Just 50 years ago, one person in 30 had allergies. Today, one person in 3 has allergies. That equates to one billion people worldwide who have asthma, hay fever, eczema, rhinitis, sinusitis, and other allergies. And that is just the overt allergies. Hidden allergies, not yet diagnosed, cause multiple physical symptoms, including headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, joint pain, and GI symptoms (bloating, constipation, diarrhea). Hidden allergies also cause psychiatric symptoms with depression, anxiety, mood instability, and cognitive impairments.
Allergies develop when our body is exposed to something foreign that our immune system cannot handle. Our immune system over-reacts and our body becomes inflamed. The allergen can enter our body through three areas: our skin, the lining of our respiratory tract, or the lining of our intestinal tract. Today, all of us experience an increased exposure to allergens (which touch the skin), allergens in the air, and allergens in our food.
Most people would think the solution would be more frequent visits with our doctors. Allergy shots. Decongestants. Comfort medications. Claritin. Benadryl. NyQuil. But more medications treat only the symptoms, not the core problem. There are two core problems. First, its our increasing exposure to the allergens – and allergens are actually worse in the urban setting than the rural setting. We need to try to decrease our exposure. Picture all of those Chinese people wearing masks. We do not need to go to that extreme, but there are things we can do like air filters in the office and home.
But increased exposure to allergens is just one half of our challenge. Our second challenge is even more important. It’s trying to improve the reduced level of functioning of our immune system. Our reduced or impaired immune system, as we have discussed before, is one of the reasons for the explosion of cancers in the past century; and our reduced or impaired immune system is also one of the reasons for the similar explosion of allergies.
Think of our immune system as a room thermostat. What temperature do we like for our office or house? That is probably the temperature where we work the best. The same concept applies to our immune system. If we raise its baseline temperature (or raise the body’s baseline level of inflammation), the immune system works less efficiently; and the lower its efficiency, the greater is the risk for it over-reacting to allergens.
Why are our immune systems so impaired? One factor is our increased exposure to chemicals that come into contact with our skin. Think of the chemicals in our make-up or deodorants. Think of the chemicals that are used in the dry cleaning of our clothes. Think of the chemicals that are applied to the fabric of our furniture. All of these indoor chemicals, which make contact with our skin, are absorbed into our body, raising the inflammation and reducing the effectiveness of our immune system.
The impairment in our immune system is also related to our eating more fast foods and more processed foods – or foods that are sugar loaded and nutritionally deficit. The fewer the nutrients in our diet, the worse our immune system performs. Instead of a normal reaction to an allergen, it over-reacts, creating additional inflammation. One solution for reducing our risk of allergies is to eat a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet with increased vegetables and fruit. That lowers the thermostat.
The impairment in our immune system is also related to the depletion of intestinal microbes in our GI tract. The fewer the number of healthy intestinal microbes, the worse our immune system performs. If we eat a healthier diet with prebiotic foods and probiotics, we can improve our immune system, reduce our baseline level of inflammation, and reduce our risk of developing an allergy – plus reduce the intensity of an allergic reaction (when we already have asthma, hay fever, eczema, or some other established allergy).
For prebiotic foods, think of dandelion greens, leeks, onions, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, and bananas. For probiotic foods, think of yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. Cultured condiments, such as lacto-fermented mayonnaise, mustard, horse radish, hot sauce, relish, salsa, guacamole, and fruit chutney, also contain probiotics. Eat these foods and your immune system will improve; eat these foods and your allergies will decrease.
The impairment in our immune system is also due to the increase in outdoor and indoor pollution. Ozone, nitric oxide, and diesel exhaust particles damage the lining of our respiratory system, enter the body, and disrupt our immune system. The chemicals used inside the house – the sprays for cleaning the kitchen or the solution used for cleaning carpets – also damage the lining of our respiratory system and disrupt our immune system.
Once again, the point of this blog is straightforward. If we want to reduce the rising trend of allergies, we can start by improving our baseline health, and especially by improving our baseline immune system. The rewards of an improved immune system are enormous. We not only feel better, we lower our risk of cancer, lower our risk of allergies, and lower our risk of multiple other chronic diseases.
Just try to remember how 80% of the level of function of our immune system is related to our health habits. Yes, seeing a physician on a regular basis is crucial for diagnosing any disease and treatment. But prevention rests with our habits. Try to lower the chemicals that we apply to our skin. Try to keep the air clean in our cars and homes. For the home, I have previously recommended an air filter like HEPA. Try to improve our diet with nutrient-rich foods and fewer fast foods / processed foods. Try to increase our intake of prebiotics and probiotics.
It we take these steps, we will improve our immune system …
With an improved immune system, we will lower our allergies …
Prevention is the real solution …