Food allergies are on the rise globally, and a new report says the culprit could be increasing worldwide exposure to dichlorophenols, chemicals used in agricultural pest-killers and in the chlorine used to disinfect drinking water.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies to foods such as milk, wheat, peanuts, soy and shellfish shot up 18 percent in the United States between 1997 and 2007.
Other studies have shown that environmental pollution is on the rise. Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York suggest there is a link between the two trends.
They analyzed health data from the 2005-2006 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which more than 10,000 Americans took part. The researchers identified more than 2,500 individuals with measurable levels of dichlorophenols — chemicals found in pesticides and chlorinated water — in their urine. The study team, led by allergist and immunologist Elina Jerschow, narrowed their sample down to 2,200. Out of this group, Ms. Jerschow says, 411 of the subjects had some sort of food allergy.
“People who had high levels of dichlorophenols were about 80 percent more likely to have allergic sensitization to foods than people who had low levels of dichlorophenols in the urine,” she said.
The team found that more than a thousand of the participants had an environmental allergy that was not linked to the chemicals.