Allergies and Natural Medicine Part 2

 

by Stephen Terrass

In part one of Food Allergies and Natural Medicine, we looked at the strong influence that proper nutrient balance can play in food allergies. As it turns out, this is the case with any type of allergy, no matter what the cause. It is becoming more and more common for orthodox medical practitioners to recognize food allergies as a potential cause of, or at least a factor in, many health-related problems, although this is a fairly new development in many Western countries,

The more recognized type of allergy, however, is of the seasonal or environmental type. The symptom patterns associated with these types of allergy have been fairly well understood by doctors for quite some time, but still there are still great limitations in the manner in which this type of allergic reaction is treated by orthodox medicine.

Some examples of seasonal/environmental allergens include:

  • various grasses (such as in hayfever)
  • pollen
  • dust mites
  • molds/spores
  • pet dander

An allergy is defined as an abnormal adverse reaction to a substance (known as an antigen) which is identified as an invader and is attacked by various components of the body's immune system. Actually, the attack of invading substances in the body is far from being abnormal. For twenty-four hours a day, your immune system is constantly attacking and destroying invading bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. In the case of allergies, the mechanism of the attack by the immune system has a somewhat different background to the normal response against bacteria, viruses and so on.

As mentioned in the previous article, the food allergies occur due to the absorption into the bloodstream of incompletely digested food components, in particular, proteins. In the case of the environmental/seasonal allergies listed above, the contributors are chemical components (typically structural proteins) contained in the offending allergen, such as pollen or pet dander. Initially, the white blood cells of the immune system proceed against an environmental allergen in much the same way that they would against many other invaders.

  • Antibodies are produced by B-cells which recognize the antigen.
  • The antibody binds to the antigen and 'computerizes' its identity.
  • The antibody signals other white blood cells to attack and destroy the antigen.

Other occurrences take place as well, but this is how much of the process is initiated.

In the case of allergies, the substance being attacked by the immune system is generally not inherently harmful to the body; it is only being attacked because it is a foreign substance. The greater the amount of an antigen in the system, the more severe the attack by the immune system is likely to be.

It is not the attack of the antigen which directly causes the eventual allergic reaction. The reaction is caused by a subsequent release of various inflammatory chemicals after the attack has taken place. When the antigen is eventually dealt with by the immune system, the surrounding tissues can be irritated or damaged in the process. In response to this irritation or damage, histamine and related substances are released by mast cells (a type of white blood cell in the blood vessels surrounding tissues). Histamine is the main chemical involved in allergic reactions. What type of allergy symptoms occur depends on where the attack of the antigen has produced the greatest release of these inflammatory chemicals.

The typical manifestations of minor environmental/seasonal allergies include:

  • sneezing
  • rhinitis
  • itchy, watery eyes

In certain cases, allergies to certain environmental agents can produce more severe reactions such as:

  • asthma
  • hives (urticaria)

As most symptoms of environmental allergies affect the respiratory tract and other mucous membranes in the head, it is in these areas that the histamine release is most prevalent. As mentioned in part one, Food Allergies and Natural Medicine, food allergy reactions only occur if the allergen enters the blood supply, such as through a damaged intestinal tract. A healthy intestinal wall is designed to not allow absorption of potential allergy-causing proteins in the first place. The situation is similar in the allergic symptoms listed above as well; meaning, for instance, that a strong and healthy respiratory tract should typically not allow large amounts of foreign proteins to permeate into the local blood supply. As a result, it is clear that the stronger the integrity of your respiratory tract and other mucous membranes in the head, the less likely you are to experience allergic reactions in those areas.

There is yet another factor to consider as well. Many experts suggest that allergic people typically have an imbalance in a type of white blood cell, called T-cells. The imbalance is thought to eventually lead to a hypersensitivity of the immune system to allergens. The production of T-cells is controlled by the thymus gland. Thymus activity is regulated by certain nutrients, and deficiencies in these nutrients is known to imbalance T-cell activity.

The main priorities in the prevention and treatment of environmental/seasonal allergies include:

  1. reduce or inhibit the excessive release of inflammatory chemicals from mast cells such as histamine
  2. strengthen and speed the repair of the connective tissue of the respiratory tract and the mucous membranes in the head
  3. enhance the health and proper functioning of the immune system inhibiting the allergic reaction

As mentioned, the release from mast cells of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine is responsible for the allergic reaction itself. The standard medical approach to environmental allergies has always been to administer anti-histamine drugs to suppress the symptoms. These drugs can have various adverse effects on the body, especially if used regularly. Their effectiveness may also reduce over time. Fortunately, various nutrients and natural substances inhibit the release of histamine from mast cells, and without the side effects normally associated with anti-histamine drugs. The main beneficial substances include:

  • Quercetin (a plant flavonoid from the herb sophora japonicas)
    - quercetin is anti-allergic and is a potent inhibitor of the mast cell release of histamine and other inflammatory compounds
  • Scutellariae baicalensis (a Chinese herb)
    - flavonoid (plant pigment) molecules from this herb have strong anti-allergic and anti- inflammatory effects
  • Bromelain (proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple)
    - bromelain is a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and may aid in the breakdown of tissue-irritating antibody/antigen complexes
  • vitamin C
    - detoxifies histamine from the body
  • vitamin E
    - inhibits various inflammatory mechanisms
  • zinc
    - mineral which inhibits activity of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals
  • selenium
    - mineral which functions along with vitamin E as an anti-inflammatory

PLEASE NOTE: If an allergic reaction occurs, the natural agents which inhibit inflammatory chemicals such as histamine may help prevent a reaction, however one should NOT assume that these will adequately prevent severe, and potentially life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.

improving integrity of respiratory tract and other mucous membranes

The structural component of the respiratory wall and mucous membranes is connective tissue. As a result, their integrity is dependent on having an adequate supply of all the nutrients needed to manufacture connective tissue. In addition, avoiding factors which damage such tissue is important as well. The reactive molecules known as free radicals derived from cigarette smoke and air pollution are perhaps the most damaging to the respiratory tract and the mucous membranes of the head. Included among the main nutrients required for connective tissue production are:

  • vitamins A, C and E - These are not only needed to protect and repair connective tissue, but they also help protect against tissue-damaging free radicals. Vitamin A is particularly vital to the health of the mucous membranes.
  • the minerals zinc and silicon
  • several amino acids (derived from dietary protein)
  • the amino sugar glucosamine

improving the proper function of the thymus gland
The trace mineral zinc is one of the most important nutrients in the maintenance of proper thymus function. It is necessary for the proper activity and balance of T-cells and the release of thymus-derived hormones. Beta carotene, the plant-derived precursor to vitamin A, protects the thymus from free radical and age-related damage. Beta carotene also help strengthen the connective tissue and mucous membranes.

It is very unlikely that therapeutic amounts of the nutrients needed for suppressing inflammatory and allergic chemicals, repairing connective tissue or restoring immune system balance will be achieved from food intake only. In addition, there are many other nutrients other than the ones mentioned above which are important as well. As a result, the use of a moderate to high potency multiple vitamin/mineral formulation is often recommended in addition to any of the individual substances mentioned above..

Seasonal and environmental allergies are particularly difficult to cope with because it is often especially difficult, if not impossible to avoid that which you are allergic to. Fortunately, after employing the drug-free methods listed above, many people have become free from their allergic suffering once and for all!

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