Pesticide exposure linked to rising food allergy rates in children

A recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology links chemicals found in pesticides and some water purification systems with increased rates of childhood food allergies.

The study was headed by Elina Jerschow, MD, an allergist at Montefore Medical Center, and focused on chemicals called dichlorophenols (DCPs). These chemicals are created by the breakdown of common pesticides and chlorinated chemicals used in drinking water. They can also be found in common air fresheners, deodorizer cakes and even some herbicides.

Jerschow's team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare levels of DCPs in urine to antibodies and to foods in the blood. Acknowledging that the measurement methods are not accurate, they are considered an accurate proxy when used on large groups.

Linking environmental pollution and food allergies

The study found that people with the highest levels of DCPs in their urine were nearly twice as likely to show food sensitivity when compared to those with the lowest levels. Nearly all of the 2,211 people included in the study had detectable levels of DCPs in their urine. Four hundred of them showed sensitivity to at least one food, and more than 1,000 were sensitive to environmental allergens (pollen, ragweed, dander).

Further, people with multiple exposures to DCPs (two or more chemicals) were 61 percent more likely to be allergic to a food and environmental allergen at the same time.

"Previous research indicated that both environmental pollution and the prevalence of food allergies are increasing in the United States," Jershow wrote in her study's conclusion. "The results of this study suggest that these two phenomena might be linked."

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