Are you someone who struggles through the spring and fall pollen seasons? Do you have to avoid certain foods because you are allergic to them? Does your household lack pets because a family member is allergic to dogs or cats? It turns out, you might be able to blame those allergies on your distant ancestors – the Neanderthals.
Genealogists who have put together their medical family trees may have a clear idea of the diseases and disorders that “run in the family”. Sometimes, those medical issues can be connected to a specific gene that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Of course, that information is only as good as modern research about those specific ailments.
There are many people who suffer from allergies. There is no clear answer that dictates whether or not a person will be allergic to dust, pollen, or certain foods. Modern medical science has yet to discover exactly what causes an allergy to happen, and there is no cure for allergies.
One thing we do know, however, is that relationships between humans and Neanderthals may be at the root of modern allergies. Previous discoveries verified that modern humans and Neanderthals, who were alive at the same time and in the same place, did sometimes produce offspring together. One result is that all non-Africans today carry somewhere between 1% and 6% of Neanderthal DNA.
A more recent discovery found that there are three genes that are among the most common strands of Neanderthal DNA that is found in modern humans. Those particular genes must have provided an evolutionary advantage. A study done by researchers at 23andMe indicates that changes in toll-like receptor (TLR) genes enabled modern humans to withstand bacteria, fungi, and parasites that were in their environment.
Those same genes, TLR1, TLR6, and TLR10, also provided a distinct disadvantage. Those three genes are associated with asthma, hay fever, and other allergies. The same genes that provided a boost to the immune systems of modern humans also resulted in giving humans an overactive immune system.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases. They point out that an allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. Those substances are called allergens. The symptoms that result after an exposure to an allergen is called an allergic reaction.
Other studies also note that those specific genes have been handed down from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some researchers are not entirely convinced that the Neanderthal’s gave us allergies, but they do agree that those genes boosted the immune system of modern humans.
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