Our blustery days and lighter mornings are a sure sign that spring is here. For some, this is such a season of excitement with greater ease of outdoor adventure. For others, it’s a season better off missed due to the misery of allergy symptoms.
Over-the-counter allergy medication works well for some individuals to reduce the significance of allergy symptoms. Itching, water eyes, sneezing, runny noses and fatigue are all irritating aspects of seasonal allergies. Year after year, symptoms persist and with long-term antihistamine use, they tend to get worse.
Natural medicine therapies can make a significant impact in the expression in allergy symptoms and can even aid the improvement of the immune system to reduce inappropriate reactivity. Ultimately, it is better for the immune system to be at the ready for a bacterial or viral invasion than calling all alarms for ragweed pollen floating through the air!
Our immune systems have 2 predominant ways of behaving, and only 1 can function fully at a time. TH1 and TH2 is how they’re described. The TH1 response is the normal response of the body to infection. The TH1 response activates the white blood cells to target a specific pathogen and destroy it effectively. This should be the dominant aspect of the immune system in healthy individuals. The TH2 response triggers the immune system to behave more globally, reacting to stimuli by releasing histamine. The TH2 response is what is known as the allergy response.
Individuals can become TH2 dominant through a variety of mechanisms. Microbial overgrowth in the digestive tract can create multiple inappropriate immune responses to both food and environmental triggers. Immunizations provoke a TH2 response and the increase in utilization of vaccines in certain parts of the world has a corresponding relationship to the prevalence of allergic type syndromes. Other environmental toxins can also contribute to TH2 dominance in an individual. The estimated population of the US that is TH2 dominant is nearly 30% of individuals, increasing in young people including allergies, asthma and eczema.
The foods we eat can have a significant impact on our immune activity. For some people, individual foods can trigger the immune system directly. When one aspect of the body is exhibiting a TH2 response, the rest of the body will follow. Therefore, if we are eating foods that the body identifies as dangerous, our seasonal allergies will also be worse. While we cannot control which way the winds are blowing or what pollens are drifting by, we can control what we put in our mouths.
Identifying which foods we react to specifically can be a challenging journey as reactivity is a complex process. There are 3 different types of allergic responses:
- IgG – This is a delayed type reaction where symptoms may show up anywhere from 24-72 hours after the exposure. Symptoms tend to be mind to moderate.
- IgA – Another delayed type reaction, this type also may not show any symptomatic response until 24-72 hours have passed. Also, mild these symptoms may go completely unnoticed because of the long term nature.
- IgE – Immediate hypersensitivity shows up with this response ranging from itching in the throat and ears and sleepiness to anaphylactic shock. This is the most sever form of reaction.
Therefore, the lunch you had today may not be noticed until half the week has passed if you ate an allergen but you’ll only notice this if you only consumed the allergen today. Otherwise, most of our food reactions are from daily or weekly exposures resulting in low-grade irritation to the system. The outcome typically is that people go on eating the foods their immune systems react to, have headaches, occasional bellyaches, arthritis, gas and changeable stools or other bizarre symptoms that just become a normal part of who we are.
Identifying allergens is most efficiently done through a blood test that evaluates all 3 aspects of reactivity. Another effective method is to avoid potential allergens entirely for 5-6 weeks and then reincorporate 1 food item per 48 hour window of time. This is obviously more challenging as avoidance must be 100% in order to accurately determine reactivity when reintroducing.
Aside from individual food reactions, there are also immune cross-reactions between foods and environmental factors. For example, if a person is reactive to molds, then cheeses, beer and other fermented foods will make the symptoms worse. Ragweed allergies are increased by consuming bananas, melons and cucumbers. Tree allergens such as birch can be worsened by carrots, potatoes and pears. There are many additional cross-reactions to be aware of with environmental allergies.
Recognizing food triggers is a great way to rein in the immune response and help create a calmer, less irritated state of being. Reducing inflammation in the body overall will help to begin the shift away from TH2 dominance of the immune system allowing for better balance to exist. Stay tuned for next month’s article on “Improving Allergies” to learn ways to naturally support both the immediate discomfort as well as work toward correction of the immune response.
For more detailed information and individual care, please schedule an initial appointment at Stillwater clinic in Lyons, Colorado.