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Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances

There are many types of allergies. Some people are allergic to animal dander, some to foods and many react to molds and pollens. Many individuals react to chemicals in the environment as well.

What is an Allergy?
An allergy is an adverse reaction in which the immune system is involved. In one type of allergic reaction, the immune system recognizes a protein in the blood as foreign, and sends IgE antibodies to get rid of it. The IgE antibodies bind to and break down the foreign material. This type of reaction occurs immediately, and may be dramatic (e.g. swelling of lips, throat closing, hives etc.). An example of this type of reaction is a food allergy such as with peanuts, strawberries and shellfish.

In the case of seasonal allergies histamines are released producing symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing. In the body histamines are made by and stored inside mast cells. Mast cells may be found in mucous membranes (such as the lining of the nose), and help provide part of the first line of defense your body has against invasion. When a mast cell comes in contact with something foreign (such as some animal dander or pollen), it bursts open releasing histamine. It is the histamine, which then signals your body to produce more mucous. Mucous contains another type of antibody known as IgA. IgA is another part of your body's first defense against attack. It binds to foreign material and helps to break it down (similar to IgE).

What Is The Difference Between An Allergy, A Sensitivity And An Intolerance?
A sensitivity is considered any adverse or unusual response to a substance, which is not IgE mediated or psychological. This type of reaction tends to involve IgG antibodies, which circulate in the blood similar to IgE. With an intolerance the immune system is not involved in the response at all. These types of reactions may be due to the lack of specific enzymes (e.g. lactose intolerance), they may be psychological or they may be due to irritation to the gastrointestinal tract.

Both sensitivities and intolerances tend to occur with frequently eaten foods (e.g. wheat and dairy) and / or with frequent chemical exposure (cleaning products, lawn chemicals, air pollutants). Unlike an allergy, the onset of symptoms is slow and insidious. A reaction can occur from 30 minutes, up to 2 days after exposure. As well, the severity of the response is directly related to the amount of exposure. For example if you eat a small amount of the offending food, you have a small reaction. If you eat a large amount, you experience a large reaction. This differs from a true allergy. With an IgE (i.e. allergic) response you experience the same reaction every time, whether you eat a little or a lot.

How Do Food Sensitivities Start?
Theories;

  • Our bodies can not evolve fast enough to deal with new foods
  • Some foods are not completely digested causing the body to release endorphins. This results in food cravings and produces a natural high when the food is eaten, and withdrawal symptoms when the food is not.
  • Antibiotics damage the balance of gut bacteria resulting in 'Leaky Gut Syndrome'
  • Genetically altered foods and early weaning damage the intestinal lining resulting in 'Leaky Gut Syndrome'
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
This syndrome occurs when larger molecules get absorbed from the intestines, potentially resulting in an antibody response. This syndrome is associated with stress, early introduction of cow's milk, poor immunity, nutritional deficiencies, inflammatory conditions and an imbalance of gut bacteria. Stress on the liver producing toxic bile may also cause this condition. Some symptoms include bloating, nausea, flatulence, acute gastro-intestinal disease (e.g. IBS), diarrhea, headache, joint pain, sinusitis, fatigue, runny nose and gallbladder pain. This syndrome has also been linked to autoimmune diseases, ADD and ADHD, chronic fatigue, chronic ear infections, arthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, acne and autism.

How Is This Related To My Seasonal Allergies?
Since allergies and sensitivities both involve the immune system (albeit different components of it), together they place a great stress on your body. Your immune system uses several different nutrients and a fair amount of energy when it makes antibodies. Therefore frequent stimulation can cause you to feel fatigued, and deprive other parts of your body of necessary vitamins and minerals. It may also cause you to become more susceptible to infections such as colds and flu's.

What Are My Treatment Options?
Medical doctors treat allergies using the 3 A's:

  1. Avoidance i.e. staying away from the causes of allergies,
  2. Anti-histamines such as Celldane or Reactine,
  3. Allergy shots
Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine offers many solutions for relieving this condition.

Diet Changes: The Elimination diet is commonly used to provide relief and stimulate healing. Foods which are suspected allergens are removed from the diet, and then re-entered systematically at a later date. Shiitake mushrooms, whey protein isolate and colostrums may be eaten as they can help stimulate the immune system. Onions and berries are also good to eat as they contain compounds called bioflavinoids, which help prevent histamines from being released. Finding out which foods trigger a particular response can be very time consuming. Functional medicine tests which measure IgG and IgE reactions are available as well, and may help simplify this process.

Nutritional Supplements Quercetin is the bioflavinoid found in onions and berries, which helps prevent mast cells from bursting. Taking this in supplement form is a good idea, as it is difficult to get enough in the diet. Vitamin C has the same stabilizing effect as quercetin, and can be taken along with it. Bromelain is a component found in pineapple which can help digest proteins. This can be useful as it aids in the complete digestion of food. Vitamin A and E along with zinc are used by the immune system when it make antibodies. Therefore these supplements may also be of value.

Botanical Medicine: Licorice in the dried herb or tincture form (not the stuff you get in convenience stores!) helps heal the digestive tract and supports the immune system. However this herb may increase blood pressure in some individuals, and so should be taken while under the care of a qualified health care practitioner. Siberian ginseng and reishi mushroom also support the immune system and can be useful as well.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: According to this theory of medicine, wind can invade the body and damage the lungs. The lungs are responsible for circulating your body's defensive energies, which protect you from disease. They can also be weakened by inappropriate expression of grief. Herbal formulas (known as patents) can be used to improve the function of the lungs and boost the defensive energies. Acupuncture may be used locally (i.e. around nose and sinuses) and / or distally (i.e. on the hands, legs, back etc) in conjunction with herbs, to achieve the same affect.

Homeopathy: There are many homeopathic remedies which can be helpful in the treatment of this condition. Some of the single remedies are listed below, however combination remedies such as Pollinosan can be very effective as well.

Allium cepa - is useful in instances where there is a clear, burning nasal discharge and profuse tearing. The nasal discharge will often irritate the skin. The person tends to feel better in open air and worse in a warm room.

Euphrasia - is a common remedy and is opposite to allium sepa. It is useful in instances where there is a non-irritating watery discharge from the nose, and copious burning tears. The nasal discharge tends to be worse lying down and in open air.

Sabadilla - is also useful, especially when the person is chilly and there is a copious watery discharge. The nose tends to be red, runny and itchy with spasmodic sneezing. These individuals also feel better in open air and have a constant desire to swallow. Warm food and drinks make them feel better.

The above treatment considerations are intended for informative purposes only and Millennium Health Centre does not propose that they will ensure cure. While some have used the basic information mentioned above to successfully treat themselves, such self-diagnosis and treatment is greatly cautioned. These therapies need to be considered in the greater context of an individual's overall health status, other medical conditions and the use of pharmaceutical medications. Indeed, these treatments must always be considered as to their potential to interact with other botanical and pharmaceutical medications. As such, consultation with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine is strongly advised. Please see our 'Links' page for the O.A.N.D.'s website to locate an N.D. in your area, or call Millennium Health Centre to arrange an appointment.

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