Asthma and Allergies: The New Epidemic

An excellent review article recently published in the journal Allergy (2001;56:91-102) discusses the current epidemic of allergic disorders in children and its possible causes. In its introduction, the article points out that the prevalence of asthma in children and young adults has tripled or quadrupled over the last two decades.

Although air pollution is frequently blamed, the authors found little evidence in the research literature to support this hypothesis. They also reported that there is insufficient data to conclude that hormones in the food supply or chemicals in the environment play a role.

However, the authors did find evidence that excessive antibiotics and vaccines are likely causes. Though antibiotics clearly have their place and vaccines have helped eliminate such dreaded diseases as polio, the issue is the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the trend to inoculate infants and small children with every vaccine available.

The article does not discuss this issue, but limits itself to reviewing various studies that have shown a significant relationship between increased antibiotic and vaccine use and the prevalence of allergic disorders.

For example, a Swedish study found a positive correlation between the MMR vaccine and allergies. Numerous other studies have shown that exposure to infectious agents early in life seems to prime the immune system and prevent the development of allergies later on, and both antibiotics and vaccines limit this exposure. It has also been shown that repeated or long-term antibiotics disrupt the normal bacterial balance of the intestinal tract. This bacteria helps us digest foods, absorb nutrients and has the effect of balancing the immune system, thus preventing the onset of allergies.

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