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What Is An Allergy?
Allergies are an inflammatory response that the body launches against invading pathogens which it deems foreign and potentially harmful to the body. An allergy indicates an immune response that specifically involves the production of antibodies. An allergic reaction can be classified as either an immediate hypersensitivity or a delayed hypersensitivity. The former is what most of us are familiar with e.g: seasonal allergies or the infamous peanut allergy. When the allergen is inhaled or consumed, symptoms develop very quickly over a span of minutes and this type of allergic reaction can result in a life threatening anaphylatic reaction mediated by the IgE antibody. The latter kind of allergy, delayed hypersensitivity involves the IgG antibody and usually takes hours to days for a reaction to occur. This is typically seen in delayed allergy responses to an ingested food.
Too often, the term "allergy" is used without a proper understanding of what is entailed. The simple presence of symptoms e.g: headache, lethargy, bloating after consuming a food does not necessarily indicate an allergy. In such cases, it might be a food sensitivity or food intolerance. To clarify, an allergy must demonstrate the involvement of antibodies.
Why Do Allergies Develop?
Allergies develop due to a multitude of factors such as increased environmental pollutants, greater urban living conditions and a complex interplay between immune system regulation and digestive function. Allergies such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, eczema do have a hereditary component but
that being said, being genetically predisposed to allergies doesn't mean one will be subject to the allergy for the rest of their life. It only indicates the potential to develop allergies. There has also been a positive correlation between early weaning (taking your baby off breast milk and introducing solid foods) and the development of allergies later on in life.
It is still unclear why some people only develop allergies later on in life while some are able to outgrow their childhood allergies. A reasonable explanation is, through continued repeated exposure to the allergen, the immune system gradually becomes sensitized to it. This is why food allergies and sensitivities develop among the foods that have become staples in our diet e.g: corn, soy, dairy, wheat etc. On the other hand, outgrowing an allergy is usually due to multiple factors which has allowed the immune system to desensitize itself to the allergen. Another reason we develop "new" allergies is due to a concept known as "cross reactivity". For example an allergy to dust mites may also cause one to be allergic to crustaceans such as shrimp due to the presence of similar proteins in both dust mites and crustaceans.
Gut Health And The Development of Allergies
Believe it or not, 80% of your immune system lies in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This is why the health of our GI tract plays such an important role in our immunity. The GI tract has multiple mechanisms in place to deal with the constant barrage of foreign substances coming in contact with it. 1) The surface of the GI tract as a physical barrier 2) The secretion of IgA - a type of antibody that lines the GI tract 3) The presence of immune cells that engulf foreign pathogens 4) T Regulatory cells - a type of immune cell which serves to modulate the immune system. If these mechanisms are in place and functioning optimally, then inflammation and allergic responses are kept under control.
Our GI health can be compromised by several factors such as a poor diet and lifestyle; viral and bacterial infections; antibiotic use; food allergies. A poor diet and lifestyle not only causes greater inflammation but it can lead to malnutrition which alters the balance of commensal "good" vs pathogenic "bad" bacteria (GI flora) in our GI tract. In a study conducted in malnourished children, it was found that their GI flora was significantly altered and characterized by greater inflammation, impaired immunity and greater bacterial growth. Alteration of the GI flora also results from frequent antibiotic usage which doesn't discriminate against commensal vs pathogenic GI bacteria. Once GI health is compromised, the immune system then begins to run awry with a gradual weakening of the immune system. Foreign substances that were previously well tolerated are now prime targets of the immune system. The immune system is now in a weakened yet highly reactive state.
What You Can Do To Minimize Allergies
1) Avoidance of the allergen.
2) Use HEPA/air filters wherever possible.
3) Use a Netipot for manual flushing to physically remove allergen particles from the nasal passages.
4) If allergic to molds, consider using a dehumidifier in the affected room.
5) Vitamin C, Quercetin, Stinging Nettles - Inhibits the allergic immune response.
6) Antioxidants such as berries, Vitamins A, C, E - Strengthen cell walls thereby reducing allergic response.
7) Support the adrenal glands -Stress management, herbal support etc.
8) Avoidance of food until GI tract is healed and proper immune system function has been reestablished.
9) Rotation diet - Concept is to rotate through the different food groups every couple of days so the body does not get sensitized to any one food group.
10) Repairing the GI tract and strengthen digestive function: Probiotics, L-glutamine, fermented foods, adequate fiber, bitter foods/herbs.
11) From the mental-emotional standpoint, allergies can be viewed as an onslaught to the body where the individual perceives the external world and the environment as a threat. Is this something you are aware of? Psychotherapy such as counselling and clinical hypnotherapy is useful in such a scenario.
Sometimes, the above measures may be insufficient and the individual may continue to suffer from allergies. This is where clinical allergy desensitization should be considered where increasing dosages of the allergen are dosed orally allowing the individual to build up a tolerance to the allergen. For more information on allergy desensitization and how it can help you, please contact the clinic.
1) Gupta et al. Metagenome of the gut of a malnourished child. Gut Pathogens 2011, 3:7
2) Marlies Feijen, Jorrit Gerritsen and Dirkje S Postma. Genetics of allergic disease. British Medical Bulletin 2000;56 (No. 4)
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