For over 100 years, scientists have wondered what really causes allergies. The recent increase in the number of individuals with food allergies has amplified the public’s concern and triggered research dollars. Are allergies genetic or caused by exposure to environmental factors?
The answer is both. Allergies are the result of both genetics and environmental exposure. Until recently, scientists had few clues to the cause of allergic reactions, but after significant research and studies, they now have a better theoretical understanding. Allergies that were once thought to only be a result of environmental exposures are now seen through the lens of our genetic makeup. Though there is still much research to be done, scientists now have a better grasp of the origin of food, skin and airborne allergies.
Continue reading to discover new information to help you better understand your allergies.
It is now believed that the cause of many allergies may be embedded in our genes but triggered by exposure to certain environmental factors. A study on over 2,000 participants – most of whom had some form of an allergy – done at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered valuable information that could change the lives of many individuals impacted by allergies. After years of research on which genes may contribute to the increased risk of developing allergies, especially to food, researchers have uncovered vital information.
Allergies may have a genetic origin but activated by the environment and lifestyle. Find out how below.
Genetic Origins? Sometimes
To understand the current research on allergies, it is important to understand the role of immunoglobulins in our blood. Immunoglobulins are proteins that act as a critical part of our immune system by specifically recognizing and binding to particular antigens(stuff that can hurt us such as bacteria or viruses) and aiding in their destruction. Although there are 5 different immunoglobulins (IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, IgM), only IgE is technically associated with an allergy. Your symptoms may be similar, but if there is only a histamine reaction or activity from one of the other four Ig’s, then technically you don’t have an allergy. You have a sensitivity or intolerance.
If the above sounds nit-picky, it may be for most of us. Many people are told after an allergy blood test that they have no allergies. That doesn’t mean your symptoms are all in your head. It means you don’t have an IgE mediated response causing you to get sick. But if you are anaphylactic to a substance, that means your IgE activity is off the charts and your body is so aggressively trying to destroy the offending substance that there is, to steal a military analogy, considerable collateral damage. And often that has a genetic component.
A research team at Johns Hopkins discovered that a specific region on a particular chromosome may increase the risk of developing allergies. They believe they have discovered the exact genetic marker that triggers the release of IgE that is linked to certain food allergies, especially to peanuts. That’s a fancy way of saying that a particular area of our genes can cause specific cells in our body to release chemicals that result in allergy symptoms to different foods. This same genetic region may also hold the key to increased risk of celiac disease, though much more research is needed as celiac is an autoimmune disease and not an allergy.
The researchers at Johns Hopkins have also shown that many people who do not have allergy symptoms may still have active IgE to certain allergens. But if the IgE activity to those allergens is too weak (meaning your body is still processing whether the allergen is a threat or not), you won’t exhibit any symptoms. That means you may not have problems now, but after enough exposure, you could develop them in the future.
Another interesting finding had to do with something called serine protease inhibitors. Those guys, among other cool talents, can stop a virus from replicating. And now it appears they play a factor in the development of food and skin allergies as well as sensitivities to our own mucous membranes. In other words, researchers are wondering if many allergy-related symptoms, such as hives, rashes, eczema, and sneezing have similar, if not the same, internal as well as external triggers.
Another study uncovered that individuals with autoimmune diseases are more susceptible to developing food and environmental allergies. Of course, it makes sense that someone whose body recognizes harmless substances as potential threats would be more likely to develop allergies or sensitivities as they age and experience exposure to more allergens.
Uncover how your family history can affect your allergy risk in this next point.
Family History? Yep it’s also a factor especially in food allergies
An easy identifier of potential risk for allergies is family history. Of course, family history isn’t a completely reliable indicator of developing an allergy, but it can give you insight into the chances of your child developing them in the future. In most cases, there is always a familial association, which means that there are typically multiple people in a family that also have food, skin or sinus allergies. If a sibling or parent has allergies, it is possible that others in the family are at increased risk for developing them at some point in the future. Interestingly, different family members may have allergies, but they are not always to the same allergens.
In fact, research has shown if one parent has allergies, there is a 50-5o chance that your child will also have some sensitivities; however, if both parents have an allergy, the child’s risk increases to 75%. In addition to the increased familial risk, there has also been some speculation that allergies may be gender-related. If the father has an allergy, then the son would be more likely to have one, and the same applies to the mother-daughter relationship. It was formerly believed that the mother was solely responsible for the development of allergies in children but thankfully has been proven wrong.
Genetic research is in its infancy. And with our limited tools and knowledge, it will be a long time before scientists have more concrete explanations as to why certain genes in the body behave the way they do. However, with this new knowledge of the familial association and the genes that appear to be responsible for inherited increased risk of allergies, researchers are hopeful they can soon better predict who will develop allergic reactions. Although there does appear to be some connection between genetic makeup and allergy symptoms, further research needs to be conducted. It is still too soon to know whether we are looking at interesting correlations or actual causations. Simply put, we humans are complicated beings. Our genetics are important, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to how we view our world, what we choose to put into and onto our bodies, and how healthy we choose to take care of our lives, our families, and our planet…regardless of our genetics.
If you suffer from allergies or sensitivities and you have been unsuccessful with allergy treatments or are looking for something different, St. Louis Allergy Relief Center treats allergies holistically without the use of pain or pills. We are an allergy wellness center, specializing in natural treatments. We specialize in holistic, natural allergy treatments using Advanced Allergy Therapeutics (AAT). We provide you with a detailed treatment plan after completing a comprehensive assessment to determine environmental stressors that may be triggering allergies or allergy-like symptoms. Visit our website https://stlouisallergyrelief.com/ to learn more or call us at 314-384-9304.
We also deliver community workshops as well as a free monthly informational workshop on the first Thursday of every month at 5:45 pm in our Chesterfield office. Our free monthly workshop provides the public with information on our unique approach to allergy treatments and includes an opportunity to meet with our patients for a question and answer session. If you are interested in attending one of our free monthly workshops, please call our office at 314-384-9304 to reserve your space.