Allergy sufferers respond to their environment
as if it is a battleground.
Allergy bouts range from mild inconvenience to fatality.
For many, relief is available through proper care
of the body’s core functional systems…
Allergies are on the rise. More people today have allergies than ever before. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 50 percent of Americans now test positive to one or more allergens (an allergen is any substance that can cause an allergy)1. For many people, what used to be seasonal allergies has turned into what seems like a full-time occupation: everyday allergies. Allergic conditions are also on the rise. The number of people with asthma, for example, increased a shocking 75 percent from 1980-19942.
Allergies come in many forms: hay fever, asthma, hives, rashes, hypersensitivity, food allergies and many others. It is estimated that one in every five Americans suffers from some type of allergy (that is around 60 million Americans).
While the reasons why we are more allergic leave scientists scratching their heads, it seems that one could just look to the evolution of society and the ever-increasing sources of Chronic Stress. With the body coping with all theobvious and obscure stresses of this world, it is no wonder that its defense mechanisms toward offensive substances are weakening. Have no fear. Have hope! There is a lot you can do to calm allergies down or even eliminate them.
What is an Allergy?
On the surface, an allergy might appear as a runny stuffed-up nose, itchy eyes, sneezing fit, or even a rash, but to your body an allergy is an attack; those are merely symptoms. Your body has a built-in protection mechanism (the immune system) which is designed to keep your body safe in the event something harmful invades. What happens with allergies is that your body starts to treat seemingly harmless substances like dust, pollen, or cat dander as harmful invaders. Allergies can be seasonal, but can also be year-round, such as allergies to certain animal dander, mold, or even dust.
Allergies (on a cellular level) are what are known as an antibody/antigen reaction. The body produces antibodies to the perceived threats (antigens). In these reactions histamine and other chemicals are released and it is these chemicals that cause the typical symptoms you recognize such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, rashes, bloodshot eyes, swelling of the lips and itching.
The antigens or allergens sneak into our bodies through our lungs (inhalation), our mouths (ingestion) or from direct contact to our skin or even through an injection. Common allergens are pollen, house dust, fungi, drugs, foods and food constituents, air pollutants, animal proteins (dander), insect venoms, chemicals, dust mites and others.
Allergies can become dangerous when the body overreacts to the allergen. These types of reactions are called anaphylactic reactions. Common anaphylactic reaction includes extreme allergies to peanut butter or bee stings. Any allergic reaction where someone is experiencing wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling of throat, lips, tongue, mental confusion, vomiting, or nausea may be anaphylactic and requires immediate medical attention.
Why Do You Have Allergies?
The million dollar question. Most scientists agree that that the immune system becomes hyperactive and starts reacting to substances that it should not be reacting to, but what causes the hyperactivity?
Healthcare professionals have long held that allergies might have something to do with the health of the individual’s digestive system in general and the health of the microorganisms that inhabit the gut (known as the gut flora). New research studies support this idea and points to poor diet, antibiotic use and other disrupters of gut flora as a possible culprit in allergic conditions and diseases such as asthma3. The immune system is largely located around the gut and having a healthy gut means that the immune system works better. Restoring a healthy gut flora may be the best way to fight allergies and a good place to start when you are looking for allergy solutions.
Stress also has a profound effect on allergies. When our HPA glands are overworked, our immune system becomes much more sensitive. The primary way this occurs is through the drop in production of cortisol, the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory. HPA fatigue has been shown in scientific studies to impact allergic conditions such as asthma and other allergic conditions4.
What to do About Allergies?
While relief for common allergies such as hay fever often come in the form of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, as well as natural supplements, there is a more meaningful way to manage the aggravation and suffering caused by all allergies. By supporting the core functional systems of the body (with healthy lifestyle, nutrition, and functional lab testing), the mechanisms of action that control allergic response can be strengthened to reduce the symptoms and weaknesses underlying allergy complications.
Take, for example, the hormone system. If hormone production and distribution is performing poorly due to chronic stress, the histamine release and inflammation produced by allergies raises cortisol. This makes the HPA glands (which produce cortisol) work that much harder and, with their ongoing fatigue, their ability to keep up with the demand for cortisol suffers. Over time, the HPAs become exhausted and the entire hormone system is compromised.
This leaves the allergy sufferer with more inflammation and symptoms, as histamine is allowed to run wild, perpetuating a vicious cycle of stress on the HPAs. And with this cycle underway, the many other processes that depend on healthy cortisol levels suffer, which may in turn relate to further allergic episodes, as immunity and brain function are hindered with hormone imbalance (read about cortisol, DHEA, and pregnenolone steal).
There are many ways to uncover what you are allergic to from puncture skin tests to blood tests that look for antibodies. These tests can confirm what you are allergic to, but they do not tell you how your body is predisposed to the actual allergens and the reactions. This is where testing for HPA function comes in.
With functional lab tests called ‘HPA stress profiles’, the key steroidal hormones are measured for their quantities and rhythms. Based on this data, treatments such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) can be administered to renew the vitality of the hormone system. Additional lab testing is available to evaluate allergies, inflammatory conditions, and much more.
Medical Treatment: The standard medical treatment is the use of antihistamines and decongestants, each with its own side effects and toxic burdens. Such drugs should always be the last resort for dealing with an allergic condition.
- Antihistamines: These medications block the effects of histamine. Many antihistamines are now available over-the-counter and can be found in most stores. Common side effects: Antihistamines make many people feel groggy and tired and have been known to make people feel nervous or anxious.
- Decongestants: These medications counter the effects of histamine; they often come in the form of a nasal spray. Common side effects: Decongestant can lead to high blood pressure, headaches and agitation. Decongestants also tend to be addictive, resulting in a rebound of symptoms when stopped.
- Mast Cell Stabilizers: These are substances (mostly cromolyn sodium) that help prevent the release of histamine from mast cells. Common side effects: Cough, runny nose, throat irritation, unpleasant taste and headache.
- Bronchodilators: These medications cause airways to open and are used in asthma. Typical examples of bronchodilators are HPAine, albuterol, and theophylline.
Natural Allergy Support: There are many natural supplements and therapies that can help with allergies. Below is a limited list of some ingredients and therapeutic modalities.
- Quercetin: A powerful natural flavonoid, Quercetin has also been shown to inhibit certain compounds that typically affect sinus and respiratory health. (See Related Products.)
- Nettles (Uritca dioica): Stinging nettles have been shown to be effective in allergic rhinitis.5 Nettles lack the side-effects of medical antihistamines and also have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C has antihistamine activity.6
- N-acetyl l-cysteine (NAC): This amino acid has been shown to aid in allergic conditions.7
- HPA Hormone Balancing: When the HPA glands are performing at their best, the negative effects of allergic conditions are drastically reduced. With saliva based lab tests that measure cortisol and DHEA patterns, natural therapies for hormone balance can be developed.
- Acupuncture has been shown to be as effective as antihistamine drugs in treating allergic rhinitis, especially the non-seasonal variety.8
The best way to treat allergies is to avoid them. This, however, is often easier said than done. Food allergies, for example, respond especially well to avoidance, while pollen and other air-borne allergies are much more difficult to avoid.
Here are some tips for avoiding airborne allergies:
- Stay indoors as much as possible, keep windows up while driving and use a face mask if necessary. Take a shower soon after arriving back home.
- Many news outlets broadcast pollen counts. Once you learn what you are sensitive to, avoid going outdoors when the pollen counts are high.
- Clean your house often, avoid harsh cleaners, vacuum often and remove any mold in your house. Whole-house air filters are another smart option.
- If pets are the problem, avoid petting them, but wash your hands if you do. Keep pets out of sleeping areas and bathe them often.