by Sara Vance, Nutritionist & Author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan
Just as the cold and flu season is winding down – allergy season is gearing up. Due to a warmer than usual February and March, it is looking like Spring 2017 will unfortunately be a robust allergy season.
Most people think that if you have allergies, you are just ‘stuck with them’, so you may as well just stock up on the antihistamines and Advil. I certainly used to believe it myself too…until I no longer needed them any more. I went from being allergic to “everything” (my nickname was “The Bubble Girl”), to not suffering any more.
What if allergies weren’t something that we were stuck with – what if we could actually heal from allergies…
“Most people look at allergies as symptoms that get treated with drugs. I’m here to help you think of allergies in a new way, so you overcome them by understanding their root causes.” says The Allergy Solution author, Dr. Leo Galland. So rather than just popping antihistamines to deal with the symptoms for the rest of our lives – we should be looking for the root of the problem, and figuring out WHY we are reacting. But the issue with that approach, is that it can take a little time, experience, and investigative work.
According to Dr. Clifford Bassett in The New Allergy Solution – although “there may be no ‘cure’ for your allergy, in many cases it can be preventable.” He believes that “nearly all cases of allergies are treatable…with a program that includes diet, exercise, de-stressing, and overall health awareness (and proper medication).” He says that “my patients want more than just to sneeze less, they want to garden again and partake in the activities that they love and that make life enjoyable.”
But before we get to the cause, let’s take a step back and cover the basics.
An allergic reaction happens when the immune system is exposed to and reacts to a trigger (the antigen or allergen), causing symptoms – inflammation, redness, swelling, rashes, nasal symptoms, etc. Typically, an allergic reaction does not occur on the first exposure to the allergen – it happens on subsequent exposures. Dr. Leo Galland says that there can be a genetic component to allergies, but that the exponential rise in allergies is due largely to environmental factors – such as increases in pollution, toxins, changes in seasonal temperatures and the like. He says there usually is an “antecedent” to the allergic reaction – exposure to a toxin, mold, pollen, an infection, nutrient deficiencies, microbiome depletion (as with antibiotic use), or stress.
An allergic reaction sets off the body’s inflammation response. Allergy symptoms can be uncomfortable and annoying like the runny nose, itchy eyes with dark circles under them, and skin issues. But for some, allergies can also be very severe, and even be life-threatening – such as those that can lead to anaphylactic shock – such as peanut, shellfish, and bee sting allergies.
Chronic inflammation is at the heart of allergies, autoimmunity, and most other major diseases. According to this article by Dr. Mercola, chronic inflammation affects every aspect of your health.
That is the million dollar question. If you struggle with allergies – you are not alone, it is estimated that over 1 billion people suffer with allergies, with 50 billion of those people in the United States alone. Today allergies affect 30% of adults, and up to 40% of kids – it is the most common health condition affecting kids today! But just 50 years ago, allergies were relatively rare – affecting only about 1 in 30 people. So why are so many people suffering from allergies today? We don’t know for sure why allergies are rising so fast – but these are some the potential theories:
Although seasonal allergies are often considered a singular condition, could those seasonal sniffles and sneezing be a sign of a deeper issue brewing? Dr. Leo Galland, says allergies could be the underlying mechanism for a long list of other symptoms including chronic pain, migraines, depression, fatigue, weight gain, ADHD, and other conditions. In The New Fat Flush Plan, Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, has a similar view as Dr. Galland, saying that allergy “symptoms include not only the typical runny nose, but also stomachaches, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, depression, or anxiety, and yes, weight gain. Allergies and weight gain and allergies have a cyclical relationship. Allergies make fat cells larger, and fat cells in turn create a type of inflammation that intensifies allergic reactions.”
According to Robyn O’Bryan, in her best selling book The Unhealthy Truth, allergies are just the “tip of the iceberg…they’re a warning sign from our kids’ immune systems that something is wrong with our food supply. This toxic food supply has not only created an allergy epidemic, but is linked to other health problems such as asthma, autism, ADHD, and behvioral difficulties.” Robyn O’Bryan, who became an advocate for improved food and environmental health systems after her child suffered a life-threatening food allergy – she views allergies as “canaries in the coal mine” and is demanding change in our food system.
When I was a kid, I used to suffer from terrible seasonal allergies – Spring, Fall, as well as allergies to animals, dust mites, and other year round allergies. I remember that one of my Allergy Doctors called me “the Bubble Girl” when I was a kid – because I reacted to so many things, that short of living in a bubble – I was just going to have to deal with them. So I used to just pop antihistamines all the time. I thought nothing of it, but….are antihistamines safe?
According to a 2015 study – a strong link to developing dementia was found for certain antihistamines and other medications that fall into a class called anticholinergics. Find a list of anticholinergic medications here – the higher the score, the more risky the medication. A score of 1 is a possible anticholinergic, a score of 2 or 3 is a definite anticholinergic – and according to a study published in Neurology, “each definite anticholinergic may increase the risk of cognitive impairment by 46% over 6 years.”
This class of drugs called anticholinergics act on a brain chemical called acetylcholine – which is a very important neurotransmitter for memory and recall. Acetylcholine declines with age anyway – so taking this class of drugs could hasten the decline. Acetylcholine is also important for muscle contraction and gastrointestinal motility – so long term use of these meds could potentially also be linked to constipation and other digestive disorders.
The trouble is, antihistamines like Benadryl can serve a very important role – they help to quickly turn off an immune reaction to an allergen when someone is experiencing an allergy attack – possibly even saving lives when someone is having a bad attack. So it can be an important tool in the arsenal of someone with an allergy. But just be aware that because it is considered a class 3 anticholinergic – using it habitually for several years could potentially raise the risk of developing dementia later in life (read: Common anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl linked to increased dementia risk).
There are a number of natural alternatives to conventional allergy medications. If you suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms and want an alternative to an anticholinergic medication – consider trying essential oils, herbal, or homeopathic remedies:
If allergies require a trigger – then removing as many of those triggers or antigens is important for reducing the reactions. There are several things that are good to eliminate if you struggle with asthma and allergies. Not only can many of the following things trigger allergies – many of them are considered hormone interrupters too:
Some replacements for the above products:
When I was diagnosed with allergies – I was told that despite being allergic to pretty much everything, that at least fortunately – I had no food allergies. I was very relieved to not have food allergies. But it was ironically decades later after I did a food elimination diet that my seasonal and environmental allergies finally resolved. Finally decades “just dealing” with the itchy eyes, runny nose, chronic sinus issues, chronic pain…it just went away, and never came back!
So why might a food elimination diet help with seasonal allergies you might be wondering?
The foundation of our immune system is in our digestive tract. According to this article, “The crucial position of the gastrointestinal system is testified by the huge amount of immune cells that reside within it. Indeed, gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the prominent part of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) and represents almost 70% of the entire immune system; moreover, about 80% of plasma cells [mainly immunoglobulin A (IgA)-bearing cells] reside in GALT. The gastrointestinal system plays a key role in the complex mechanisms of immunoregulation. The importance of immune modulation at the gastrointestinal level can be understood easily, considering that approximately 70% of the entire immune system is found in this site and that in the lamina propria there are about 80% of all plasma cells responsible for IgA antibody production ”
And with the overuse of antibiotics, aantibacterial soaps, GMOs and pesticide laden foods, high levels of stress, the use of prescription and non-prescription medications, and more – our digestive systems and microbiome are being assaulted day in and day out. When the wall of our gut is what is called “leaky” then we are going to be more prone to inflammation and allergic responses. So it is important to heal and seal the gut wall, so we become less reactive to the foods we eat and our environments.
When we are eating foods that are creating an inflammatory response in our body – that can cause the body to be more reactive to not only those offending foods – but also other potential allergens. So one of the first things to try when trying to heal from the root cause is an elimination diet. Dr. Galland calls it the “Three Day Power Wash.” The goal of the power wash is to increase nutrient intake, and remove potential allergic triggers. Almost any food can cause hidden allergies – but the most common food intolerances generally include the following (Dr. Galland’s “Power Wash” eliminates these foods and a few others):
The liver also plays a very important role in our immune system as well – in Chinese medicine, it is called “the general of the army” because the health of our liver dictates whether or not so many different biochemical processes are working well or not. Ann Louise Gittleman says that bile, which is produced in the liver, is critical to a healthy immune response. In this article she says that “There is already a 75% bile deficiency by the time allergies, arthritis, and inflammation in joints and muscles develop. By the time cancer or chronic illness is diagnosed, a whopping 90% deficit has already occurred.” Produced in the liver, bile is stored in the gallbladder so it can be released as needed – generally when we consume a meal. When the liver and gallbladder are not working optimally, there can be bile stagnation, this can lead to poor digestion, allergies, weight imbalances, and a number of health issues. The New Fat Flush Plan explains in detail how to improve bile flow, liver & digestive health – which affects our overall health.
Today, I am no longer the “Bubble Girl.” I haven’t been bothered by allergies or needed allergy medication in the past 6+ years. Some might say I finally just “grew out of them,” and in many cases – people can grow out of allergies later in life. I also did get years of immunotherapy (allergy shots), and that probably also helped lessen my allergies as well. But I suffered from seasonal allergies even after finishing my immunotherapy, well into my adulthood – but after giving up gluten and eating a much less inflammatory diet (less sugars, more omega 3 fats, etc), I finally was able to stop needing antihistamines in the Fall and Springtime.
So although the traditional allergy testing didn’t identify any ‘food allergies‘ – I found through an elimination diet (as well as an ALCAT food intolerance test later) that certain foods were linked to chronic and systemic inflammation in my body – which very likely made me more reactive to my environment and was an antecedent or trigger for my “seasonal” allergens.
And as a bonus – by giving up gluten, I also got rid of my chronic aches and pains (and stopped popping Advil like it was candy too) – systemic inflammation is closely linked to pain. I also found my mood stabilized as well – which makes sense, as depression and other mood imbalances are now thought to be inflammation in the brain (read more).
So I always ask people – would you be willing to give an elimination diet a try – for just 3 weeks? How about just 3 days as Dr. Galland suggests for his Power Wash? I am surprised by how much resistance I get when I suggest an elimination diet. The question you have to ask, is: What do you have to lose? I had a lot to lose – I lost my allergies, chronic pain, headaches, mood swings, and more. You might even just lose those few extra stubborn pounds that have been hanging on. An elimination diet does not always have to be forever. Sometimes even foods that were causing a reaction can be brought back into the diet after the digestive tract is healed, and nutrient deficiences are replenished. Time will tell. Usually foods that can be brought back into the diet are best done only on limited basis. But often, people who feel better after removing an offending food – don’t want to reintroduce it anyway – because they would prefer to not go back to feeling like crap again.
Although not all allergies can be “cured” – many can be greatly lessened by some investigative work, and some diet & lifestyle shifts.
Learn more about food intolerances, elimination diets, digestive health, and more – in my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan – available on amazon.com.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
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