Could Allergies have an Anti-Cancer Effect?


When you live with food-related or environmental allergies it is near impossible to believe that there could actually be anything good about them.  Yet, a study this year showed "a strong relationship" between food and environmental allergies and a lower rate of cancer in environmentally exposed tissues.  You might be wondering, as was I, what “cancer in environmentally exposed tissues” encompasses.  More specifically, the study found that allergies / symptoms linked to tissues that are exposed to environmental factors such as eczema, hives, hay fever, and animal and food allergies, were most strongly associated with lower rates of cancers of the colon, skin, bladder, mouth, throat, uterus, cervix, lung, and GI tract …

A research team out of Cornell University analyzed 646 studies on allergies and cancers that spanned the last 50 years to create the "most comprehensive database" on the topic to date.  In their observations, they found that this inverse association of allergy symptoms and cancer occurred in more than twice as many studies as positive associations.  They hypothesize that the allergy symptoms may help protect against these types of cancer by expelling potentially hazardous foreign particles from the body.  In other words, as the allergy symptoms in general serve to eliminate pathogens (or the allergy trigger) from the body, they may coincidentally eliminate other toxins and potentially carcinogenic antigens before they can trigger an abnormal proliferation of cells … translation: a cancerous tumor.

One contradictory finding was a link between asthma and higher rates of lung cancer. However, asthma reduces the ability to expel mucus, while other allergy symptoms actually aid in getting rid of mucus and are linked to lower lung cancer rates.

With the concept that allergies may actually be protective in mind, the question was asked if people should actually suppress allergy symptoms with medications.  While there is not yet a clear-cut answer to this, one of the researchers stated that, ”… allergies are not merely disorders of the immune system, but rather are the evolved front line of defense against certain parasites and cancers. In sum, allergic reactions may be like fevers and morning sickness: uncomfortable responses that survived natural selection because they provided direct benefits.”

Amazing to think about. This is a very interesting study indeed, and a good sum up of it in more detail is available to read on Science Daily. The study is published in the December issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology (83:4).

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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