said that eating local honey is good for allergies. I can't confirm that to be true, but it got me wondering if locally-grown food in general carries any protective properties.

I just ended a month of horrendous allergies and asthma attacks. Both symptoms stopped abruptly - as if someone turned a switch - after eating the first meal-sized batch of vegetables from my own mini-garden this season. I woke up fine the next morning.

That's probably a coincidence, and this is about the time of year that springtime allergies typically subside. But the abruptness was a surprise. I went from a ten to a zero in one day.

So now I have two totally undependable data points. 1) The unproven and probably untrue idea that local honey helps allergies, and 2) The highly anecdotal observation that my symptoms ended at about the same time I ate locally-grown veggies.

What we need is a third totally-undependable data source, so I put the question to you. If you have bad allergies at the moment, eat a meal-sized amount of locally-grown produce today and let me know if you feel any better the next day.

Alternately, tell me your allergy level at this moment along with an estimate of how much locally-grown food you consumed this week.

The odds of this hypothesis panning out are roughly zero. But if testing it only requires eating delicious local food, why not?
____________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 
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Jun 30, 2014
where infections (especially parasitic infections) have declined, immune responses appear to be increasingly prone to hyperactivity

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24749722

During some helminth infection, especially with the well adapted hookworm, the Th2 response is moderated by parasite-expressed molecules. This has been associated with reduced allergy in helminth endemic areas and worm infection or products have been proposed as treatments for allergic conditions.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24592267

Helminths are remarkably successful parasites: they currently infect more than one quarter of the world's population. It is now well established that the parasites' success is the result of active immunomodulation of their hosts' immune response. Although this primarily secures ongoing survival of the parasites, helminth-induced immunomodulation can also have a number of benefits for the host. Significant reductions in the prevalence of allergy and autoimmune conditions among helminth-infected populations are well recognized and there is now a significant body of evidence to suggest that harmful immune responses to alloantigens may be abrogated as well.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24025322
 
 
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Jun 30, 2014
snappybob: "Eating locally grown foods has many benefits. Your body needs certain nutrients and micro nutrients at different times of the year. Nature provides these by naturally allowing foods that have these nutrients to grow at these times of year."

I try not to be snarky on message boards but I can't let this one pass. That's the biggest load of new-age hippie garbage I've heard this year.

a) Plants will grow where they can and when they can. They really, really aren't thinking of the nutritional needs of the humans who just happen to live in a nearby house (and neither is "nature").

b) Pretty much wherever you live, the plants are imported. Potatoes, apples, carrots, cabbages....they don't come from around your area, they were brought there. The plants that originally grew in your area were probably poisonous and/or had no nutritional value.

Gah!
 
 
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Jun 30, 2014
Dingbat: "I have a large garden - which regularly feeds my family - along with my own bee hives producing honey from pollen within a 2 mile radius of my house -and we drink raw milk from a small goat herd in my back yard.

I had allergies growing up as a kid - but rarely have problems with them now. My kids never developed allergies and my husband does not have them. "

Maybe it's the "large garden" part that does it, not the stuff that comes out of it. Of maybe it's because you don't live where you lived as a kid. Or any number of other reasons.

Remember: Correlation is _not_ causation.
 
 
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Jun 28, 2014
I have a large garden - which regularly feeds my family - along with my own bee hives producing honey from pollen within a 2 mile radius of my house -and we drink raw milk from a small goat herd in my back yard.

I had allergies growing up as a kid - but rarely have problems with them now. My kids never developed allergies and my husband does not have them.
 
 
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Jun 28, 2014
As a control, maybe you should try industrially grown local food.
That way you can separate out things like fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, things done to the veggies to make them keep longer, specially created high-yield veggies and so on.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 27, 2014
Or it could be that allergies and asthma used to be anti-survival and anti-reproduction traits and now we keep them alive and mating.
 
 
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Jun 27, 2014
I had a nice dinner yesterday evening at a fancy restaurant with all-organic, almost completely all-locally-grown food. Today my hay fever was slightly worse than yesterday.
 
 
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Jun 27, 2014
I have horrible allergies to pollen and grass. Puffy eyes that are nearly swollen shut, itchy skin, runny nose, the whole nine yards.

I went to McDonald's and had a 2 Big Macs and a large diet coke. My symptoms were gone within a few hours.

Oh, and I also took some Alegra.
 
 
Jun 27, 2014
I've had hayfever allergies for years and tried everything: eating local honey all year round, a three-year course of injections, taking loads of tablets and sprays, taking *no* tablets and sprays etc. etc.

The only things which have really helped are:

1. wearing one of those surgical face masks when mowing the lawn
2. dousing out my nasal passages with water morning and evening. And, yes, that is as uncomfortable as it sounds.
 
 
Jun 27, 2014
"delicious local food"

I live in the north of England. Those who are starving will eat our local diet of cabbage soup and boiled potatoes, but you will hard pushed to get them calling it 'delicious'. There is a reason the UK built an empire with an army consisting mainly of Scotsmen, it was to find something to eat that was not grey and did not go "Splat!" when it hit the plate.
 
 
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Jun 27, 2014
"after eating the first meal-sized batch of vegetables from my own mini-garden this season. I woke up fine the next morning. "

Maybe you got some sort of parasite from them.

 
 
Jun 27, 2014
Regarding dietary fads, vegetarianism, etc. (something Scott goes on about a lot):

There's enough cultures and dietary diversity in the world that if a miracle diet existed, we'd know about it.

PS: It appears that tapeworms/hookworms might be good for treating allergies. Google it.
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
Commenters brought up the parasite angle which is interesting.

Google "NPR hookworm" for a fascinating audio story about a guy named Jasper Lawrence who suffered from severe asthma and allergies. Willing to try anything, he traveled to Africa and walked barefoot thru human feces.

Hookworms burrowed into his feet and were carried by blood vessels to his lungs. The worms then burrowed thru the wall of his lungs and into his esophagus where they were carried down to his small intestine. There they received a ticker-tape parade since his asthma and allergies disappeared completely. YMMV

 
 
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Jun 26, 2014
There is some thought that parasites that humans used to have would dampen our immune system. Now that we have cured all of these, our immune system often runs out of control causing all kinds of autoimmune problems. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_parasitic_worms_on_the_immune_system
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I thought the hygiene and/or related concepts were fairly well-accepted. It certainly seems that our immune systems developed to handle far more bacteria and infections than we currently let them fight. Think not just hygiene, but of all of the cuts and scrapes that a hunter-gatherer incurs. That was a lot of immune work for our ancestral systems.

I do, however, have an anecdotal counter-example: my nephew grew up on a farm - animals, plenty of dirt-eating, etc. -- and had asthma.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2014
Allergies and other immune diseases are on the rise due to the drop in parasites. There was a great EconTalk podcast about this, check it out.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2014
I don't know if my Mt. Dew is locally grown, but I'll give it a shot and let you know what happens.
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
There are a lot of things science doesn't yet know about allergies, including some evidence that they may be partially psychosomatic.

As for the honey thing, I don't need an excuse to eat local honey, since I find the stuff I buy from my friend the beekeeper directly to be 10x more delicious than the stuff in the grocery store. (And cheaper too, since I buy it in buckets and he gives me a discount).

Whenever seasonal allergies hit me (like they did this week), I just take it as a reminder that I should have honey on my morning toast. I've never regretted a decision like that, even if the subsequent subsiding of my allergy symptoms is purely coincidental.
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
[It's good to know that that this phenomenon is concentrated in liberals. -- Scott]

In keeping with the broad brush bromides, conservative wing nut cures are more likely to revolve around God, whereas liberals seem to be more susceptible to things that revolve around "nature".
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I'm not sure I could draw a direct correlation between locally grown food and allergies but I would not be suprized if it helped. Eating locally grown foods has many benefits. Your body needs certain nutrients and micro nutrients at different times of the year. Nature provides these by naturally allowing foods that have these nutrients to grow at these times of year. So eating primarily locally grown foods tends to supply your body with what it needs when it needs it. This, in turn, will help to build and maintain healthy bodies. Perhaps it also helps to build and maintain healthy and smarter immune systems.

Several years back I was reading some silly internet article about how to suffer from fewer allergies. The article stated that to have fewer allergies one must do the following things. 'Don't go outside. Don't leave windows open. Don't dry your laundry on a clothesline ouside. Don't have pets indoors. Avoid having pets or being near pets.' It pretty much wanted you to crawl inside a bubble and stay there. All of the things it said to avoid were all of the things we did on a daily basis when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's. This was a time when hardly anyone suffered from allergies or at least allergies were not near as common place as they are now. I think most people are already doing most of the things that this article was suggesting to some degree. For the most part most people live in air conditioned homes. Work in air conditioned workplaces and drive air conditioned cars. Perhaps our immune systems have become so spoiled that they whine about avery little thing.
 
 
 
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