When we think of allergies most people immediately think of pollens, dust mites, grasses and so on. But did you know there are a huge growing number of people experiencing not just these environmental allergens but also food allergies and allergies arising from everyday house hold products like detergents and soaps. So why are these allergies on the increase?
The Hygiene Hypothesis The hygiene hypothesis suggests that the recent rise in allergic disease among children in affluent societies is due to an increase in hygiene, immunisation and antibiotic use. Your child picking up a toy and sucking on it is natural, and helps strengthen their immune system. Our ultra clean life styles means our bodies no longer need to fight germs as much as they did in the past. As a result, the immune system has shifted away from fighting infection to developing more allergic tendencies.
The overuse of antibiotics It is now widely acknowledged that there is a link between the overuse of antibiotics and the increasing prevalence of allergies in the Western world. Antibiotics not only kill off the ‘bad bacteria’ but also kill off all our good guys too. We all have a unique microbial mix of bacteria and fungi living in our stomach and intestines. The change in your intestinal micro flora, like that which happens with antibiotic use, changes the entire immune system2, this is because the gastrointestinal tract represents the largest immune organ of the human body. Recent studies have indicated that antigen presenting cells routinely check out your intestinal micro flora to find out how they should respond and act in the body. These cells then induce either an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory response, which is dependent on the strain of bacteria in the gut. So, kill all the good guys with antibiotics and the body will produce more inflammation, inflammation being the inducer and marker of allergies. So what does all this mean? Simply put it means the Western World is facing an epidemic of allergies, be it food allergies, environmental allergies or chemicals. Look out for symptoms like: • Bloating • Sneezing • Watery eyes • Diarrhoea or constipation • Flatulence and burping • Nausea • Irritable bowel syndrome • Reflux and indigestion • Abdominal pain • Fluid retention • Migraine and headaches • Asthma and shortness of breath •Fatigue and exhaustion •Difficulty concentrating • Skin problems – eczema, psoriasis, acne and blemishes • Nasal congestion or hay fever •Mood swings and irritability • Depression • Memory loss • Weight gain • Auto-immune disease (Crohn’s, Hashimoto, Lupus, Sclerosis, etc.) • Behavioral problems in children, and ADHD
Okay I suffer from some of these, how do I know if they are an allergy and what causes it? There are many ways to test for sensitivities and allergies these days. Doctors perform tests for allergies via either a blood test or skin prick test, but naturopaths can also check using food sensitivity tests. These test check for a different type of immune reaction which is linked to sensitivities rather than allergies. What’s the difference? Allergies are those group of symptoms that appear immediately after exposure to an allergen, a sensitivity can turn up hours even days after the exposure, they are harder to pin point with symptoms and timing, the symptoms can often appear unrelated to your typical type allergic reactions. Sensitivity testing is useful if previous medical testing have shown up negative or if you suspect sensitivities that have previously not shown up on an allergy test. Pathology lab testing is available not only for food testing but can test a large range of house hold chemicals, preservatives and additives as well.
What can we do around the home to reduce the risk of allergies?
1. There can be a healthy balance between letting your child play in the dirt and making sure they wash their hands. Use common sense, a bit of dirt in their mouth won’t kill them and may even be a good thing.
2. Try swapping chemical based cleaning agents for more natural ones. Not only are these far better for the environment, but they clean just as well and reduce the risk of allergies from chemical sensitivities.
3. Only use antibiotics if it’s really necessary, this means for bacterial infections ONLY, antibiotics have no effect in viral infections, so make sure you know what you are treating first.
4. If you do need antibiotics follow up with a course of probiotics (acidophilus supplements). Make sure you take these 4 hours away from your antibiotic.
5. Reduce the allergy load in your diet. This means using a variety of different foods, try rye bread instead of wheat all the time, try buckwheat or quinoa pasta instead of wheat, cook with amaranth, quinoa instead of rice, try goats milk instead of cows all the time. Varying your foods not only reduces the common food allergies, but gives your body a break from foods that are commonly linked to food allergies and inflammation
6. Avoid excessive consumptions of alcohol and sugar, these both reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.
7. Increase immune supportive foods in your diet like garlic, turmeric, berries, and foods high in antioxidants.
8. Leave a window open during the day to improve air flow
9. Change carpeted surfaces to hard surfaces like floor boards or tiles.
10. Damp dust around the home, this means using a damp cloth to clean surfaces instead of a dry duster this reduces the risk of all that dust just landing somewhere else!
The trick to all of this is common sense. Reducing things in your environment that are not natural , like cleaning agents and detergents, will improve the function of your immune system. Eating foods that are less processed and higher in nutrients will give your body the nutrients required to maintain a healthy immune system. Avoiding substances that kill off your good bacteria like antibiotics, alcohol and sugar will boost your natural gut immunity. Simple yet very powerful strategies can ensure that you minimise the risk of allergies for you and your family.