Allergies are a complicated issue and a broad topic. While there remain many debates in the medical community about their causes and cures, there are several things we know about them nutritionally. Since asthma and allergies are so closely related, let’s include this horrible illness for purposes of this discussion.
Symptoms of allergies may include hay fever, sinus problems, and simply less energy. These symptoms may be the “early warning signs” of a sinus infection. Asthmatic symptoms, such as wheezing, may be more serious. Allergic reactions to food and the environment may be factors in the formation of asthmatic episodes. Stress can be considered a complicating factor in both ailments, as well, so it makes sense to look at both problems from a nutritional standpoint at the same time.
JF, it is important to remember that nutritional advice and suggestions about natural products are only that – advice. It is important to consult with medical professionals regarding your problems, but do not stop taking your medication without consulting with the prescribing physician. Diet may play an important role in controlling the symptoms, but it is also smart to consider that there may also be food sensitivities involved. In this regard, food sensitivities include nutritional supplements and herbal products, both of which may trigger allergic responses.
Allergies and asthma are both the result of an imbalance in the immune system. Some practitioners have studied the relationship of allergic reactions and food sensitivities, while others have looked at it as a response to an overload of toxins in the immune system. Still others have indicated there might be a relationship between our intake of medicine and the depletion of a protective environment in the digestive system, and another interesting theory about allergies focuses on the hereditary aspects of the problem.
Several researchers, including Dr. James Braly and Dr. Dick Thorn, have concluded that allergic predisposition can be passed from mother to child. Dr. Braly’s research focuses on the transferring of an immune system antibody, IgG, from the mother’s blood through the placenta, causing the fetal blood supply to develop allergies to the same foods that the mother is. Dr. Thorn has related smoking mothers to an increase in allergies to the fetus. Other research has indicated that lactalbumin, a protein in cow’s milk, can disrupt the development of the immature immune system of an infant.
While more research is obviously warranted, it can be assumed that diet, not smoking, and healthy lifestyles among parents can certainly play a positive role in the development of children. While medicine certainly plays a valuable part in treatment, continued efforts at achieving optimal health must include diet, exercise, and a positive mental attitude.
DIGESTION AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Rather than focusing further on the two illnesses, let’s approach this article from a point of WELLNESS. Let’s look at the immune system and the necessary elements of nutritional support for this important part of our body. It’s quite complicated, but maybe some simple talk can at least offer you a place to start looking for relief.
In order to support the immune system, we need to look at the way our body uses food for nourishment. The minute food touches our tongue, the body begins the process of breaking it down, digesting it, taking nourishment from it, defending the body from the dangerous bacterial elements in it, and finally, eliminating what remains of the food. The use of pesticides, our reliance on antibiotics, poor food habits, and the toxins we ingest, all contribute to the excessive work our digestive system must go through. This is important to the immune system, since the two areas are so closely linked.
We carry in our digestive tract a large amount of beneficial bacteria that aids our ability to trap and eliminate bad bacteria. The body’s use of this “friendly” bacteria, or intestinal flora, is important for the absorption of nutrients and the control of parasites and poisons that often enter with our food. An optimal amount of this flora is essential for us to ward off infections and properly eliminate food waste from our system.
Unfortunately, modern living takes a toll on this flora, and large amounts of it can be damaged by the use of antibiotics and other medicines. Pesticides and other toxins can destroy this flora as well.
As this flora is damaged, several problems may arise. We certainly would not get the proper amount of vitamins and minerals from our food, and we would have an intestinal situation that is favorable for parasitic growth and yeast overgrowth, a condition known as candidiasis. In addition, the boundaries between our digestive system and the rest of our body would be compromised, allowing allergic substances to enter our bloodstream. This may trigger allergic reactions by the immune system, which is when most of us start feeling poorly.
It is known that low levels of flora are common in sufferers of allergies and it might be wise to occasionally restore intestinal flora with a daily program of probiotics. Good probiotic formulas will contain lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria, which are the key strains of friendly bacteria inhabiting our intestines under healthy conditions.
NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT FOR A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM
While there is no quick fix for conditions resulting from imbalances in the immune system, we do know there are vitamins and minerals that play an important role in maintaining good immune system health. These nutrients, including vitamin A, the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and some essential fatty acids, contribute to proper immune system health. Some or all of these micro-nutrients may be deficient in those suffering from allergies or asthma. Here is a quick breakdown of their benefits.
Zinc and Vitamin A. Both of these nutrients are key to immune system health. They play a role in the production of IgA, an antibody that coats allergens in the intestinal tract, preventing their absorption in the blood supply and forcing their elimination from the body. Both of these nutrients play a role in the body’s healing process.
Bioflavonoids. A particular bioflavonoid, known as quercetin, offers good nutritional support for the body. Quercetin is a plant pigment that affects certain body cells. These cells cause the release of histamines and seratonin to counter allergic and inflammatory responses and mediating the levels released. This is important because these cells are often damaged in people with allergies, causing the release of too much histamine. That accounts for the huge market in antihistamine drugs, both in front and behind the pharmacy counter. Other bioflavonoids exhibit similar capabilities to quercetin and seem to work more effectively when included in vitamin C supplements.
Vitamin C. This key antioxidant is crucial to our body. Its importance in controlling inflammatory response is only one of the duties it performs for the immune system. It’s needed to help protect lung tissue and is important in defending against infections. Vitamin C also helps to increase our airflow, as well as helping prevent nasal congestion. Often, asthma sufferers are deficient in this important nutrient. Vitamin C is important to consider relative to smoking. Children of smokers are more susceptible to asthmatic and allergic problems and are often found to be deficient in vitamin C.
B vitamins. B vitamins are important because they help stimulate the immune system to respond to pathogens. B vitamins play an important role as the precursor to many enzymatic transactions and will aid in keeping our stress manageable. Stress is often noted as the catalyst of allergic and asthmatic reactions.
Essential Fatty Acids. Essential fatty acids found in flaxseeds, nuts, and fish oil help many processes in our body. These nutritious oils are important to the immune system because they reduce inflammation associated with allergic response by aiding in the production of prostaglandins that counter inflammation. Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) play so many roles in our body that I will only say they are usually the first supplement I suggest to all my customers, along with a good multivitamin and multimineral formula and antioxidants.
Antioxidants. These valuable vitamins and minerals are critical to the immune system and include vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals zinc, and selenium. Selenium has a targeted role in allergic activity. Selenium is often deficient in asthma sufferers and is also important for its help in utilizing vitamin E, another important immune system nutrient.
NATURAL TREATMENT ALTERNATIVES
What we might consider alternative treatment in this country could well be the conventional treatment for allergies in others. For instance, Ayurvedic and Chinese practitioners have used botanical combinations for centuries to counter inflammation and decrease the likelihood of immune system dysfunction. In Ayurvedic practice, a medical school of thought originating in India, allergies are thought to be a result of impaired digestive processes, (not too far off our belief that allergies can be prevented through proper bacterial development). Dietary recommendations of Ayurvedic allergic treatment include rotating the diet, and adding herbs like ginger, garlic, onions, cayenne pepper and black pepper to our meals. The usual suggestion is that these herbs be taken 30 minutes or so before the meals in order to stimulate the digestive process. Cleansing and detoxifying the body might also be suggested, usually in the form of a bath or an herbal massage.
Herbal treatments are numerous and often not validated by research. Goldenseal, goldenrod, and stinging nettle have been historically used for anti-viral and anti-inflammatory response. These herbs are said to help remove excess mucus. Other herbs used include ginger, yarrow, suma, and ephedra. I must caution you to be very careful with ephedra, which has been used for dilating bronchial passages. This is an extremely dangerous herb when abused. Please consult a professional before using it. Many potent medicines contain either natural or synthetic derivatives of this herb, and its status as a dietary supplement is in question, so please use caution.
Ginkgo biloba is getting some good press these days regarding circulation, as has cayenne pepper and garlic. Another herbal combination that is as old as Chinese medicine itself is known as “the Chinese Eight.” This combination includes astragalus, echinacea, and several beneficial mushrooms including; shiitake, reishi, and maittake. It is important to read about these potent plants to gain a better understanding before using them. As I stated earlier, supplements themselves can trigger allergic conditions.
Homeopathic approaches to allergies are numerous. Once again, these approaches should be considered only with the help of a professional that understands homeopathic medicine. Other therapies include aromatherapy, acupuncture and biofeedback.
THE DIETARY ASPECTS OF HEALTH
The most important elemental therapy is food, and it is here that you can do the most for your health. Eating sensible meals that aid the immune system, are not mucus forming, and are nutrient-rich, are the most important nutritional aspects for the prevention of allergies and asthma. One interesting study reports that our early ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, ate a diet that prevented many allergies. Early diets were high in protein, fruit and vegetable fiber, while low in grains and dairy. As we became agricultural, we shifted our diet toward grains and dairy and created allergic conditions that center on these two food groups. A modern European treatment for allergies includes a diet that reflects this knowledge and is known to have good results.
Water is also important in maintaining proper health. Drinking good water will help you retain nutrients, remain hydrated (lessening oxidative damage), and help you with the elimination of wastes and toxins from your body.
If you are interested in any of these therapies, or need information regarding dietary regimens and supplements that will support the immune system, consult with Clintwood’s Wellness Pharmacist. We have been trained to look at the nutritional elements of disease management and are truly interested in your health.
JF, good luck this spring. I hope that proper nutrition and knowledge of the problems can keep you healthy and looking forward to this season in the future.