The increased incidence of allergies in children is one of the major healthcare issues of our day. From an immunological understanding, there are two simple points about this to keep in mind. First, allergens are a type of antigen (something that promotes an immune response), but allergens themselves are not very toxic. The problem is our bodies’ over-reaction to allergens. A very important point is that the immune system is divided: It fights noncellular things like allergens, and it fights cellular things like cancer cells, bacteria, and parasites. And there’s information in the immune system that controls the direction it takes.
And here’s the interesting part: The placenta implanted in the uterus is not tissue from the mother’s body. It comes from the embryo, and the embryo is genetically different than the mother. Which presents a puzzle: Since our immune system is designed to kill foreign cells, how can someone get pregnant?
When a woman is pregnant, the placenta secretes what are called cytokines, substances that create in the mother’s immune system a bunch of immune cells called Th2 helper cells. These Th2 cells are designed to fight allergens, and they shut off the part of the immune system in the mother that fights cells, bacteria, or parasites. This is how the mother’s immune system tolerates the implant. But when the baby is born, the baby’s immune system is also filled with Th2 cells, which prevent the Th1 immune response.
In a normal birth, the child comes out filled with Th2 helper cells. But in a normal situation, the baby comes through the birth canal, nurses with the mother, and picks up bacteria from the environment, and this all comes together to form the baby’s microbiome. This microbiome will direct the development of the baby’s immune system and switch the baby’s immune system from Th2 (type 2) to Th1 (type 1).
But in today’s world we have created such a clean environment that now the baby doesn’t get the normal exposure that would switch the immune system to Th1, which means baby stays in type 2 for a longer period of time. (This notion is called the “hygiene hypothesis.”) If the allergen shows up while the baby is in type 2, the immune system will make an antibody called IgE, or immunoglobulin E, which creates an allergic response to the allergen. If the allergen shows up when the baby’s in type 1—after having experienced minor infections—then the immune system makes an antibody called IgG, Immunoglobulin G, and the child will not be allergic to the allergen.
So babies are born with type 2, because that was the type that prevented the rejection of the placenta by the mother. Normally, the baby should get exposed to all kinds of things, especially through breastfeeding, and be inoculated with bacteria. This would switch the system to type 1 to make a normal antibody response.
The increase in babies having an allergic response to allergens is not because of the allergens—it’s because babies are not given enough chance to have an infection. Since our mode of parenting is: “Keep it clean! Sterilize everything! Wash it down with germicide,” and things like that, we’ve created a situation that foments allergies. This is also why kids who grow up with pets are healthier than kids that don’t: Even if you spray Lysol on everything around the house, you’re not going to spray the pet! And so the pet is an inoculation device. It will carry things that the child can pick up.
Therefore, it’s really important to recognize that in order for a child’s immune system to be healthy, it must be exposed to bacteria and things like that. It’s OK if the child gets a little sick—that’s the immune system working.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the immune system is an evolutionary device. It’s not completely formed when we’re born. It’s still evolving. The tendency is for people to inoculate their children with vaccines. And the problem is that when we inject a vaccine, loaded with all kinds of adjuvants and preservatives, into a baby whose immune system is still evolving, we push the immune system more toward Th2. By interfering with the development of the immune system, we’re keeping it from evolving properly.
The body must come in contact with an infection in order for it to create its own immune activation. What people don’t understand is the immune activation is due to the tonsils that are in the throat. People think tonsils are there to fight infections, but that’s wrong. The tonsils don’t fight infection, they invite infection in! They’re nature’s way of creating an immune response. The tonsils make a recording of everything in the environment that passes by them, which is why infants reflexively stick everything they can into their mouths. This is the design of the system—they’re creating an oral vaccine.
By the time a child is 10 years old he’s tasted everything in the environment. At around the age of 10, the immune system starts to slow itself down from the hyper-growth state it’s been in. The thymus gland, the immune system’s center of education, starts to get smaller. The relevance is this: If we protect children too much by the time the immune system starts to slow down at age 10, we reduce their ability to make immune responses. So I’m not saying, “Vaccines: no.” I’m saying, “Oral vaccines: yes.”
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #52.
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