Pesticides Commonly Found in Tap Water Linked to Food Allergies

glass of water from tapChemicals that are regularly used in pesticides have been associated with the development of allergies in people. Researchers at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, (ACAAI) have discovered that when people suffer from allergies, Dichlorophenols (DCPs) might be the cause.

Currently, both food allergies and pollution are increasing in the United States, and studies suggest the two are connected. This conclusion is based on increased usage of pesticides and other chemicals associated with allergies. As the rate of allergies in children has risen, so have the levels of DCPs found in their urine. Studies show that a person suffering from allergies is likely to have higher levels of DCPs present in his or her urine.

What’s interesting is, of the people participating in this study, one quarter had measurable DCPs in their urine. More than two-thirds of people with DCPs in their urine also suffered from allergies. According to the study, high levels of DCPs appear to weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy.

What Are DCPs and How Are People Exposed?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes DCPs as chemical compounds found in pesticides that are used, most frequently, on produce. DCPs are also routinely used to treat drinking water. People are most commonly exposed to DCPs by eating fruits and vegetables that are not properly cleaned, or drinking chlorinated tap water. Since children drink more fluids per body weight and have different metabolisms than adults, studies indicate they may receive higher doses of DCPs. But this does not mean kids should drink less water. Not everyone seems to be affected by DCPs the same way.

What DoDichlorophenols Do When Ingested?

When DCPs are consumed, they are quickly absorbed by the body then eliminated in urine after a few days. DCPs present in urine are associated with the occurrence of allergies; however, it is not clear whether their presence triggers allergies, or allergies trigger DCP retention in the body. What happens while DCPs stay in the body has not been widely studied, yet there is growing evidence to suggest the immune system is sensitive to its presence. Researchers believe DCPs may cause the immune system to malfunction, and people with immune system deficiencies may be more susceptible to DCPs’ negative effects.

Allergies Caused by Immune System Malfunction

Allergies are often viewed as a singular concern; however, allergies occur when the immune system malfunctions. The immune system protects the body from harmful substances like viruses and bacteria. But when it malfunctions, its response is excessive, or lacking, reacting inappropriately to a substance most people’s bodies perceive as harmless. The body then overproduces chemicals called histamines, which cause allergy symptoms like runny nose, itchy watery eyes or swelling.

Risk to Children and How It Can Be Reduced

Currently, children suffer from food allergies in larger numbers than adults do. That fact tends to suggest children’s immune systems are more vulnerable, thus more prone to disturbances in immune system function. A recent report noted levels of DCPs were significantly higher in children age 6 to 11 (95th percentile) than those 12 to 19 and adults. DCPs were detected in 81 percent of samples, suggesting widespread exposure among the United States general population between 2003 and 2010.

Though there are claims that special filters remove DCPs from water, most are from commercial businesses selling you those filters. Information that’s not connected to a commercial agenda isn’t readily available. At least until 2000, the CDC has held DCPs cannot be effectively filtered from drinking water. So how can you reduce exposure to DCPs? Wash produce thoroughly and don’t let children play in areas where pesticides are routinely used.

What Does This All Mean?

Although studies have identified an association between DCPs and allergies, it’s unclear whether DCPs cause allergies. This study is part of a growing body of evidence that shows exposure to DCPs and other pesticides can damage the immune system, which tends to increase the occurrence of allergies.

This is an evolving set of studies more than 30-years overdue; we’re finally asking the questions that matter. How do commonly used pesticides affect people and, most importantly, our children? Keep an eye out, as more information will likely follow to tackle these important questions.

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