If you visit your neighbourhood pharmacy you may be surprised to see how many shelves are lined with allergy products. Over-the-counter medications offering relief from stuffy noses and itchy eyes seem to indicate an increasingly allergy-prone population.
Indeed, the number of people suffering from allergies has increased, especially in children where the number has nearly doubled in the last decade alone.
Although conservative estimates tell us that more than 30 percent of the North American population suffers from allergies, many experts believe the number is higher. This is probably because many allergic problems go undetected even by those individuals suffering from the symptoms. This is particularly true of food allergies, probably one of the most commonly undiagnosed conditions in North America.
The first sign of allergic tendencies seem to occur in infants in the form of eczema (atopic dermatitis). Toddlers with eczema and food allergies often go on to develop other allergy-based conditions such as hay fever and asthma. Seldom do we see environmental allergies (reactions to pollen, dust, mites, etc.) in infancy; instead these appear later in childhood.
So What’s Going On?
An allergy is really an overreaction of the immune system to an otherwise harmless substance. The substance may only be pet dander or pollen to you, but to your body, it’s a toxin. In response to this, your immune system’s alarm tells mast cells to release histamines and other chemicals into the bloodstream in order to destroy all the toxins that have entered the body.
One of the main causes of this is an impaired immune system, which substantially increases the risk of allergic reactions. This problem not only lies with mast cell instability leading to histamine release but more importantly with an oversensitive alarm system. The alarm-sensing apparatus of the immune system controlled by the ratio of T helper to T suppressor cells is skewed too much toward T helper cells. In other words too many T helper cells cause the immune system to overreact to otherwise harmless substances.
Find the Balance
The first critical thing in any health condition is proper diagnosis. Seeing a health care physician who deals holistically with allergies is a good first step. A natural health practitioner will properly identify possible food allergies, assess the quality of your diet, and get a read on the overall health of your immune system. Once food-allergy assessment is complete and contributing foods have been removed, the treatment steps can follow.
In my own practice, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of children with asthma. Many observers speculate that this is, in part, due to a rise in air pollution. But here’s the kicker–despite the fact that there have been significant improvements in air quality over the last two decades, the occurrence of asthma has soared.
Scientists observed the same findings when comparing the incidence of asthma in East and West Germany after the fall of communism. Even though the air and water quality was significantly worse in East Germany, the occurrence of asthma was considerably lower.
The conclusion was that the difference was diet. Western diets are high in meats giving us a higher intake of saturated fats and a lower intake of essential fatty acids such as omega-3. Non-Western countries who don’t have the same availability of meat products, because of economics, settle for a more vegetarian/fish diet, which is higher in essential fatty acids and lower in saturated fats. The result is an overall reduction in inflammation throughout the body and thus a reduced incidence of allergies, including asthma.
Reduce consumption of meat products and increase consumption of cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring, along with fresh organic fruits and vegetables.
Supplement with a stable omega-3 oil containing both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These omega-3 components have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory stabilizing properties as well as numerous other health benefits.
Mind Your Ts
A second and vital step when treating allergies is immune system modulation. We need to help stabilize mast cells (the cells lining mucous membranes that release histamines) and tweak the alarm system so it’s not so sensitive (ratio of T helper to T suppressor cells).
Supplement with the bioflavonoid quercetin, which has been shown to be effective in individuals suffering from allergies. Quercetin seems to inhibit the release of histamines and other inflammatory compounds from mast cells, thus reducing the allergic/inflammatory response. When taking quercetin make sure it’s combined with bromelain, the anti-inflammatory enzyme from pineapple, which will enhance the absorption and effectiveness of quercetin.
Take vitamin C, a staple in any allergy treatment program, since it has so many beneficial functions. Vitamin C not only acts as an antioxidant helping to reduce allergic reactions but it also has mast-cell-stabilizing properties that reduce histamine release.
The oral administration of thymus extract via double-blind clinical trials has shown promising results in its ability to improve the symptoms and course of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, eczema, and food allergies. It is believed that the thymus extracts are effectively stabilizing the imbalance of T helper to T suppressor cells. The end result seems to be a less sensitive physiological alarm system and thus a reduction in overall allergic reactivity.
Putting an end to allergies involves a comprehensive plan that includes a proper assessment of the offending agents, a change in dietary lifestyle, and proper use of studied nutritional supplements. With the help of your health care provider you can get relief from allergies while reducing and even avoiding the use of mainstream medications.