Allergies may actually be a good thing, according to a new study published April 26, 2012 in the journal Nature. Ruslan Medzhitov, an immunobiologist at Yale University and his colleagues believe that allergies are protecting us from environmental or food toxins by encouraging the body’s T cells and antibodies to fight the irritant.
Ruslan Medzhitov points out, “How do you defend against something you inhale that you don’t want? You make mucus. You make a runny nose, you sneeze, you cough, and so forth. Or if it’s on your skin, by inducing itching, you avoid it or you try to remove it by scratching it. Likewise, if you’ve ingested something allergenic, your body might react with vomiting. Finally, if a particular place or circumstance ramps up your allergies, you’re likely to avoid it in the future. The thing about allergies is that as soon as you stop exposure to an allergen, all the symptoms are gone.”
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 50 million Americans suffer from some sort of allergy.
There are two ways for the body to fight off potential invaders. Type 1 immunity, which battles viruses, bacteria, fungi and similar organisms, relies primarily on killing pathogens or infected cells. Type 2 immunity, the category under which most allergic reactions fall, protects against external environmental challenges by spurring the body’s antibodies and other cells into action to fight the irritant, as reported by the CT Post.
In the study, Medzhitov suggests that Type 2 reactions are the body’s way of checking the environment or food for the irritant. Once exposed to the element, the immune system will remember the irritant that it didn’t like. So, next time the body has the slightest hint of that irritant, it will respond with an allergic reaction.
Medzhitov said these reactions can protect us from four categories of toxins, parasites, noxious chemicals, animal venom’s and general environmental irritants. He says, “Just because allergic reactions are perceived as a nuisance, we perceive them as a disease. It makes a big difference when you go from thinking of something as a pathogen to think of it as something that can protect you.”
Kari Nadeau, an immunologist at the Stanford School of Medicine says that while Medzhitov’s theory may raise some questions, “It stimulates us as scientists to draw up some new hypotheses. The hypotheses need to be tested and might not necessarily be confirmed, but at least this paper drives us to understand allergies better.”