Editor's note: Mireille Schwartz is the founder and executive director of the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board, an organization that promotes education and awareness, and provides no-cost medical care and medication to San Francisco Bay Area families with severely allergic children. She is the author of "The Family Food Allergy Book."
Food allergies are on the rise, and are currently the fifth leading chronic illness in the United States.
Since the mid-1990s, food allergies have shifted into high gear; what used to be a relative rarity has become increasingly commonplace, with scientists estimating that the problem is getting worse.
There are three main theories to explain why there are so many food allergies in the first place, and what's responsible:
Allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (or "hay fever"), atopic dermatitis ("eczema"), and food allergy tend to run in families. So the tendency to have food allergies is definitely inherited.
The hygiene hypothesis
This popular premise suggests that the overly sanitized state of our modern environment is upsetting the normal development of the immune system, leading to a possible overproduction of specific allergy-causing antibodies.
The main idea is that decreased exposure to germs and other disease-causing substances due to characteristics of our modern, Western lifestyles has affected our immune system's opportunity to develop standard immune responses. Because of this lack of opportunity, the immune system becomes prone to respond by reacting to otherwise harmless substances - in other words, by developing allergies.
Read - Family food allergies 101
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