Did Allergies Evolve to Save Your Life?

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Somewhere between 1% and 7% of human beings are allergic to insect venoms, with their symptoms ranging from mild overreactions to full-blown anaphylactic shock. For those with bee allergies, even the slightest sting can lead to a fight for life.

Allergies are defined as ‘hypersensitive immune responses’ — or, in colloquial terms, odd moments when our immune systems flip out. IgE antibodies are so damaging, scientists struggle to understand why—from an evolutionary standpoint—our bodies produce them in the first place.

In 1991, [Margie] Profet proposed a radical explanation for allergies: IgE antibodies, and the allergic reactions they cause, were meant to save our lives from toxins.

[I]n 2012, Cornell University researchers Paul and Janet Shellman-Sherman connected Profet’s toxin hypothesis to a strange medical phenomenon: people with allergies have lower risks of certain cancers. It’s possible that allergies serve to combat potential carcinogens.

Top photo via Aonani on Flickr.
By the awesome Christi Wilcox via Science Sushi on Discover for the full story.

This entry was posted in Science by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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