Allergic conditions are increasing dramatically, especially amongst children, in all industrialised countries.
Allergic conditions such as asthma have increased by many hundreds of percent over the past forty years in the United Kingdom, where a child born today is six times more likely to develop eczema and three times more likely to develop asthma compared to a child born in the mid-1940s.
Allergy is an over-enthusiastic reaction of the immune (defence) system of the body to any substance it considers to be dangerous. The substance could have entered the body by any route, through being eaten, breathed or absorbed from the skin, and resulting in a typical chain-reaction of biochemical alterations starting in the immune system, which can be easily monitored medically.
The person who suffers from an allergy will usually produce physical symptoms such as skin reactions, digestive disturbances, headache or breathing difficulties in response to the particular substances to which they are allergic, and all too frequently there are also mental and emotional disturbances accompanying these reactions.
However when such a reaction occurs to something consumed, contacted or inhaled, which does not involve a ‘true’ allergic response, it is known as an intolerance or sensitivity which can produce many of the same symptoms as a true allergy.
Intolerance commonly causes symptoms such as joint pain, arthritis-like changes, chronic fatigue and a host of emotional states involving an inability to concentrate, feeling `spaced-out` and woolly-minded, irritable, anxious or depressed?
Although the symptoms of intolerance may be indistinguishable from those which occur in allergy a problem may arise for the patient because the biochemical changes in the blood-stream, which are always present with allergy will not be found, so that the reality of their condition may be questioned by medical personnel, with the condition frequently being labelled `psychosomatic`.
Why are Allergies and Intolerances Increasing?
There seem to be a great many answers to this question, with no two people having quite the same pattern of causes. These might include deficiencies, toxicities, stress factors, various forms of infection, immune depression as well of course as inherited features.
Where food allergy and intolerance is the problem there is often a background in which early feeding patterns seem to be implicated.
At weaning, when solid foods are first introduced to a child, there often occurs a degree of indigestion (colic, loose bowel etc) or behaviourial change (crying, restlessness etc) or catarrhal symptoms (cough, wheezing, runny nose, earache etc) or a skin reaction (redness, eczema etc) or any combination of these, none of which would necessarily be considered by the parents to involve allergy at the time, who often think of these symptoms resulting from infection or `teething`.
These symptoms may be evidence of the infant being allergic/intolerant to one or other of the foods to which (s)he is being exposed for the first time.
By repeated exposure, eating that same food daily or even more frequently (cows’ milk, wheat, citrus etc) the acute response to the food/substance(s) would usually diminish, leaving a background, so-called `masked`, reaction which produces no obvious symptoms for a long time.
In time though, often following some additional stress factor such as an infection (or the antibiotic treatment of an infection), or vaccination, far more obvious symptoms might appear, such as asthma or eczema.
New Zealand Study Confirms This Scenario
Recently a report emerged from New Zealand of a study 1265 children were evaluated for 10 years.
The findings show that children who were introduced to four or more types of solid foods before the age of four months were nearly 300% more likely to develop recurrent eczema than were those children not exposed to early solid feeding.
(Fergusson D Early Solid Feeding and recurrent childhood eczema: a 10 year longitudinal study. Pediatrics 86, 541-546 1990)
Toxicity as Well
In addition to coping with an intolerance or masked allergy the infant in today`s world will be having to handle an increased toxic load in the air it breathes, the things it is in contact with (synthetic carpet for example as well as wall coverings, clothing etc) the water it drinks as well as the presence of pesticides and other toxic products in much of the food it eats.
To cap all this we now know that some of the protective `friendly bacteria` (mainly bifidobacteria infantis) which populate the infant digestive tract have in recent years been severely damaged by among other things the universal presence in breast milk of toxic substances such as dioxin.
This startling finding does not mean that breast milk is dangerous, all alternatives are still infinitely more undesirable, but that we can begin to understand why babies today who are breast fed show the same levels of allergic problems and susceptibility to infection previously only seen in non-breast-fed babies. Until between 25 and 40 years ago babies who were breast fed were far more resistant to infection and had far less allergy than babies who were fed from birth on cow’s milk or formula meals.
One solution to this drastic compromising of infant digestive tract protection is to supplement babies with special cultures of these important friendly bacteria (never supplement a baby with adult forms of bacterial flora). A number of brands are available with Natren’s Life-Start being recommended.
To understand this vital subject more deeply see my book `Probiotics` (co-authored with Natasha Trenev and published by Thorsons).
As the years go by a masked allergy may not be producing many obvious symptoms but will probably be an underlying factor in a host of health problems which seem ‘normal’ (they only seem normal because they are so common !) such as general lethargy, odd aches and pains, intermittent headaches and digestive problems, palpitations, PMT, tendency to fluid retention, chronic sniffles, sinus problems and post-nasal drip, mouth ulcers, bladder irritation and many more.
One way of establishing the presence of a masked allergy or intolerance is to look at those foods and food families which you consume the most.
- What foods do you actually crave?
- Is it wheat products, sugary foods, soya products, citrus fruit, cow’s milk products, eggs?
By removing all or any of these from the diet in a controlled way, one by one, and observing the reaction of the body/symptom pattern, a lot can be learned.
If there is a masked allergy and the offending food is eliminated for at least five days (to allow it to flush completely from the system) symptoms will start to vanish over the next few days.
Warning: There can be severe withdrawal symptoms when such foods are removed from the diet, just as occur when alcohol is removed from the intake of an alcoholic and this sort of approach is best monitored by a naturopath or a doctor who is well-versed in nutrition (ideally a clinical ecologist).
It is usually possible by careful use of supplements and/or homoeopathic medicines to minimise these withdrawal symptoms.
While symptoms of masked allergy in an adult usually disappear after a week or so of avoiding the food in question it can take some weeks for the symptoms to ease in a child with masked allergy.
Rotation of Foods
A food is identified as an allergen when symptoms disappear following removal of the food from diet. It is possible to confirm this link between it and the symptoms by `challenging` the body once more (i.e. eating or drinking the suspected food) ideally within a few weeks of its elimination while the system is still sensitive.
To perform this test the suspect food should be consumed in reasonable amounts, twice in one day, after not having consumed it for some weeks. If symptoms reappear the test is positive and that food should not be consumed again for many months.
The longer it is kept out of the diet the more likely will it be that at a later stage it will be safe to reintroduce without problems, once the sensitivity to it has vanished (months and sometimes years need to pass for this to happen in some cases).
On the other hand it may be possible to resume eating particular foods fairly soon after its elimination as a regular part of the diet but no more often than once in five days. This is the so-called `rotation` pattern of eating.
Other Factors in Dietary Allergy/Intolerance
Many experts believe that it is largely due to an incomplete breakdown of foods that allergies occur. They point out for example that almost all children with asthma have a marked lack of digestive (stomach) acids and that supplementation with Betaine Hydrochloride with meals can have a great effect on reducing symptoms of the condition.
In addition the use of suitable enzyme supplements can improve digestion and minimise allergic symptoms.
Candida and Allergy
The increased use of refined sugars, and the widespread (over)use of antibiotics along with a number of other factors such as the use of the contraceptive pill have allowed a yeast, living in all of us, to escape from its usual limited habitat and to spread to areas previously inhabited by our friendly bowel flora, notably bifidobacteria in the colon and lactobacillus acidophilus in the small intestine.
Once the yeast spreads into these regions and the friendly bacteria no longer produce adequate quantities of the B vitamin biotin the yeast alters into a more aggressive mycelial form which can actually produce rootlets which damage the mucous lining of the bowel. This allows for a degree of malabsorption from the intestines of partially digested food particles and yeast waste products, triggering a defensive reaction in the bloodstream and other tissues affected.
Such Candida albicans activity can be a major contributing factor in many allergy conditions, and requires a specific dietary effort to control the yeast and to repopulate the bowel with strong and healthy micro-organisms.
This yeast involvement is more probable if allergic symptoms started soon after a course of antibiotics (the infection for which it was given often gets the blame rather than the treatment).
William Crook’s book `The Yeast connection` and my shorter description of a similar non-drug treatment programme `Candida Albicans – Could Yeast be your problem? (both available from most health food stores) outline the best way of dealing with this insidious and widespread problem naturally and effectively.
Holistic Approaches to Allergy
Avoidance of contact with whatever it is to which you are allergic deals with one side of the problem, and in many cases allows the body to regain its ability to tolerate the substance(s). The other side of the picture is your body, and if it can be made less toxic, more `hardy`, then it will be better able to cope with substances which might otherwise create allergic problems.
This calls for general health enhancement involving consideration of the whole person, including:
- a balancing of the diet
- taking note of the needs of your body in terms of adequate rest and exercise
- application of detoxification methods (controlled fasting, elimination diets, hydrotherapy methods, herbal and homoeopathic treatment for example) as appropriate (detoxification is covered in depth in my book `Clear Body, Clear Mind` – distributed by Thorsons).
- stress reduction approaches (relaxation and meditation, massage, aromatherapy and reflexology for example)
- and immune enhancement (appropriate supplementation, use of specific herbal products, dealing with candidiasis if present, guided imagery, acupuncture etc).
Emphasis on only one side of the equation, avoiding the allergen, will produce inadequate results, it is necessary to deal with both the allergen and the person who is allergic.
Recent Studies Confirm Natural Approaches
In the last few years reports have emerged from some of London`s major teaching hospitals confirming herbal approaches to some forms of allergy. At the Hospital for Sick Children, Royal Free Hospital, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine and Kings College Hospital) tests have been conducted in which traditional Chinese herbal medication has been successfully used in treating atopic dermatitis (eczema) which had previously failed to respond usual to medical methods.
A report states that, ‘In the patients known to us who have taken this treatment we have seen a response rate of 80-90%, and this exceeds the capability of conventional therapy in our hands. Furthermore many patients enjoy a persistent benefit after discontinuation of treatment.’
The doctors admit that they were concerned in case there would be any toxicity, and report, `We have investigated 70 children before and after long-term treatment and can report that full blood counts, urea and electrolytes, liver function tests and creatinine clearance remain normal throughout treatment.’
They have formulated a standardised mixture which they believe will be useful in the majority of cases of eczema.
(Atherton D et al Chinese herbs for eczema The Lancet November 17 1990 p1254)
Success for Homoeopathic and Herbal Treatment of Asthma
A combination of herbal and homoeopathic treatment was recently found to produce excellent results in 86.2% of the 29 asthmatic patients.
The treatment protocol was based on constitutional (i.e. unique to the patient) prescribing of homoeopathic medication, the most common ones employed being Pulsatilla nigricans, Arsenicum album and Kali carbonicum.
Herbal medication used included Bromelaine (pineapple plant extract containing powerful anti-inflammatory and digestive enzymes); Ephedra compound and a combination herbal elixir.
In all cases adults received bromelaine and Ephedra and children the elixir.
(Malave R Mixed modality outcome study of adult and paediatric asthma. Journal of [American] Naturopathic Medicine Volume 2 No.1 pp43-44 1991)
Allergy is increasing because we are seeing the result of a progressive over-burdening of our defence mechanisms.
We can do much to increase the effective functioning of our detoxification and immune functions and to lower exposure to and protect against the effects of undesirable substances, naturally.
For example in cases where the allergen is mainly an inhaled substance, especially if this a volatile (possibly petrocarbon based) substance, protection is often possible by mens of supplementation with anti-oxidants such as beta carotene (for Vitamin A) and vitamins C and E in particular. Also frequently helpful in such cases are amino acids such as cysteine and methionine and minerals such as selenium.
A general supportive programme combining detoxification, overall lifestyle reform for health enhancement, sound nutrition and the help of herbal, homoeopathic and acupuncture methods as needed, offers the safest key to allergy elimination.
Leon Chaitow may be contacted through The Hale Clinic, London W1 (071-631-0156)