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The number of people with allergies is on the rise in developed countries and no one knows why.

I've seen and heard speculation that the causes might involve too much modern hygiene, or our processed modern diet, or the types of things we are exposed to when very young, and so on. But no one has the answer yet.

I'd like to add a hypothesis to the mix: Humans in modern economies no longer eat much locally-grown food.

You've probably heard it said that eating local honey is good for allergies. I can't confirm that to be true, but it got me wondering if locally-grown food in general carries any protective properties.

I just ended a month of horrendous allergies and asthma attacks. Both symptoms stopped abruptly - as if someone turned a switch - after eating the first meal-sized batch of vegetables from my own mini-garden this season. I woke up fine the next morning.

That's probably a coincidence, and this is about the time of year that springtime allergies typically subside. But the abruptness was a surprise. I went from a ten to a zero in one day.

So now I have two totally undependable data points. 1) The unproven and probably untrue idea that local honey helps allergies, and 2) The highly anecdotal observation that my symptoms ended at about the same time I ate locally-grown veggies.

What we need is a third totally-undependable data source, so I put the question to you. If you have bad allergies at the moment, eat a meal-sized amount of locally-grown produce today and let me know if you feel any better the next day.

Alternately, tell me your allergy level at this moment along with an estimate of how much locally-grown food you consumed this week.

The odds of this hypothesis panning out are roughly zero. But if testing it only requires eating delicious local food, why not?
____________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 
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Jun 26, 2014
It's an interesting hypothesis, to be sure. I'm trying to figure out how it might work, though.

It helps to talk about what an allergy is. It's an inappropriate immune system response to something the body incorrectly identifies as an invader. That ultimately leads to the release of histamines, which cause the symptoms.

You don't have an allergic reaction the first time you're exposed to an allergen. You have to build the reaction after the first exposure. You then get symptoms the second time (and subsequent times) you're exposed.

For those of you who don't know, Scott and I live roughly 20 miles from each other. Amazingly, I have yet to be invited to his house for dinner, go figure. But I digress.

I also have springtime allergies. I'm allergic to Thomson grass pollen, which is the classic "Hay Fever." I used to have to get these huge horse shots of collagen and antihistamine to get me through the season, until the non-drowsy antihistamines (Claritin, Allegra et. al.) were developed. I now take them every allergy season, and they have really made a difference.

So looking at Scott's idea: it seems more logical to think that the opposite might happen. The things local to you are the things you are most allergic to, or at least those things to which you are exposed more and repeatedly.

I recall being with a female co-worker on her second trip to Denver, Colorado. She was hit with something she'd never had before - a classic allergic reaction, with cold-like symptoms. She thought she had caught a cold. I recognized her symptoms, gave her a Claritin, and told her she'd feel better in about twenty minutes. She was amazed. No, she did not reward me appropriately for my largess, but I digress again.

Unlike Scott, my allergies sort of taper off as the grasses start to dry up. They're gone for this year, thankfully. Like Scott, I grow my own veggies, and started about a week ago eating my squash. But I saw no effect on my allergies (but again, they were already pretty much gone).

My personal (tongue-in-cheek) belief is that Scott has a Quinoa allergy (those of you who have read his latest book will get that), and that his allergic reaction went away when he substituted real veggies for that horrific food substitute, lol.

Remains to be proven, but still an interesting thought.
 
 
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Jun 26, 2014
I heard about the local honey from my doctor. Unfortunately a study found it was not true:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/health/10really.html?_r=0
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I always bought into the "too much hygiene" idea as being at least plausible, I will now add this locally grown food idea to the list as well. The mechanism of allergies is the body treating things that are harmless as if they are deadly pathogens, and ramping up an immune response so severe that it's damaging to the body. The hygiene concept states that the immune system needs something do to, it expects to be exposed to at least a few invaders, but our modern disinfectants handle those so well that there are none to be found, and so the immune system picks something else to play with. A common allergy treatment is to introduce small levels of the allergen to the body to help build up a tolerance. The local food idea strikes me as similar results if your allergies are environment based (pollen etc.). Eating local food introduces local allergens to your body in a way that it will treat them as harmless, whereas food from far away has different allergens, and so your body reacts to the local allergens as something bad.

It's worth exploring with properly applied scientific method, anyway. Allergies are still not fully understood and things like this could contribute some knowledge.
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I've been having asthma lately (just started a new job - anxiety is part of it). I have been growing lettuce in my back yard - can't get to it till Saturday - but I promise to do it on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, anxiety is down on the weekends - so I'm not going to be a pure data point.

By the way, watch out with Claritin - even though it is wonderful - there is a correlation with arthritis long term.

To add more fuzz to my data - I notice that drinking at least 2 liters of water* per day brings the asthma down to zero for a day and half or so.

*brita filtered with a splash of silicic acid for taste and other unproven benefits.

 
 
Jun 26, 2014
[And by liberal wing nut you mean "science"]

No. Every blind squirrel finds a (wing) nut once in a while. Chicken soup may work, butter on burns doesn't, etc., etc. The point of the matter is that these remedies are often not arrived at via science, even if one or two might be supported by science down the road. Instead they are arrived at by anecdotal association and personal biases.

[It's good to know that that this phenomenon is concentrated in liberals. -- Scott]
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I don't have any allergies, so I have no direct personal experience. But I'm surrounded by people (friends, coworkers, family) that seem badly afflicted, and listening to them drone on endless about their medical problems, and the doctors they have consulted, and so on has me pretty perplexed. It sounds like we don't understand the human immune system very well, and it's so incredibly complicated that we stand little chance of unraveling specific allergic pathologies.

As much as I hate purely heuristic medicine, eating locally grown foods -- if that appears to ease the symptoms -- is probably as good a solution as our technology has to offer, today.
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
Local honey?! - OMG.

It's funny, when I was growing up and heard about home remedies like chicken soup for colds or putting butter on burns, my mental picture was that some kind grandmotherly person came up with these ideas. Now I am coming to realize that "granny" was actually just the liberal wing nut of her day.

[And by liberal wing nut you mean "science"? http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/the-science-of-chicken-soup/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 -- Scott]
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
That reminds me of the time I had some delicious local egg nog, and like 2 weeks later it was Christmas. Coincidence? I don't know. Try it the next time you see egg nog.

 
 
Jun 26, 2014
I have a non-food related data point:

Some days, I'll go bike riding during lunchtime. While I'm outside, deep in the pollen for an hour, I'm generally fine. When I'm back in my air-conditioned office -- THAT'S when the allergic reactions hit.

If I don't go outside at lunch (staying indoors with the filtered air), I'm generally fine. But getting exposed, and then returning to the "clean" environment seems to make my immune system go haywire.

The same thing happens when I drive home each day (during the part of the year that whatever pollen I'm allergic to is in force. At this time of year, and for the past month, I've been fine.)
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
My wife suffered from allergies her entire life, seemingly year-round. She has always consumed a large amount of locally grown produce throughout the summer when it is available (Canada=cold=little local produce outside of summer months) with no improvement. She has recently become pregnant and I have not heard her sneeze since, not sure what that's worth to you.

I personally have no allergies and I consume as little vegetation (locally-grown or otherwise) as I can, although, I do consume a fair quantity of honey (not always local) and a large amount of locally-grown cattle (who eat the local vegetation?).
 
 
Jun 26, 2014
Hi Scott,

I bet it's mostly due to seasonality of allergens in the air. My allergist explained that pollen patterns are such that allergists can pretty much count on going on vacation from about mid-June through early August.

I hope for your sake you're correct and I'm wrong.
 
 
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Jun 26, 2014
Here is my anectodal experience: I was born in southern Spain and I happen to be severely allergic to olive, which is the main crop there. My grandparents were farmers and as a child I used to consume mostly locally-grown products, from vegetables to beef. In my experience this didn't seem to help at all with my allergy. One of my sisters has the same allergies as me and the other one none at all.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2014
My girlfriend has lots of allergies and she's a fanatic about buying/eating local food.
 
 
 
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