Allergies : Pesticides & Food Allergies: What's the Connection?

Food allergies in America are on the rise, and research suggests that pesticides may be partially to blame. According to the journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, chemicals known as dichlorophenols, which are used to make pesticides and to chlorinate water, are associated with food allergies when found in the human body.

"Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing a food allergy," says Elina Jerschow, MD, MSc, ACAAI fellow and lead author of the study. "This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water."

Previous studies show that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the US. "The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies," says Jerschow.

Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, points out that in recent years the harmful effects of low-level exposure to pesticides have started to be revealed -- and exposure may have a particularly negative impact on kids. "It is also understood that the immune system begins developing in fetuses and continues its development through childhood. Therefore, it is plausible that exposure to these pesticides during this development could alter the immune system in ways that could increase the risk of allergies," says Spaeth.

What can you do? An easy way to avoid potentially harmful pesticides is to opt for organic. Choose organic fruits and vegetables, and you'll find lots of options for organic allergen-free foods at your local natural market. Also invest in a high-quality water filter for your tap water. While not all filters remove dichlorophenol, some experts recommend using a carbon water filter.