This is very difficult to write, not just because it is looking to the future, but because that future looks rather bleak.
Atopic disease tendency is mostly transmitted by ‘inheritance of acquired characters’; in this case, by passing antibodies from mother to foetus in late pregnancy and later, through maternal milk. There are also genetic aspects of atopic disease that are passed on from both parents to their offspring and these aspects include type and severity of disease symptoms that will result from the atopic tendency.
A first generation fed on formula milk will present a typical range of symptoms which may include mild eczema, hay-fever, and asthma. A woman from this first generation may have an altered uterine environment, for gestation of her offspring, and such offspring may present a more complex picture of atopic symptoms that may include rheumatoid arthritis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, at different stages of their lives. We are currently learning what trials 4th and 5th generation atopic children have to face.
Without an identified ‘off’ switch, we appear to have a disease process that passes from mother to child, expressing different symptoms according to normal genetic inheritance from generation to generation, and with each successive generation becoming more and more affected by symptoms that are both physical and mental. To date, we have mostly palliative treatment for atopic symptoms. We have no certain cures. (But see AHSCT)
In her book ‘Milk Matters’, Maureen Minchin points to possible mechanisms that may, in time, enable the immune system to self-correct through agents contained in breast milk.
The impact of feeding dairy products to neonates will, at some point, impact on our ability to feed ourselves. As food intolerances develop, we need to move to eating alternative foods, or take large doses of corticosteroids. There are strict limits on the range of crops that can be grown in northern European countries and we may, eventually, need to produce alternatives to beef and dairy products, and cereal crops, as a greater and greater proportion of the population become affected by long-term illness through reaction to common foods.
The economic implications of switching agricultural systems from one series of crops and animal husbandry to another would rapidly increase the already significant number of suicides among farming communities. Might we end up raising ostriches and kangaroos as key sources of meat? What would replace wheat and, possibly, other cereals?
If we fail to control the development of atopic disease, our civilisation will likely be brought to its knees. Those who are too poor or too distant to have adopted the western approach to the feeding of newborn children will continue in the lifestyle they have always known and, in due course, the meek shall inherit the Earth.