What is allergy? At the root, it's an immune problem where the immune system mistakenly identifies certain harmless compounds (such as dust, pollen, our pets!) as dangerous items to be attacked. The why and how of our body's militant reaction to such everyday elements is not well understood yet, and so we continue to research the cause. However, one thing that is becoming more clear as a possible contributing factor to the rise in allergies is a state of over-sanitization.
Our modern obsession with hygiene and eradicating 99.9% of bacteria in our homes could very well be a significant factor that has led to the increase of allergy. But aren't we protecting ourselves by being cleaner? The answer to this is complicated. We want our environment to be healthy, but we invite problems when our surroundings are too sanitized.
When we are young, our microbiome (the healthy gut and skin and body microorganisms that live in and on us) comes from our mothers. As we get older, we very slowly widen our world, expanding our boundaries, which also includes meeting trillions and trillions of microorganisms. As infants, we put everything we encounter in our mouths, and through this exploration we begin to colonize our own unique microbiome and also educate our immune system. With these small introductions, our immune system learns how to identify good from bad and teaches the system how to round up its forces when under attack.
With bleach sprays, antibacterial wipes, odor eradicators, and the thousands of other products designed to keep bacteria at bay, we are destroying the very things that can help us stay healthy throughout our lives. More and more studies are showing that, without healthy microbiomes, we are prone to immune mistakes like allergy.
So what can we do if we are already experiencing allergy?
- When possible, reduce your exposure to the allergen.
- Reduce the allergic response by improving the immune system's function (herbal medicine, homeopathy, supplementation, desensitization therapy, acupuncture, and other interventions can assist with this).
- Reduce inflammation in your body and address any other health issues you may be dealing with.
- Eat well to make sure your body has the nutrients it needs.
- And protect future microbiomes: avoid using too many harsh cleaners and let your kids/nieces/nephews have a healthy interaction with their environment.
Really, we should all just go and play in the dirt a bit more.