Where do peanut allergies come from?
Dr. Miller readily admits that the root cause of allergies is still under some debate. "We can understand the reaction, on a micro-biological level. But still, we aren't sure why these reactions happen," he said.
He describes allergies (in a biological sense) as our body seeing something it should be able to handle, but instead reacting to it as something that needs "protecting against." It's kind of like punching your dad in the face in the middle of the night as he's rooting around the fridge because you think he's a home intruder.
"So, no one knows where allergies come from, frankly, and that includes peanuts. What we do know, is that they are becoming much more common," Dr. Miller said. "I had this little experiment: whenever I went to a restaurant, for a little while, I'd ask the server how many customers report serious allergies before they order. The most common answer was about one-in-four... which is a whole lot, really. Even when I was a kid, allergies were not nearly as common as they are now. And the science backs this up."
Why are allergies becoming so common?
Dr. Miller detailed a prevailing theory -- one that cannot be accepted as scientific fact just yet, but one that many experts think is exemplar. Basically, the way modern humans live has changed the microbes inside of us, microbes that, at one point, helped us deal with outside substances. Like peanuts. And it all has to do with micro-organisms (a community of 'bugs' called micro-biome) living inside our body.
"In you and on you, are more 'bugs' than there are cells in your body. There are 100 trillion in your gut alone. We gather these throughout life. We're simply living cleaner lives now. And if you don't gather these 'bugs' at the appropriate times, or get the wrong ones, it starts an immunodeficiency, which manifests itself as a hyper reaction to certain things -- like peanuts," he said. "It's referred to as the hygiene hypothesis."
Essentially, our modern, Purell-infused, germ-fearing lifestyles keep more germs away, and change the germs we have. Which can be a good thing, obviously, but it also messes with our bodies' inherent construction. And keeping children away from things like peanuts in fear of a potential allergy might only contribute to allergenic symptoms.
"Our bodies work in unison with this micro-biome. When the balance is thrown off, that might be where and when allergies occur. This is not homeopathy, or voodoo. This is science," Dr. Miller said.