The cause of the upswing in food allergies between 1997 and 2007 may be related to increasing levels of dichlorophenols, chemicals found in pesticides and used to chlorinate water. A study published in the December 2012 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found a connection between levels of dichlorophenols found in the body and the occurrence of food and environmental allergies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that food allergies increased by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007 and affect 15 million Americans. The most common of these allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, soy, fish and shellfish. Researchers looked at data on 2,211 participants enrolled in a large national nutrition survey. These individuals all had high levels of dichlorophenols measured in their urine and the investigators reported that 411 of these men and women had food allergies and 1,016 had environmental allergies. The lead study author said that the dichlorophenol in pesticides might foster allergies by weakening food tolerance in some people.
My take? This is a very interesting finding. It may add to a growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can have adverse effects on health, especially during vulnerable periods such as fetal development and childhood. When it comes to pesticide use, there is more to consider than just the residues that consumers ingest. Although peeled foods such as mangoes, avocadoes and kiwis may spare you from significant pesticide exposure, it is possible that large amounts of pesticides and herbicides are used on the farms from which these originate, contaminating groundwater, promoting erosion and otherwise damaging local ecosystems. To help promote the health of the planet as well as your own health, I urge you to buy organic foods whenever possible.