The Process That Causes Allergic Reactions May Be Critical For Our Survival

Image by Boris Jovanovic / Stocksy

It is pretty obvious that our bodies are incredibly adaptable to our circumstances, but new research suggests that even our allergies can be a sign of strength, not weakness.

It turns out, the process that elicits an allergic reaction (ugh) is actually lifesaving. During an allergic reaction, mast cells release a chemical called histamine; this is what creates annoying symptoms like sneezing or a runny nose—the exact symptoms that allergy medications work hard to block. Daniele Piomelli, Ph.D., who led the study, tells ScienceDaily the "bad guys" in allergies may not be so bad—in fact, they are necessary.

The study, which came out of the University of California, Irvine, found that during periods of fasting or any strenuous situation without food, the body releases histamine from mast cells in the gut. This chemical prompts the release of oleoylethanolamide (OEA). Previously, scientists were under the impression that the main role of OEA was to prevent feelings of hunger, but this study found that OEA actually triggers the creation and release of ketone bodies, molecules critical to keeping the brain active during any time that our bodies are in survival mode.

No need to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty details to understand how cool this is, though—all you need to know is that mast cells, histamine, and OEA allow us to do super-human things like run marathons and function without food for longer periods of time. Not that we always want to put ourselves in these situations, but if you do find yourself in survival mode—even if that just means dealing with itchy eyes or a runny nose while spending an afternoon in a park—you can thank your body for keeping you alive.

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