Allergies - A Natural Approach
Progress of an Allergy
Allergies, Food Intolerances and Chemical Sensitivities
Allergies, food intolerances and chemical sensitivities are often lumped together under the heading of allergies, but this is not strictly correct. The mechanisms of true allergies and the other two are different, and allergies are often much faster in onset – and sometimes much more severe as well. The increasingly well known phenomenon of peanut allergy is a case in point; for people with this problem, exposure to even minute quantities of peanuts can cause reactions severe enough to be life-threatening.
Also, allergies generally involve a particular part of the immune system (immunoglobulin E, IgE for short) and the other two generally do not.
True allergies to common substances, particularly foods, can be a very serious matter. This is not to say that natural methods of dealing with them cannot help, but qualified medical supervision is essential in this case. Somewhere in between are problems such as allergic rhinitis (the generalised term for hay fever, because other things than pollen can cause the same symptoms) which can make you very miserable indeed but is unlikely to threaten your life.
Food intolerances are thought by some to involve a different form of immunoglobulin, IgG, but the jury is still out. One problem with diagnosis of food intolerance is that most people react to a lesser extent to the foods that often cause symptoms of intolerance. For example, a fair number of people have unpleasant symptoms after eating tomatoes; but many people, if they eat large quantities of tomatoes, or tomatoes particularly high in the irritant substances (usually green ones) get symptoms of intolerance even if they do not in normal circumstances.
For the remainder of this article, I am going to use the term “allergies” to include the other two classes of problem. This is consistent with normal conversational usage, in any event.
Allergies can cause dozens of different symptoms, often not obviously related to allergy and of many types; mental, emotional and physical. These can include eczema, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), asthma, digestive problems, hyperactivity, panic attacks, depression, dizziness, catarrh, fatigue, palpitations, tinnitus, weight gain, oedema and high blood pressure. This is not an exhaustive list, and one complication is that just about all of these problems can have other causes.
There are several possible causes for allergies; some of them are set out below:
Weak and/or overstressed adrenal glands
The adrenal glands are connected with the stress response; in fact they are the glands largely responsible for the body’s response to stress. In this context, it doesn’t matter all that much whether the stress is physical, mental or emotional – although physical stress (if not too prolonged or too frequent) tends to cause less disruption to the body’s systems than the other two. The reason is that the physiological changes in the body caused by stress are precisely those needed to respond to physical challenges. This is not surprising; the old chestnut that the stress response is the “fight or flight” response is in fact fairly accurate. As an example, one of the effects of adrenalin, otherwise known as epinephrine, is to raise blood sugar levels; heavy exercise will burn this off and make it less necessary for the pancreas to secrete more insulin.
Continual stress, particularly when the stress response is inappropriate to the cause of the stress, can put a strain on the adrenal glands. The adrenals not only produce adrenalin; they also produce cortisol, whose main function is to suppress the immune system and therefore the inflammatory response. This is also logical in the context of the function of adrenalin. To put it simply, if you are at risk of becoming a lion’s dinner in the next few minutes it is somewhat less important for your body to use energy fighting infections. Time to sort that out later.
This is probably the reason why people who put their bodies under extreme stress tend to become ill afterwards, a well known problem for competitive long-distance runners.
As well as stress, stimulants such as caffeine and large amounts of sugar tend to suppress the adrenals as well. So do large amounts of alcohol. The likely cause of the latter two is that sugar and alcohol require nutrients to deal with. Caffeine, and of course stronger stimulants (most of which are controlled substances), cause the problem by increasing adrenalin output.
Sugar can also cause an imbalance in intestinal flora, specifically too much of a fungus called Candida albicans, which can cause many of the symptoms associated with food intolerances. This is an example of how diet can influence health by more than one route, and the details are set out below.
Vaccines and other drugs
There is some evidence that the stress on the immune system caused by some vaccines, particularly if several vaccines are given at the same time, can lead to food intolerance and allergy problems. Antibiotics can also cause this sort of problem, largely by their effect on intestinal flora, and corticosteroids can cause immune system problems. As an example, thrush (an overgrowth of yeasts and fungi on the mucous membranes) is a known side effect of both antibiotics and steroids. Exposure to low levels of toxic chemicals (working in a badly-run paint shop, for example) and viral infections can also cause this sort of problem. As an example, glandular fever often takes months for recovery.
This is not something you can do much about if it’s your problem that you are thinking about, but it bears mentioning. It is usually thought that babies should be fed exclusively milk – and preferably breast milk – until the age of six months and then solid food gradually introduced. But there are other factors. Babies under one year old have digestive systems that don’t tolerate cows’ milk and wheat (or rye, but this is much less common) too well, so ideally one would keep these out of the diet until that time. Acceptable substitutes for these common foods include oat-based products and goats’ milk, which has a different molecular structure to cows’ milk.
This sort of problem can lead to gluten and wheat intolerance and also to lactose intolerance. In addition, many adults have problems with lactose, the sugar in milk. The problem here is that people do not produce their own lactase (the lactose-digesting enzyme) after the age of four at the latest. Normally, intestinal bacteria take up the slack but this doesn’t always work too well.
All of these problems can lead to inflammation of the intestinal wall, which as a consequence lets through into the bloodstream things it shouldn’t. This in turn leads to a stressed immune system.
Chemicals in food
This one is fairly simple. Artificial chemicals, added to food during production of the basic foods or during processing into ready-made foods, are substances to which the body is not adapted at all (there has been nowhere near enough time for genetic adaptation) and can lead to low-level toxicity and also a stressed system, particularly the liver. There are actually a large number of toxins naturally present in foods, but our bodies already know how to deal with them having done so for millions of years. The solution is simple; avoid food additives as far as possible. It ought to be noted, however, that some of these chemicals are actually useful; for example, bacon would be extremely dangerous without its nitrates.
This is an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans in the body cavities. Women are more prone to this problem than men; the reason I won’t be too graphic about in the interests of good taste, but suffice it to say that women have one more of these than do men. The biggest problem, however, is candida infestation in the large intestine and also in the small intestine in severe cases. This leads to various problems, both because the organism creates toxins of its own but also because it makes the intestinal lining excessively porous, leading to immune system over-stimulation.
Candidiasis is caused, or at least made worse, by antibiotics, corticosteroids and excessive sugar in the diet.
Eliminate (at least for a while) the most common problem foods; cows’ milk, wheat products, food additives, sugar and caffeine. This may have to be done slowly; withdrawal symptoms are a distinct possibility.
Eat organic foods if you can obtain and afford them.
Consider candidiasis as a possible source of your symptoms. There are many guides about this problem, including on this website.
Supplements: Vitamin A and zinc improve skin and membrane condition. Vitamin B5 and vitamin C in large amounts (500mg and at least 1 gram daily) improve adrenal function. B complex aids B5 and C. Magnesium and to some extent calcium can relieve cramp and intestinal griping. Selenium is anti-oxidant, helping toxin removal, and to some extent anti-inflammatory. It also removes heavy metals, which can contribute to this sort of problem. Essential fatty acids from fish oil and evening primrose or starflower oil are strongly anti-inflammatory. Pine bark and grape seed extracts are anti-inflammatory, particularly in the breathing passages and around the eyes. And finally, the herb Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) or other immune-modulating herbs can be of benefit.