Rising carbon dioxide levels associated with global warming could lead to an increase in allergies to ragweed and other plants by mid-century, according to Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School. His study found that ragweed grown in an atmosphere with double the current carbon dioxide levels produced 61 percent more pollen than normal. A doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to occur between 2050 and 2100.

Ragweed is one of the most common allergens. The researchers grew ragweed plants from seeds in two different enclosed environments. One was maintained at 350 parts carbon dioxide to a million parts air, which is about the current level. The other was maintained at 700 parts carbon dioxide to a million parts air. ?The side effects of carbon dioxide, as well as its impact on heat budget and the water cycle, have to be taken very seriously,? says Epstein. ?I believe this study can help us understand the true costs of burning fossil fuels.?

In a similar study conducted outdoors in North Carolina, excess carbon dioxide was pumped into a pine forest, tripling the number of pine cones and seeds. ?It is a very important study because it shows how carbon dioxide affects different plant parts, Epstein says.

In addition to producing more allergens, increased carbon dioxide could alter the relationships among different plants, encouraging the growth of weeds. ?Rising carbon dioxide levels may skew the whole ecological community by affecting reproductive power,? Epstein says. ?Carbon dioxide is greater than it has been for 420,000 years. We?re outside the envelope, we?re pushing the envelope on the terrestrial feedback mechanisms that have drawn down carbon dioxide. This all points to our need to change our energy diet.?

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Millions of people mistakenly believe they are allergic to some types of food. The market analyst Datamonitor found that one in three people believe they have a food allergy, but less than 2% of them really do.

This suggests that many people are avoiding certain types of food unnecessarily, depriving themselves of valuable nutrients in the process. Part of the problem is people are diagnosing themselves without ever seeing their doctor.

The researchers say many people think they are suffering from a food allergy, when what they actually have is a food intolerance. A true food allergy is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system. In its most extreme form this leads to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock which requires emergency treatment with the hormone adrenaline.

A food intolerance does not trigger a life-threatening immunological response, but can produce symptoms such as asthma, eczema or migraines. The most common triggers for true food allergies are peanuts, milk and seafood. Allergies can be triggered by as little as 1/1,000th of a peanut, and the allergy rate among children is slightly higher than it is among adults.

However, a far greater percentage of children are misdiagnosed as having a food allergy. Also, research shows that most children will outgrow their allergies. Silvia Anton of Datamonitor says, ?As society continues to become more health conscious, more and more people are self-diagnosing that they, or indeed their children have a food allergy, and are eliminating certain food types from their diet.?

Muriel Simmons of the British Allergy Foundation agrees that food intolerance is confused with food allergy, but doesn?t think it?s a bad thing if people stop eating food that doesn?t agree with them, even if it is simply an intolerance, rather than an allergy. She says, ?Nobody is going to cut something out of their diet without a reason, and if the body does not like something it is better to avoid it.?

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