Firstly, let’s address the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.
An allergy is when our immune system overreacts to an allergen. For some this might be a case of hayfever of a reaction to a specific food such as eggs, nuts or shellfish. A symptom from an allergy can vary greatly, it could be sneezing and watering eyes in the case of hayfever. Or it could be itchy skin or hives all the way to difficulty breathing. In severe cases an allergy may lead to anaphylaxis and can cause death.
Intolerances are often confused with allergies. however, although inconvenient and difficult intolerances are less serious than an allergy and don’t involve the immune system. An intolerance tends to occur because your body cannot process what has been put in it. Usually this involves food, such as lactose or gluten. While an intolerance can be life-altering they aren’t life-threatening like some allergies.
Our guts play a major role in our immune system. It’s likely you’ve come across the term ‘good’ bacteria, these are the bacteria that live in our gut which do not cause disease. Instead, they allow the gut to function properly and help our immune system stay in its best condition. If the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut is out of balance with ‘bad’ bacteria or lacking variety this can lead to our immune system suffering. If this happens, there is the possibility it can lead to allergies.
Advancements in cleaning products, hygiene and the lowered risk of infection is obviously a good thing in the modern world. However, some studies now suggest that these advancements and the continues ‘urbanisation’ of the world could be leading to some of our gut issues.
We are now far less likely to spend time in nature where we can gain more of the beneficial bacteria our guts like. Soil, for example, has a microbiome that contains good bacteria and even fresh air has its own microbiome. Our soil is now being over farmed and sprayed with pesticides which means that some of the ‘good’ bacteria we used to come in to contact with regularly is now harder to find. Also, antibiotics are great for fighting infections, but they can kill off the positive bacteria in our guts.
To start with there are more and more advancements in treatments which are helping more and more people tackle their allergies. Nevertheless, our modern world seems to be reducing the number of microbes we are exposed to and increasing the amounts of allergies in the population. There are now a range of studies that show links to gut health and allergies and our understanding is improving daily. Still, it seems as though understanding the best way to develop our immune system may still be some way off. Time will tell if we are able to reverse allergies by improving our gut health, there are plenty of scientists that believe this is possible.