The BBC2 popular science programme Horizon has also returned for a new term, to continue to educate the masses on themes as diverse as how the universe was formed to why dogs are our best friends. This is the show that introduced the world to the 5:2 diet, and Wednesday’s programme was similarly concerned with our health. Sub-titled “Allergies – Modern Life and Me” it involved an ambitious experiment following two families with young sons experiencing a wide variety of allergies. Both sets of parents had horror stories to tell of their brushes with severe reactions, and were eager to do whatever it took to reduce the discomfort of their children. Both families work hard to keep their homes as triggerless as possible – one of the most common allergies is to dust mites and one mother confessed to vaccuming, dusting and wiping surfaces at least twice a day. Now, to this point some might argue that these days things are too clean and our children’s immune systems are too delicate to react to outside influences that previous generations could easily fight off, but in fact most experts featured agreed that this doesn’t make sense considering the number of years it would take for that kind of resistance to take effect. Instead they investigate the changes in lifestyle that have occurred over the last number of years, leading to one that is more office based and sedentary and how that might be a factor, and also referenced the Hazda tribe in Tanzania, whose way of life most closely resembles the early hunter/gatherer society and have next to no incidences of allergies.
UCC professor Fergus Shanahan was one of a great number of scientists involved in the making of the programme, positively displaying Irish expertise in science. He agrees with the current theory that the first year of life is key to developing resistance to bad bacteria which leads to allergies. Being exposed to antibiotics at this time is a definite disadvantage, and it is thought that birth by Caesarean section increases the chance of a weaker immune systems as a result of less exposure to natural bacterial conditions experienced during a natural birth. But the most revealing thing exposed in the 24 hour surveillance of the two families was the correlation with the time they spent outside to the number of good bacteria in their guts. It was revealed that the more exposed they were to the natural environment on a regular basis, the less likely they were to being allergic.
Horizon is a really beneficial resource to have on a Wednesday night, and can shed light on all manner of everyday science. This episode was informative and accessible, and I’d say of great interest to a wide number of people concerned with their general well-being.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald 04.09.14