Allergies are increasing in developed countries to the point where it is estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of people have some form of allergy. Regular medications such as antihistamines and steroids are only effective at suppressing the symptoms of allergies, sometimes with unpleasant side effects. In this article, I am going to discuss how I approach the treatment of allergies based on my 25 years in practice with over 10,000 allergy patients.
There are 3 types of allergies affecting most people. Environmental or inhalant allergies are what most people know as hay fever. It comes from spring and summer pollens, dust and animal dander. Food allergies are those that come from common everyday foods. Innate or fixed allergies are strong immediate reactions like peanut allergies that are potentially life threatening. Acquired allergies are better described as sensitivities or intolerances that occur when one food is over consumed daily coupled with poor digestion. The third type of allergies are chemical sensitivities to many synthetic substances such as food additives, medications, household cleaners and many other man-made products.
Allergies are over-reactions of the body to substances such as dust, pollens and foods that normally should not trigger a reaction in the body. The body mistakenly interprets the allergen as a threat to the body and mounts a strong immune defense against it. This is known as a hypersensitivity reaction. It is not a sign of a weak immune system but a sign of an over-reactive immune system. So simply “boosting” the immune system will not work to solve an allergy problem.
An interesting theory as to why allergies are so much more common in developed countries compared to less developed countries is called the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. Children in Western countries benefit from better hygiene practices and therefore get fewer infections during childhood. It is thought that the IgE system, which is part of the immune response causing allergy symptoms, was an evolutionary defense against intestinal parasites such as worms, which are still common in many third-world countries. Since Westerners aren’t getting these infections, the immune system focuses on allergens like house dust and pollens, which in reality are not a threat at all. This is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t take into account several other factors that are also occurring in modern societies such as the exposure to hundreds of synthetic chemicals through the food we eat, the air we breather and the water we drink. I believe, that this increased chemical exposure disrupts the immune system and makes it hyper-vigilant to harmless compounds in our environment.
Another important factor to consider is the inner ecology of the digestive system. The inner ecology of the gut is a delicate balance between numerous strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria. This balance is upset by the modern diet of refined foods, excess sugar and protein and the excessive use of antibiotics. Several studies have shown that people who have increased levels of Clostridium difficile (an opportunistic bacteria common after antibiotic use) have increased rates of allergy. People who have higher levels of the healthy bifido bacteria have lower rates of allergy. Other studies show that mothers or babies who receive lactobacillus bacteria during infancy have lower rates of allergic diseases like eczema or asthma. Babies who are not breast-fed also have higher rates of allergies, especially to formula milk.
Allergies are usually a warning that something is out of balance in the body.
The way that I approach allergies as a naturopathic doctor is determine what is out of balance in the body and to correct it through diet and natural supplements.
The first place I start is to determine what food sensitivities a person might have. Often, people do not even realize that they have food sensitivities. Usually, food sensitivities occur to foods that people tend to eat repeatedly such as dairy, wheat and sugar. They may be feeling tired, achy or have digestive problems.
To reduce allergies, you have to reduce your overall toxic overload, which includes food sensitivities. The lower the overall toxic load on the body, the less likelihood of developing allergy symptoms and other more serious health problems.
The second focus is the digestion. If food isn’t being digestedcompletely, it can enter the bloodstream in larger than expected particles. The body can’t recognize these and therefore it mounts an allergic attack on the “invader”. A related digestive problem is “leaky gut syndrome”. This is a more serious type of digestive disturbance in which damage to the small intestine causes food particles to leak into the bloodstream, triggering allergic reactions. Leaky gut is usually caused by candida yeast overgrowth, overuse of antibiotics and steroids and excessive alcohol. The solution is to stop taking substances, which can cause intestinal damage, and to take restorative nutrients to heal the lining of the intestines. Candida yeast overgrowth in the digestive tract is a common cause of many allergy problems. This is related to the gut ecology problem I discussed earlier where there are not enough healthy probiotic bacterial colonies in the small and large bowel. Restoring balance in the digestive tract by identifying and treating the underlying problem can significantly reduce the potential for allergy expression in individuals.
The third area that I focus on is detoxification. Detoxification is a much more complex procedure than just taking a detox kit once a year. We are exposed to literally thousands of chemicals and therefore there are multiple strategies needed to reduce the body burden to a manageable level. Our bodies have become burdened with the byproducts of modern life such as heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, hydrocarbons, dioxins and many more compounds. Individuals with a relatively healthy immune system and internal detoxification system may only experience relatively minor allergy symptoms. Other people who are unable to cope with this chemical burden go on to develop more serious diseases such as autoimmune disease and cancer. The organs of detoxification such as the liver, kidneys, colon, skin, lungs and lymphatic system must be healthy and robust enough to cope with process of detoxification. As well, the body must have adequate quantities of the numerous nutrients needed to break down chemicals. I have found that reducing the toxic burden of chemicals in the body is a very effective way of resolving certain allergy conditions as well as preventing more serious diseases.
The fourth area that I look at in treating allergies is to assess the effects of stress on the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands respond to emergencies by the secretion of various stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin or epinephrine. In severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, where swelling closes off the air supply, the medical treatment is an immediate shot of epinephrine. Many people who are at risk of anaphylaxis carry an “Epi-Pen” containing emergency epinephrine. This is the same hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in times of stress. Individuals who are exposed to chronic stress over a long period of time are subject to adrenal fatigue or burnout. This is the condition, where the adrenal glands have become overworked and lose their functional capacity to keep up with everyday stress. Burnout is the result of adrenal fatigue. Many people before they reach the burnout stage start to experience more allergy symptoms because their adrenal glands can’t keep up with the daily production of stress hormones. So an early sign of adrenal fatigue is a worsening of allergy symptoms or the beginning of an entirely new allergic reaction. A common case is the person who suddenly develops hives for no apparent reason. The trigger may be a food allergy or a chemical they have come into contact with. However, the trigger is not the cause of the allergy. The real cause may be long -term stress, which has resulted in adrenal fatigue and a decrease in adrenal hormone release. The solution is to find better ways to cope with daily stress and to –rebuild the adrenal glands using nutrients such as pantothenic acid, Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, adrenal glandulars and licorice.
The fifth method that I use in allergy treatment is desensitization. Desensitization is giving a person very small doses of what they are allergic to in a very controlled manner under the tongue. We use dilute extracts of the allergen that are specially prepared for this purpose. This is a form of immunotherapy where we slowly educate the immune system to recognize and not to react to an allergen. This is similar in principle to how allergists treat allergies. Their method involves needles or allergy shots and often can take years to get a good result. We find that the sublingual method is less painful and much faster, because we can give several doses per visit. Many studies have been completed showing that sub-lingual desensitization is an effective method of allergy treatment. This method has been recently used to treat children with severe peanut allergies. However, because of the risk of anaphylaxis, the treatment of these severe forms of allergies has been confined to a hospital setting.
Allergy symptoms can be treated by suppressing the symptom with antihistamines or natural alternatives. However, a long-lasting cure of the allergic problem requires a more comprehensive identification and treatment of the underlying causes. Allergies are a sign that the body is beginning to accumulate toxins. According to Dr. Reckeweg, a German homeopath, allergy symptoms are the bodies attempt to rid itself of these very toxins. Therefore a true healing method for allergies assists the body’s attempt at toxin expulsion and restores balance to the human physiology.
Dr. Stefan Kuprowsky