(The image "A man mid-sneeze." prepared by CDC uploaded to wikipedia.)
Allergies may be a blessing in disguise - insofar as cancer is concerned. According to a report published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, allergies lower the risk for developing brain cancer.
Researchers led by Judith Schwartzbaum, from the Division of Epidemiology at Ohio State University, compared blood samples from 594 Norwegians diagnosed with brain tumors between 1974 and 2007 to 1177 healthy controls. The scientists matched the samples for date of collection, 2 year age interval and gender.
Schwartzbaum's team, building upon previous evidence showing an association between allergies and reduced risk of brain cancer, sought to pinpoint how long it would take for gliomas to be diagnosed.
To do this they measured the allergen specific immunoglobulin E and total immunoglobulin E levels of the two groups. Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, is an antibody that plays a key role in combating disease. This special protein also mediates commonly known allergies including eczema, allergic asthma and hay fever.
The reason why these proteins are important to scientists studying brain tumors is that some studies show a reduced risk of gliomas in people suffering from allergies. And while allergies can be very unpleasant, the prospect that they can provide protection against deadly cancer is very exciting and worth investigating.
What Schwartzbaum's team learned was that women who tested for elevated levels of allergen specific-IgE had a lower risk of glioblastoma brain tumor. When they looked at serum samples of men with high concentrations of the same antibody protein, they found no such association.
The researchers were unable to explain why the antibody lowered tumor risk in women, but not men. Yet, while of only borderline significance, when researchers combined the sexes, elevated levels of total IgE and allergen-specific IgE showed a reduced risk for glioblastoma and glioma.
Schwartzbaum and her team provide several plausible theories to explain how allergies could be a protection against brain tumors.
The one that stood out to me was that allergy symptoms could trigger IgE leading to the elimination of potentially mutagenic foreign particles.
What this essentially means is that if a parasite or another type of pathogen that has the ability to cause cellular mutations happens to enter the body it would triggers an allergic reaction. When that event occurs, the antibody IgE would get rid of it, thereby stopping development of brain cancer before it starts.
The results of Schwartbaum's study suggest that timing could be important part of the cancer prevention process. Case in point: when they looked at serum samples from patients collected 20 years before tumor diagnosis, those testing positive for total IgE was associated with borderline or statistically significantly decreased risk of glioma and glioblastoma.
Put another way, testing positive for IgE could lower the risk of developing brain tumors 20 years later, but as a person approaches the time of cancer diagnosis, the less effective the antibody becomes. Theirs was the first team to make such an observation.
Based on the findings of their study, Schwartzbaum and her team wrote: "[W]e found that allergen-specific and total IgE may be simultaneously related to glioblastoma and glioma risk."
Acknowledging the need for additional research they went on to say:"Whether this mechanism represents a form of immune surveillance or is a correlate of serum IgE concentration remains to be determined."
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Schwartzbaum J, Ding B, Johannesen TB, Osnes LT, Karavodin L, Ahlbom A, Feychting M, & Grimsrud TK (2012). Association Between Prediagnostic IgE Levels and Risk of Glioma. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 104 (16), 1251-9 PMID: 22855780
"Allergy Sufferers Have Lower Cancer Risk, Study" copyright 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.