Allergic : Our Irritated Bodies In A Changing World by Theresa MacPhail

Allergic : Our Irritated Bodies In A Changing World by Theresa MacPhail

Author: Theresa MacPhail
View book: Allergic : Our Irritated Bodies In A Changing World

Allergic: Our Irritated Bodies in a Changing World is a significant and extensively researched examination of allergies, tracing their origins in medical records from 1819 to current scientific breakthroughs that shed light on the environmental and lifestyle factors contributing to the rising prevalence of allergies. Authored by Theresa MacPhail, a medical anthropologist, this book is a valuable resource for those seeking to comprehend the global significance of allergies. MacPhail delves into the perilous experiments conducted by early immunologists, the promising developments in biologics and immunotherapies for severely affected patients, and the interconnections between climate change, pollution, and pollen. Allergic: Our Irritated Bodies in a Changing World is an indispensable guide for individuals seeking to expand their understanding of allergies.

By examining the impact of our evolving environment on our bodies, this book explores the measures we can take to alleviate further harm. Offering a comprehensive exploration of allergies, Allergic: Our Irritated Bodies in a Changing World is an essential addition to any bookshelf.

Allergic: The Science and History of Allergies

Hello everyone! I’m Michael Brown, President of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s my great pleasure to host this Creative Thought Forum event, featuring a discussion with Teresa McPhail, an anthropologist and author of the book “Allergic or Irritated Bodies in a Changing World”. Before I introduce Teresa, let me acknowledge our sponsors who have made this event possible. They include the Pelohima Foundation, Adobo Catering, the Fluorocryton Lecture Fund, and several other organizations. If you’re interested in becoming an SAR member, please visit our website at or Now, let me mention another upcoming webinar on a different topic, which will be held tomorrow. Christopher Nelson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be giving a talk entitled “Phantom Japan: Okamoto Taro’s Art and the Ethnography of Okinawa”. Information on that event is available at Enrollment is free but registration is required. The webinar will take place at 2:00 PM Mountain Time.

Now, let’s get back to our main event. Teresa McPhail is a Berkeley-trained medical anthropologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Stevens Institute of Technology. In addition to her published books, she has contributed articles to publications such as Newsweek, LA Review of Books, Slate, and more. Her book “Allergic or Irritated Bodies in a Changing World” is an important and deeply researched work that sheds light on the rising rates of allergic diseases and serious reactions in recent decades. Teresa, please tell us how you became interested in this topic and your journey in researching and writing this book.

Teresa: Well, it started with a personal experience – the death of my father due to an allergic reaction. This sparked my curiosity and as I began teaching and talking to colleagues and friends, I realized that allergies were more prevalent than I had initially thought. I couldn’t find much information written for a general audience, so I took it upon myself to research and write a book that answers the questions about the causes and impact of allergies.

Michael: One of the interesting concepts mentioned in your book is that the immune system acts as a curator or a bouncer, deciding what can become a part of our bodies. Can you elaborate on this idea?

Teresa: Absolutely. In the past, we often thought of the immune system as a defense force, fighting off threats. However, it’s more accurate to say that it decides what can stay and what has to go. For example, our bodies can tolerate and breakdown food that isn’t part of us, as long as we don’t have allergies. The immune cells are the ones making these decisions, which is why the metaphor of a curator or a bouncer is more fitting.

Michael: Your book also delves into the complexities of defining and categorizing allergies. Could you explain the differences between conventional allergies and food intolerances?

Teresa: Historically, the term “allergy” had a much broader definition and could include positive reactions. Over time, it narrowed down to negative reactions involving the immune system. Intolerances, on the other hand, don’t involve the immune system and are caused by a lack of enzymes to break down certain proteins. So, while both allergies and intolerances use similar mechanisms, the distinction lies in immune system involvement.

Michael: It’s fascinating how allergies can vary among individuals. Can you explain how our immune cells respond differently to allergens and why allergies can change over time within an individual?

Teresa: Each immune cell has choices it can make, and allergies occur when the majority of cells decide that something is harmful. However, why cells make different decisions within the same person is still largely unknown. We don’t understand why allergies can vary among individuals or change over time. It’s a complex and ongoing topic of research.

Michael: You also discuss the role of nanoparticles in the air and their impact on allergies. How do these tiny particles fit into the allergy equation?

Teresa: Nanoparticles, particularly those found in air pollution, can exacerbate allergies and irritate the lungs. These particles can carry allergens, like pollen, deeper into the lungs, leading to an allergic response. Wildfires can also increase the presence of nanoparticles in the air, causing further respiratory issues. Unfortunately, our bodies have limited ability to remove these particles, and prolonged exposure can lead to scarring in the lungs.

Michael: Your book also sheds light on the alpha gal allergy, commonly known as the red meat allergy, and its surprising connection to tick bites. Can you briefly explain the etiology of this allergy?

Teresa: The alpha gal allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies the alpha gal sugar found in red meat as harmful. This misidentification happens when a Lone Star tick injects alpha gal and its saliva into a person’s bloodstream. The immune system, irrtiated by the tick’s saliva, confuses alpha gal as a harmful substance, leading to allergic reactions when red meat is consumed. Climate change and the geographical spread of certain ticks have contributed to the rise of this allergy.

Michael: Throughout your book, you highlight the emotional toll of allergies and the need for greater support and recognition. Can you expand on the importance of addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of living with allergies?

Teresa: Living with allergies can be incredibly stressful, both for individuals and their families. Allergy sufferers often minimize the impact of their condition, perceiving it as less serious than other health problems. However, research shows that parents of children with severe food allergies experience stress levels comparable to those who have suffered major heart attacks. It’s crucial to acknowledge and support the emotional well-being of allergy sufferers.

Michael: On a more optimistic note, what gives you hope for the future of allergy research and treatment?

Teresa: The increasing recognition of allergies as a societal issue is bringing more attention and funding to research. We are making progress in understanding the immune system’s response and exploring new avenues for treatment and prevention. Additionally, the growing awareness of the interconnectedness between our environment and our health offers hope for addressing allergies collectively. By making informed choices and considering the impact on our bodies and the earth, we can work towards a healthier future.

In conclusion, allergies pose significant challenges for individuals and society as a whole. By recognizing the emotional impact, supporting research efforts, and making informed choices, we can pave the way for better understanding and management of allergies in the future.

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