What’s with the allergies?

I’ve never heard about gluten intolerance prior to coming to Canada. In Russia, some 10 years ago I’d hardly ever heard about lactose intolerance either. 

When I was growing up some kids around me would get rushes or allergic reactions every so often, mostly provoked by chocolate or red vegetables and fruits. Just one friend of mine had a bouquet of a bunch of food allergies topped up with asthma.

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So the first time I heard "I'm gluten-free," I didn't even know what it meant.

Later I learned that in Canada about six per cent of people are gluten-sensitive or are gluten-free, and about 16 per cent report that they are lactose intolerant. Nut, fish and shellfish allergies are also on top of the list. The situation is even worse in the U.S.

Now the picture in Russia is starting to change as well, and more and more cases of various food allergies, including gluten, lactose and peanut issues, are being registered every year.

Last summer my girlfriend and I were sitting in a small restaurant in Saint-Petersburg talking about the spread of allergies in America when a lady next to us interrupted. 

“That’s because everything is GMO in the U.S. They don’t eat anything natural, all chemicals,” she said, using her mimics to stress how terrible the situation there was in her understanding. 

I first thought it was an echo of the traditional Russian-American rivalry from the Cold War era. (The lady looked like she grew up during that time and her intonations suggested that she rarely doubts her beliefs). Besides, scary “GMO”, which a lot of people don’t even understand what exactly it is, is a new “enemy” to blame for all the diseases. (One day I’ll probably write on that as well). 

Sometime later I had a chance to attend an organic conference in Saskatoon. It was a great gathering of people growing and promoting non-chemical systems of farming and gardening. This time an American doctor touched on the same topic as that stranger lady. He didn’t blame “GMO” for rising numbers of allergies, but he explained the role of modern science in the case.

The doctor explained that while the seeds are genetically modified to survive glyphosate-containing herbicides, which kill all plants they touch on, people are not spray-ready and develop reactions when coming in contact with some chemical residues (let alone direct contact with sprays). 

Thus, some researchers point out the correlation between the widely used weed killer and celiac disease, a type of eating disorder in which gluten often causes a severe immune response usually in a form of inflammation and damage to the small intestine. 

Back in 2013, Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff published an article explaining the possible connection between glyphosate and the growing statistics of gluten intolerance. The publication caused a wave of debates since the connection wasn't proven with 100 per cent certainty. 

In 2017, it was reported that over 2.6 million Canadian children and adults live with food allergies (based on 2016 statistics). It means that every 13th Canadian citizen has some kind of allergic reaction to one or more type of food. 

Another approach to explaining these sad statistics suggests that it might be hygiene we should blame for it. 

Readers, who grew up on the farms, do you have many or any allergies? Numbers suggest that people living in a less clean environment, not using soap or sanitizers after every contact with the surrounding world and exposed to more germs, have fewer chances of developing food allergies. 

Allergy rates in some densely populated Asian countries like India, where, especially in big cities, cleanliness is not anywhere close to being the number 1 priority, is low. One may argue that in developing countries people may report their rushes and reactions less than in Canada, the U.S. and the entire western world, which may affect the statistics. True, but the general tendency is still there. 

And even though the first-ever nationwide study on allergies in Canada was conducted almost a decade ago, researchers still don’t know for sure which factors affect the rise in allergic rates. 

It’s also interesting to note that some theories suggest that early exposure to foods often perceived as allergens, such as peanuts, for example, decreases the possibility of development of allergies. This, in my understanding, once again proves that we are the most adaptable creatures and can digest anything just given the time. 

Which, again, means that after some time and adjusting we will adapt to glyphosate and other chemicals we managed to add to our nutrition palette. And yes, while our bodies are learning how to deal with yet-unknown elements, some of us will struggle with allergies or other diseases and reactions that some researchers link to particular herbicides and pesticides or other changes that we put ourselves through, but after all, we’ll survive. Like always. 

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