Back in the 1950s, I was one of the few kids who suffered from asthma. I was a cute little weakling who got sick all the time, a fragile freak. I spent a lot of time in bed because the only way to fight asthma back then was keeping a kid quiet, or put her on steroids. Oh, they also gave me antibiotics which did nothing but screw up my immune system. I read a lot, learned to be alone for long hours, and then eventually grew out of it.
But sometimes when I have a cold, it goes to my lungs, and I feel that same childhood terror of not being able to breathe.
My sister recently told me the story of her running to my parents' bedroom to shake them awake because Meredith couldn't breathe, and even now the memory makes her voice shake.
Asthma and allergies were considered genetic back then, but 50 years later we need more answers because there is now an alarming epidemic of allergies and asthma in children. The number of documented cases of food allergies in American children has doubled in the past 15 years, and some of these allergic reactions are life threatening. One in ten children is an asthmatic and number of asthma cases has risen 40% in the past ten years.
Allergies have also become a cultural phenomenon with adults getting into the act, self-diagnosing themselves out of dairy, wheat, sugar, whatever. But the fear becomes real when your baby can't breathe. And so we pick and choose our food, comb the cat, and spray the basement with Clorox to get rid of those microbes that most believe are making for an over-reactive immune system.
Allergist Mark Hollbreich noticed that Amish children in Indiana were essentially free of asthma and allergies. Hollbreich then looked at the Amish lifestyle and he suggests that living close to farm animals and working with them on a daily basis protects children because their immune systems are triggered into action early and often. Exposure of pregnant women to these microbes also seems to begin the process of building functional immune systems starting in utero.
Dr. Hollbreich's work in underscored by a study China where urban kids were three times as sensitive to allergens by the pinprick test than rural kids. And we know that immigrants into our non-farm culture start out being clean of allergies, only to develop them later as they also watch their children become asthmatics in this new way-too-clean country.
We are running a cultural experience on ourselves, and it's not going all that well, is it? Do the words obesity, diabetes, depression, being unable to eat what's put on your plate, or breathe for that matter, mean anything to anyone?