Sunday, 19 February 2017

The old world is gone

An interesting essay from aeon reminds us of more serious issues than the latest Trump spat.

Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s alone, the likelihood of having a classmate with a food allergy increased by 20 per cent in the United States. In fact, over the past five decades, the incidence of all allergies and autoimmune diseases – caused by your body attacking itself – has skyrocketed. What could explain our sudden hypersensitivity to our surroundings and ourselves? Since evolution operates on the timescale of millennia, the culprits lie not in our genes but somewhere within our environment.

One thing that has changed in public health is our awareness of germs and how they spread. In response to that insight, over the past half-century our implementation of hygiene practices has spared us from debilitating infections and enormous human misery. But the new vigilance might have altered the development of our immune system, the collection of organs that fight infections and internal threats to our health...

...We are forced to conclude that the explosion of allergies and autoimmune diseases results from a mismatch between genes selected by pressures of our evolutionary past and the reality of modern life. While we have adapted in the past, we might not be able to adapt again by relying on biology alone. There is no going back – the old world is gone. 

It may be age or a coincidence, but during a working life spent handling contaminated water samples I hardly ever had a day off work. Since retirement I seem to have had far more minor illnesses than I ever had while working.


Demetrius said...

During the 20th Century and into the 21st the human body has had to cope with great increases in the amount of substances etc. it is subjected to. One small example is a pot of jelly that our supermarket sent in error. "Jelly" it was not, it was a concoction of a range of chemicals, largely synthetic, that would be hard to describe as "food. This is now not the exception it is the rule. Then there are all the derivatives of petro-chemicals one way or another. It is not surprising that many bodies, especially those vulnerable for one reason or another, react adversely.

James Higham said...

Fresh is the only way.

Sam Vega said...

I also spent my working life handling samples of contaminated water on a daily basis, but the canteen lady told me I should call it "tea".

CherryPie said...

I wonder if some of these allergies and diseases always existed. It is only now that medical science is more advanced that illnesses are diagnosed and treated leading to extended life rather than death from an unknown cause.

That being said, pumping our bodies with a concoction of chemicals passed off as food is obviously not going to be beneficial to our bodies and will cause complications.

wiggiatlarge said...

Cherry certainly has a point regarding what is now diagnosed compared with the past, then you had flu, now you have one of dozens of strains of flue same re cancer and so on.
With food even "fresh " foods have been treated with God knows what to retain that freshness for a longer shelf life, anyone buying apples for example will have noticed that all those stored now taste of cardboard.

Anonymous said...

A lot of influences here, food and environment already mentioned. But social and housing pressures lead to later parenthood and this in itself tends to lead to ill defined problems with the resulting children. Then there seems to be less assortative mating than years back and less social mobility. Except on a sink estate not far away, there is no problem with housing or late parenthood there, but illnesses real and imagined are carefully nurtured for the cash they bring in.

Woodsy42 said...

Years ago products like Dettol promised to kill 99.9% of germs. I said then, and still believe, that doing so will ensure that the 0.1% will get us. Modern lives are too clean, immunnity is not developed.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - how much jelly did our hunter-gatherer ancestors eat I wonder?

James - I'm coming to that conclusion too. Cook it yourself from the basic ingredients.

Sam - did she also offer round brown things made from contaminated flour and call them 'biscuits'?

Cherry - that could be a factor too, especially when food was adulterated with all kinds of concoctions.

Wiggia - a while ago I made the mistake of buying a pack of Golden Delicious apples. Where the apple flavour went I don't know, but there wasn't much left in the apples.

Roger - we know of a number of cases where the illnesses and handicaps of children are nurtured very carefully indeed and any possibility of improvement is vigorously obstructed by the parents. Appalling but not uncommon.

Woodsy - my father had a story about a lad he knew as a child who was never allowed to do anything remotely unhygienic but caught everything going. Street urchins like my father rarely caught anything.