Allergies: A Basic Understanding and Natural Approach
T’is the Season! If you suffer from any type of allergic reactions to the environment or to some foods, then Spring and Summer can be the most challenging times. This is because allergies tend to be cumulative, often with many factors – a food reaction can enhance a reaction to pollen for example. Yet, there are many things you can do to help reduce your level of reactivity and feel better.
Allergies include a variety of bodily reactions to our external and internal environments. There are cellular, biochemical, immunologic and tissue reactions with histamine, lymphocytes, antibodies, and more. These often include reactions to agents such as:
- Pollens, dust, molds and animal hair (dander).
- A multitude of foods, most commonly cow’s milk, wheat (gluten), eggs, yeasts, and a variety of others like peanuts and almonds, corn, soy, and tomatoes; however, any other foods might be bothering you. There are several types of food reactions and hypersensitivities, and only one or two may be actual allergy.
- Chemical agents lead to inflammation and immune reactions.
- Invasive microbes, such as yeasts, parasites, viruses, and bacteria and the reactions they cause, also setting off the immune system to fight them.
Allergies trigger specific biochemical responses in the body such as the release of histamine from our cells, causing the familiar allergic reactions—redness, swelling, itching, and sometimes pain. Hay fever, asthma, and eczema are classic allergic disorders. Other manifestations of allergies involve the skin (urticaria or “hives”), the nose and sinuses (allergic rhinitis or “hay fever”), the digestive tract, as well as most other systems of the body.
Another process triggered by allergy-like reactions in our body causes autoimmune diseases, which involve the immune cells and the production of tissue-specific antibodies. As examples, these inflammatory reactions can affect the joints (rheumatoid arthritis) or the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Allergies can also affect our mental and emotional states, affecting brain chemicals and causing anxiety or depression. Also, the presence of infection or inflammation may trigger the immune system with allergy-like reactions.
In mainstream medical treatment, allergies are diagnosed from skin prick testing and then treated with desensitization injections and avoidance of the reactive agents. (Blood tests can also show increased antibodies to specific agents.) Often, this treatment is used along with drug therapy to control the immediate symptoms. The drugs have been primarily antihistamines that block the histamine effect, like Benadryl (sedating), Claritin and Zyrtec (these two less sedating); but nowadays the stronger corticosteroid drugs are employed earlier to suppress the immune/allergic responses in the body. Decongestant drugs may also be used.
In my experience, this type of approach may be needed for long term or extreme cases. However, in many situations, being allergic is a heightened state of reactivity that is also the body’s response to its constant high level of congestion or imbalance. From a natural medicine point of view, most allergic symptoms are seen as hyper-reactive states and the body’s attempt to cleanse itself and detoxify. In Chinese medicine, it is an imbalance of the elements that most commonly comes from Liver energy stagnation (congestion and stress on the liver), frustration and suppressed anger, and resistance to change (true for many illnesses of stagnation).
I take an integrated approach to allergies (as I do to most illnesses). Clearly, allergies can result from a number of causes. Many people develop allergic reactions in response to stressful times in their life–as they age, when they move to a new area, after experiencing certain illnesses, or following exposure to certain chemicals. In terms of the health of our digestion, there are many factors that may contribute to our allergic state: our overall diet; the overuse of certain foods; the general health of the intestinal tract, or the presence of parasites or the overgrowth of yeast, specifically Candida albicans. The gut and its microbial balance (the biome or “microbiome”) is a powerful collection of bacteria contributing to our overall health. (Review The Detox Diet or other books on these topics to understand the gastrointestinal health.)
As for my experience, I have had an allergic potential for most of my life. I say “potential” because I could be very allergic but generally I am not. While growing up in Michigan, I had hay fever every year and a variety of skin rashes. Here in California, at times I have been allergic to weeds, dried grasses, pollens, and dust in the spring and summer. However, I have also noticed for the past 40 years that when I really pay attention to my lifestyle and especially my diet, I can be pretty much allergy-free. That means eating a clean diet high in fruits and vegetables, doing cleansing fasts, exercising regularly, and keeping my stress low.
In fact, when I did my first 10-day Master Cleanser/lemonade fast in 1975 and then changed my diet, I was clear of allergies for many years. You can get further information on this cleansing/healing process in my books, Staying Healthy with the Seasons and Staying Healthy with Nutrition. I have also overseen many thousands of people on cleansing fasts and watch their allergies and other issues improve. I just did an online Spring Cleanse for many people with great results and feedback, and I will continue to do these as part of my “Seasonal Detox” programs (see my website).
I have also seen many kids with recurrent ear “infections,” and this can be partly allergic reactions. I guide them and their parents in a nutritional approach. Getting them off cow’s milk products is often the first step in reducing allergies and congestion, particularly in the nose, sinuses, and ears. Avoiding refined foods, sugars, and chemical additives, particularly food colorings, may also help. Adding a children’s multivitamin/mineral and extra vitamin C, about 250–500 mg 3–4 times daily may also reduce the allergies.
For adults, I suggest higher amounts of vitamin C (500– 1000 mg 3–4 times daily) during an infection or hay fever season along with about 250–300 mg of Quercitin 2–3 times a day as a special bioflavonoid shown to have an antihistamine effect in the body. Another option is to use a vitamin C supplement that contains a mixed bioflavonoid along with a separate quercitin (150 to 250 mg), both taken several times daily. I have often seen this program improve allergic symptoms and reduce the need for medications.
For people who are concerned about food reactions, some helpful eating guidelines are the following:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods
- Diversify your diet
- Rotate foods and don’t eat any one food every day
- Eat only non-allergenic foods at first
A non-allergenic, or allergy elimination diet could include the following foods:
- All fruits, except citrus
- All vegetables, except corn and tomatoes
- Brown or white rice
- Turkey (ideally organic, free-range)
- White fish—e.g. halibut, sole, swordfish (mercury concern)
- Almonds or walnuts, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Other natural therapies are also helpful. The use of acupuncture and herbs can be effective; homeopathic remedies can also help minimize or clear allergies. I cannot suggest specific remedies, however, because the remedies are based on the specific symptoms of an individual at a given moment in time.
People can do allergy testing by skin prick to see their level of reaction. Then, to help lessen reactivity, they can be treated with shots or possibly even better with sublingual drops taken over a few months to reduce the allergic reactions.
My book, The False Fat Diet, looks at food reactions and provides you with a simple method for reducing all allergic type reactions. Also, I usually do a guided 10-day juice cleanse group at my office each spring. It’s a very uplifting, rejuvenating, and healing process. It’s a good and worthy experience to initiate, especially if you could get a few friends or family members to do it along with you.
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