An estimated 30-40% of the world population suffers with one or more allergic conditions. These range in severity from barely noticeable symptoms such as minor skin rash to life-threatening anaphylactic shock often associated with bee stings or nut allergies. Children are disproportionately affected, with 13.4 million hospital or physician visits per year due to allergic rhinitis (hay fever) alone. In the United States, 6 million kids have some kind of food allergy, 8 million have a respiratory allergy, and close to 10 million have a skin allergy, with incidence rates rising exponentially: peanut allergies alone have tripled over the last ten years.
Alarmingly, the World Health Organization now estimates 250,000 asthma deaths occur around the world each year. Many of these deaths are avoidable, and most allergy symptoms are curable, without needing drugs. There is no reason why an allergy sufferer has to be on constant watch to prevent exposure to known allergens, or have to carry an EpiPen or asthma inhaler to treat the symptoms. Let’s have a closer look at the allergy mechanism to understand how allergies form and how they cause so much trouble.
How Allergies Form
An ‘allergy’ happens when your body’s natural immune system interprets a non-lethal substance (allergen) as a threat and mounts an over-zealous defence to neutralize it. This defence can take many forms, but usually involves some kind of inflammation and/or bodily secretion. These symptoms can be painful (as with abdominal cramping for certain food allergies) and also interfere with normal bodily function(s) as in the case of bronchial swelling with asthma. In all cases, the symptoms are uncomfortable enough for most people to seek treatment, either with over-the-counter allergy medication or by visiting a professional healthcare provider.
There are specific reasons why your body responds in an allergic manner, and it relates entirely to our bodies’ natural healing mechanism, the immune system. When a new toxin (bacteria, virus, or other unfamiliar invader) enters our system, our bodies send special types of infection-fighting white blood cells called leukocytes to immobilize, consume, and remove the pathogens from our bodies, ultimately via our kidneys in urine or via our liver in stools. Depending on the concentration levels of the invading pathogen, its virulence (strength), and the overall health of the immune system at the time of initial attack, your immune system will either quickly neutralize the threat with minimal or no noticeable bodily upset, or become overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading pathogens, causing one or more bodily dysfunctions interpreted as ‘disease’.
A good example illustrating the life cycle of an allergy happened to me when I was in my early twenties. I was in the process of preparing a newly leased retail space for a health club I was planning to open. The retail space was in the basement of an office building with minimal windows, none of which opened to permit fresh air circulation. The concrete floor was very dirty and coated in a layer of dirt, and in my youthful zeal (and ignorance) I spent the better part of a full day sweeping up the floor with no face mask or other lung protection. Needless to say, I inhaled a great deal of old dirt and dust (the space hadn’t been used for many months) that was kicked up by my sweeping action. Any manner of microorganisms could have been thriving in that cold and damp environment, including mold and various strains of bacteria. One thing is certain: the concentration levels of toxins, measured by the quantity of dust in the air and the continuous length of my exposure, was likely very high. Sure enough, I soon after acquired pneumonia, as my overtaxed immune system was wholly unprepared and incapable of managing this extreme level of toxicity, and I had to take antibiotics to prevent the illness from escalating to a potentially lethal stage.
This story continues many years later, but first let’s examine how our bodies specifically adapt to infections such as these. Once the initial (usually severe) ‘innate’ immune response runs its cycle with a newly introduced pathogen, it follows with an ‘adaptive’ immune response where additional ‘memory’ white blood cells (specifically T-type and B-type lymphocytes) are created and stored in our lymph nodes and spleen, where they normally remain for the life of each individual. The purpose of these memory cells is to quickly recognize similar pathogens if and when they invade the body again, and to quickly mobilize and reproduce antibodies and other infection-fighting T-cells in order to be better prepared and capable of fighting off a subsequent attack by the same or similar organism.
This is exactly what happened to me almost fifteen years after my bout of pneumonia. One night, as I was getting ready for bed, I began having difficult and labored breathing—which I had never experienced previously. This was a bit frightening, since it was sudden onset and severe enough that I felt uncomfortable going to sleep in this state, for fear that I might suffocate if not consciously controlling my breathing. So I got up and analyzed where I had been that day and what I was doing differently that might have led to this unusual and new reaction. The only thing I could think of as different from my normal routine was that I had done a home cleaning earlier in the day—specifically throwing out old boxes and other material in my basement.
This was the first time that I could remember where I had been exposed to basement dust since the initial exposure many years earlier. But this time my body was ‘ready’, quickly mounting an inflammatory and histamine response, increasing the amount of mucus in my bronchial airways and literally clamping down my lungs in a defensive reaction to catch and prevent the dust-laden pathogens (now properly termed ‘allergens’) from getting any further into my system. Even though the exposure was not as concentrated and likely not as virulent as the initial exposure and probably wouldn’t have caused a severe infection leading to pneumonia, my system wasn’t taking any chances. It recognized the familiar invader from so many years ago as a potentially lethal threat, and quickly multiplied the now at-the-ready antibodies, opening the taps by sending out many memory T-cells to attack and remove the foreign invaders.
How Allergies Are Treated
Most of the time, when someone experiences an allergic reaction, they reach for something that will quickly reduce or eliminate their uncomfortable symptoms. These often take the form of over-the-counter branded allergy medication such as Benadryl or Reactine, or a prescription for an equivalent (but usually stronger) form of the same thing. The problem with these ‘anti-histamine’ drugs is that they block the natural histamine response of your body, whose sole purpose is to maximize the fighting power of your natural immune cells. Specifically, histamine is produced by your body when it’s exposed to an infection in order to increase the permeability of your blood vessels to permit easier and faster access of the infection-fighting white blood cells to the tissues where the infection is concentrated. This concentration of plasma in the area of allergen exposure is what causes the uncomfortable symptoms associated with watery eyes, noses, and constricted airways. Antihistamine drugs can be quite effective in reducing or reversing these symptoms because they actually block the expression of natural histamine in your system. The same principle applies with topical corticosteroid creams and steroid inhalers, which act to reduce or prevent general tissue inflammation.
But there are three problems with this approach to allergy management. First, it is only a temporary solution, because it only treats the symptoms of the condition. It may make the symptoms temporarily go away if the presence of the allergens is also temporary, but as soon as these allergens return the same treatment must be applied, repeatedly. Secondly, because these drugs inhibit the normal function of the body’s immune system, it weakens the body’s natural defences as it becomes increasingly reliant on these artificial suppression techniques. Also, these drugs are synthetic compounds foreign to your body, which have both known and unknown side effects. One study showed that the use of inhaled corticosteroid drugs increased the prevalence of eye cataracts by up to 90%, and other asthma drugs have been shown to cause heart arrhythmia, drowsiness, and loss of bone mineral density.
Natural and Permanent Allergy Cures
If you are unsure what is causing your allergy symptoms, i.e. what the triggering allergen is, this can normally be determined by examining where you are when the symptoms occur (and don’t), when the symptoms happen (and don’t), and who else in close proximity to you is experiencing the symptoms (and isn’t). By carefully analyzing the unique aspects relating to this ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ information, you should be able to uncover the triggering agent, which can then be removed from your environment. (If you need help analyzing and identifying the triggering cause for your allergy, download free problem analysis worksheets at www.pinpointdiagnostics.net) The specific allergen source can normally be easily confirmed through allergy skin tests. This approach offers a permanent cure, by removing the source of the allergy and eliminates the need for any further medication since the symptoms will not return in the absence of triggering allergen.
In some instances, you may be unable (as with certain plant and pollen based allergies) or unwilling (as with pet or certain food allergies) to remove the source of your allergies once you identify the triggering agent. In this case, another natural remedy that treats the underlying cause of the problem is immunotherapy. This involves introducing very small doses of the known allergen (usually by direct injection into the skin), then slowly but progressively increasing the doses as your body relearns to tolerate the substance. In this manner, you train your body to recognize the allergen as a non-threatening substance (with extremely low doses) so that it reacts with a minimal immune response, then slowly ramp up the exposures while simultaneously desensitizing your immune system until you reach acceptable environmental levels. This technique is very effective and works with just about any type of allergy.
As with all health issues, prevention is always the best solution. If you can avoid the initial toxic overload on your system, your immune system won’t recognize the particular substance as health-threatening, and it won’t establish lifelong memory cells to fight subsequent exposures. This, of course, requires a certain degree of vigilance in recognizing the potentially ‘toxic’ environments where you might be exposed. Toxins can take many forms, including mold, viruses, bacteria, industrial pollution, food-based organisms, plants, pets, wild animals and insects, etc. The key to identifying potentially threatening situations is to remember the three requirements mentioned earlier for creating an allergic response: (toxin) concentration, virulence, and lowered immune strength.
Toxin concentration can normally be controlled by ensuring that any new environmental exposure or change is done so gradually. This means sampling new foods in moderation, short-term fostering of pets before adopting them permanently into your home, traveling to new geographic regions for brief visits initially to limit exposure to unfamiliar airborne pollens, etc. Whenever you’re trying anything or traveling anywhere new, think about what microorganisms might be lurking behind the walls, in the bed sheets, on public surfaces, and in the local flora and fauna.
Toxin virulence is a slightly harder issue to recognize and control. It starts with being mindful of what you eat, and the manner by which the food has been prepared and stored. Washing vegetables and lettuce (especially plastic-sealed produce) thoroughly before consumption will help remove e-coli bacteria and other potentially toxic organisms. Ensuring canned and other long-packaged foods are vacuum sealed and stored at recommended temperatures will help prevent accidental consumption of botulism and other harmful microorganisms. Many foods are now genetically modified and highly hybridized, including wheat, corn, and soy; the genetic makeup of these modified foods are not only ‘foreign’ to our bodies, but the seeds are often coated with highly virulent insecticides and herbicides which become embedded in every part of the plant that you subsequently eat. Additionally, most of mankind’s greatest historical and current health plagues were transferred from other (usually non-domesticated) animals such as rats (bubonic plague), bats (ebola), chimpanzees (AIDS), deer (lyme disease), etc. One recent study of 1415 pathogens known to affect humans showed that 61% were of such ‘zoonotic’ origin. The obvious implication here is to avoid, or be mindful of, exposure to new or exotic wildlife while traveling.
Of course, it is easy to become too paranoid of any lurking threat around every corner, to the point of ceasing to live a normal life. In fact, there is considerable evidence to show that early and regular exposure to low-grade pathogens acts as a preventive for many diseases, including allergies. One recent study revealed significantly fewer allergies are experienced among children in dishwasher-free homes. The natural extrapolation is that children who are regularly exposed to germs by hand-washing dirty dishes build up a natural immunity to various common infectious agents. Another study showed that eating peanut products as a baby reduces the risk of subsequent nut allergy by 80%. Epidemiological data also supports this so-called ‘hygiene’ hypothesis, showing that less developed countries with lower sanitary conditions experience fewer modern immune conditions afflicting mostly developed nations.
There are other ways to build up and maintain strong natural immunity against many pathogens, while simultaneously avoiding unwelcome allergic responses. Much as with antihistamine and corticosteroid allergy medication, the overuse of antibiotics weakens our immune system in two ways. It prevents our immune system from naturally removing harmful bacteria, and because antibiotics don’t kill all bacteria, it allows new super-virulent strains to thrive which are even more harmful and foreign to our bodies. Another factor influencing the strength of our immune system is stress. Chronic stress releases cortisol into our system, suppressing the natural inflammation response of our immune system, which in turn is an essential facilitator for the mobilization of infection-fighting T-cells. Regular exercise also increases red and white blood cell count, further bolstering your immune system’s readiness to fight disease.
The bottom line is that, as with most things pertaining to our health, the best way to prevent allergies is to consume a broad range of natural substances and organisms, as early and as regularly as possible, in moderation. This builds up your natural immunity at an early age, which protects you and your children from first-exposure virulent disease as well as subsequent-exposure allergies. Similarly, if you do happen to acquire an allergic condition, these can be naturally cured by identifying and removing the triggering allergen, or by slowly retraining your body to accept and treat non-lethal substances as normal and non-threatening visitors.
Drugs, whether in the form of over-the-counter antihistamines and corticosteroids or infection-fighting antibiotics, are short-term solutions that treat the symptoms only—not the underlying cause of the problem. A permanent and drug-free solution can only be applied by identifying the source of the allergy and equipping your body to do what it has perfectly evolved to do, which is to naturally recognize and remove disease-producing pathogens. Live long and live naturally!