By Henry Ehrlich
Last year it was Dr. Kari Nadeau’s work with oral immunotherapy for food allergies (OIT) as the cover story in the Times Magazine. Now, the Week in Review has an article called “A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic?” Written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, author of An Epidemic of Absence, it is a concise recap of what we broadly know as the hygiene hypothesis, explained through the lens of the “Amish study” and the work of Dr. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indiana who trained in part at New York University Medical Center where he became friends with my cousin, Dr. Ehrlich. As our readers will recall, Dr. Holbreich shared his insights with this website in May of 2012.
The basics are that childhood exposure to the microbe-rich environment of farm life and particularly to chores like milking cows stimulate immune systems in the direction of protection against disease and away from aberrant reactivity to otherwise-innocuous proteins, known as allergies.
Mr. Valezquez-Manoff cites one of my own favorites, Dr. Susan Prescott of the University of Western Australia, who “has noted differences in the placentas of children who later develop allergies. A critical subset of white blood cells — called regulatory T-cells — seems relatively scarce at birth. Rather than enabling aggression, these cells help the immune system restrain itself when facing substances that are not true threats. A healthy population of these and other ‘suppressor’ cells is important, scientists now suspect, in preventing allergies and asthma.”
On a personal note, I heard the author interviewed last year on my local public radio station, WNYC and reached out to get a copy of his book for review. He told me to get in touch with his publisher, who promptly ignored my request, and I responded by forgetting all about it until this morning. I promise, Mr. Valezquez-Manoff, I’ll send you a copy of my new book if you’ll send me yours.