Environmental & Food Allergies

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Environmental Allergies 

With environmental allergies, reducing your exposure to whatever is irritating you is key. Some people are allergic to household cleaners such as laundry detergent, hence the many varieties of mild detergent. With common irritants like mold and dust, a cleaning routine can help. 

Reduce mold by removing houseplants, using a dehumidifier, avoiding carpet in the bathroom and cleaning indoor trash cans and shower curtains with a mix of water and chlorine bleach. 

Reduce dust by replacing carpets with wood or linoleum, removing drapes and feather pillows, regularly vacuuming soft furniture and floors, and washing bedding weekly. 

Food Allergies 

Allergies are a result of our physiological and biochemical interaction with the world around us and within us—with the foods, chemicals, and natural substances in our immediate environment that we ingest, inhale, or physically contact, and with various internal microbes and body tissues. 

Our body’s immune system is designed to correctly identify and differentiate between self and nonself—that is, between what our body needs and what is foreign to it—and when it encounters foreign substances, it reacts by making antibodies or releasing certain chemicals, such as histamines. 

The problem arises when we have an inappropriate response, or “hyperresponse.” Then the antibodies attach to the antigens, causing a variety of internal reactions. Histamine and other chemicals are released into the system, causing an inflammatory reaction. These antigen-antibody (Ag-Ab) reactions affect the tissues and organs, mainly the skin, mucous membranes, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. 

Symptoms commonly produced include itchy and watery eyes, runny and congested nose and sinuses, skin reactions, and rapid heart rate. Less obvious but still common allergic symptoms include fatigue, headache, intestinal gas or pain, abdominal bloating, and mood changes.

Related to allergies are hypersensitivities, allergylike reactions that result from the repeated sensitizing of our body by certain substances, usually a protein antigen of foods or specific chemicals. Hypersensitivities are distinguished from immediate allergies by the fact that hypersensitivity reactions are usually delayed, with symptoms appearing several hours or longer after exposure, even up to one or two days later. 

They are mediated through T lymphocytes of the cellular immune system and delayed-type IgG antibodies rather than the IgE/mast cell/histamine system of rapid allergic responses. 

In regard to other allergic-type reactions, the term “hypersusceptibility” should be used to describe the rapid symptoms associated with environmental illness or exposure to environmental chemicals. This is likely a neuro-endocrine interaction rather than a true allergy. 

External Factors Causing Allergies and Hypersensitivity Reactions 

• Natural environmental substances—mold spores, pollens from trees and grasses, dust (actually dust mites), animal hairs, and insects. These commonly produce upper respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals. Itching, redness, and fluid (water and mucus) may affect the eyes, nose, sinuses, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs. 

• Foods—any food may be allergenic. Common ones include wheat, milk, eggs, corn, yeast, coffee, and chocolate. Even herbs and teas may lead to allergic symptoms. Food allergies may affect most body systems, with the gastrointestinal, nervous, respiratory, and skin areas affected the most. 

• Chemicals—both environmental chemicals and food additives may create sensitivity. There are literally thousands of possibilities, including sprays, resins, hydrocarbons, pesticides, and so on. Some may weaken our immunity and allow further allergies to develop. Tobacco is a common allergen containing substance to which many people are both addicted and allergic, a common duo according to our new understanding of allergies. 

Pathways of Allergens into the Body* 

• Nose—inhalation of environmental allergens. 

• Mouth—ingestion of food and chemicals found in foods, water, and medicines. 

•  Skin—contact with various agents and injections of drugs and other substances. 

*Depending on a variety of factors, some individuals are more sensitve to allergies that enter through a particular area.

Common allergic problems include hay fever, eczema, contact dermatitis, and bronchial asthma. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is characterized by sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and postnasal drip. It is caused by reactions to pollens such as ragweed, trees, dust, grasses, molds, animals, and foods. 

  • Hives, or urticaria, is characterized by red, itchy, and possibly painful wheals (bumps) on the skin. This condition may be caused by reactions to insect bites, chemicals (such as sulfites or food colors), drugs (such as aspirin or penicillin), or foods. Common foods causing hives are shellfish, nuts, citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, chocolate, beef, pork, and mangoes.
  • Eczema (dermatitis) is characterized by dry, itchy skin, especially on the arms and legs. It is often hereditary, and it may be worsened by stress, sweating, or food allergies. Treatment involves lowering stress, avoiding soaps and detergents, use of cortisone creams and drugs, an elimination diet with avoidance of allergenic foods. 
  • Contact dermatitis is characterized by an itchy, red, raised rash that may blister. It can occur anywhere on the body where contact to the allergen has been made. Common allergenic agents are poison oak or ivy, chemicals such as nail polish or soaps, plastics, metals, and fabrics. Medical treatment involves avoidance of known allergens and the use of antihistamine and cortisone drugs to reduce symptoms. 
  • Asthma is characterized by difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, and production of bronchial mucus. It is caused by a combination of genetic, allergic, and stress factors. It is commonly treated with drugs, avoidance and desensitization, and stress management. 

Nutritional medicine may have a lot to offer the allergic person by providing the optimum tissue and cellular nutrient levels that allow improved function and reduced allergic symptoms. 

The allergy-addiction syndrome related to foods is very common. These easily become “hidden” allergies, which may be involved in binge eating, overeating, weight gain, and general ups and downs that come from eating food. Cravings, even very subtle ones, often are part of this syndrome, but people who experience this might think that they just like a particular food and so eat it regularly. And when they eat it, they may feel a lift. This is thought to be a result of stimulation of beta-endorphins in the brain, which give us an “up” or euphoric feeling, as occurs with prolonged exercise. 

Causes of Allergies

There is, of course, the genetic pre-disposition, which is clearly established in the atopic diseases of hay fever, asthma, and eczema but may also predispose us to many others. 

Eating habits during the first year of life may influence our potential for allergy more than anything else, even heredity. Feeding babies solid foods too early and not breastfeeding them is a primary way to cause allergies and, thus, produce many problems in infants. Cow’s milk and baby formulas provide large molecules that are difficult for the infant’s immature gastrointestinal tract and immune system to handle. 

Gluten allergy from early feeding of grains such as wheat, corn, and oats is also common. The best way to prevent allergies, particularly childhood ones, is to breastfeed a child exclusively for six months before introducing solid foods. 

Even in adults, poor digestion, with low levels of hydrochloric acid or pancreatic enzymes, is an underlying cause of many food reactions. 

Possible Allergy Symptoms and Problems 

  • Runny nose, Postnasal drip, Sinus congestion
  • Weight gain, Weight swings, Obesity
  • Headaches
  • Learning disabilities, Hyperactivity
  • Canker sores
  • Binge eating, Overeating
  • Emotional outbursts, Mood swings
  • Earaches, Tinnitis, Ear congestion, Recurrent ear infections
  • Frequent hunger
  • Joint pain
  • Anxiety, Depression, Irritability
  • Swelling of hands or feet
  • Muscle aches, Muscle weakness
  • Cough, Sore throat, Hoarseness
  • Arthritis, juvenile, rheumatoid
  • Alcoholism, Drug addiction
  • Disorientation, Poor thinking
  • Chest congestion
  • Itching, Hives, Eczema
  • Asthma, Hay fever
  • Stomachache, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea
  • Nonspecific rash
  • Regional ileitis
  • Constipation
  • Palpitations, Tachycardia
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Seizures
  • Edema    
  • Bloating
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Heartburn
  • Vaginal itching, Recurrent vaginitis
  • Loss of sex drive 

Many people are made to believe that using antihistamines, topical steroids, puffers and other medications to control the symptoms of the allergy are the solution. While these medications may bring relief and often times necessary as in the case of asthma which can be fatal, it’s not a solution the problem.

Over­all, it’s more impor­tant to focus on the root cause and what are the under­ly­ing mechanisms that are caus­ing the condition rather than just treat­ing it symp­to­mati­cally. 

Each person is encour­aged to seek out a qual­i­fied nutri­tion­ist or other qualified healthcare practitioner in order to assess exactly which nutri­ents, herbs, home­o­pathics and nat­ural reme­dies; in which com­bi­na­tion; in what pro­por­tion are right for the par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual and are intended at treat­ing the root cause rather than just a symptom.