learning can do strange things

There is a theory that the rise in allergies is due to the fall in infectious diseases (due to immunisation).

Thanks, primarily to public health and then to immunisation, those of us in the west are far less likely to die of infectious diseases. Those of us who die early – and we are living longer – now usually die of ‘lifestyle diseases’ – diabetes due to poor diet and so on. This means our immune systems don’t have to worry about fighting off those major infectious diseases (measles, polio etc) anymore.

And this is where it gets interesting: our immune systems learn.
We become immune to things ‘for life’. Otherwise we would get the same cold, or measles, over and over again. We don’t because our immune system learns to fight this disease and knows what to do the next time we come into contact with it.

But what then? If it doesn’t need to fight the big problems perhaps it will learn to fight little problems. Or, in other words, become allergic. If we don’t fight big things we will fight small things. And we will have low level irritation instead of a major health crisis from a life-threatening illness. A good bargain, but it would be nice if we could do away with the irritation.

So our clean and healthy environment may mean that our immune systems have less big things to focus on and instead focus on smaller things. Swapping major illness for allergies.

What can we do about this?

  • One answer is to allow young people to play in the dirt.
  • If this doesn’t appeal there is a more sociable answer. We mostly get sick from other people – they pass their germs onto us. So to help build a healthy immune system have lots of friends and pick up their colds and diseases. It will help your immune system. Having friends and spending time with them is good for your immune system. It will help you learn to deal with lots of bugs, and you probably won’t have as many allergies.

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