The medical term “allergy” was first used in 1902 to describe the increased sensitivity of dogs inoculated multiple times with protein from sea anemones. The word “allergy” is derived from the Greek “allos” meaning other and “ergon” which means work. In the medical dictionaries is defined as “a hypersensitive state” meaning, when a person is allergic to something, she/he experiences an altered or exaggerated reaction.
Allergies are adverse or inappropriately amplified reactions of the immune system to particular small foreign proteins, also known as allergens that are found in the environment and foods. While these proteins are harmless to many people, they can wreak havoc on others. Commonly the allergic reaction symptoms are headaches, fatigue, watery eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion. More severe life threatening reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, are provoked by certain nuts, fish or insect stings and are characterized by tissue swelling and impaired breathing. These severe reactions need to be treated as medical emergencies, and are usually treated with synthetic epinephrine (a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands).
According to NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), people with allergies in the US spend over $8 billion annually on prescription medication, allergy shots and physician’s visits.
Systemic Effects of Allergies
Allergic reactions are not confined only to the area where they originated, but they can expand achieving a systemic effect. As a result, not only the local area is affected but multiple regions of our bodies get allergic manifestations. A host of other health conditions like acne, asthma, attention deficit disorders, bladder infection and digestive disorders are related to allergies. Below are some of the most common systemic effects of allergies:
Why are some people allergic and others not?
Our bodies are able to support a certain amount of stressors like environmental toxins, pollution, poor diet, stressful relationships and jobs, lack of sleep, and any number of medical conditions. A healthy immune system is able to fend off most of these stressors but when this load gets bigger than it’s capacity, it overwhelms the immune response and the body can’t fight back anymore. As it stands, the difference from a person suffering from allergies and one free from them, is a matter of the total load on the immune system.
An allergen free environment and a proper diet help reduce the overall load on the immune system which allow for it to be able to handle other immediate allergens. But in the end, diet is the key to help build and maintain a robust systemic immunity due to the fact that 80% of the immunologic activity takes place in the digestive system.
The anatomy of an allergy attack
In the book “Allergies, Fight them with the Blood Type Diet” , Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo notes: “Most allergy attacks are defensive reactions of the immune system against certain innocuous substances that the body mistakes for harmful parasites”.
In an optimal immune system, lymphocyte cells are responsible for detecting antigens (a substance from the external environment or formed within the body which provokes a reaction from the immune system) and act as the first line of defense by producing antibodies to try to destroy or neutralize any antigen that is recognized as a foreign and potentially harmful invader. During this response, the T-helper cells release growth factor proteins to help increase the antibody production. In an overloaded immune system, T-helper cells can become hyperactive and no longer able to distinguish between the invader antigen and the body cells, destroying them both. This hyperactive response leads to the allergic reaction and the production of large quantities of a special class of antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The IgE molecules are specific for each allergen and attach to mast cells where they can remain for weeks or even months. Mast cells (also known as mastocytes and labrocytes) are found in most body tissues and are responsible for the creation and release of histamine, a chemical which produces classic allergy symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes, hives, sneezing, headaches etc. When the antigen binds to the mast cell’s attached IgE, the release of histamine is triggered and the symptoms may occur in just minutes after contact. This chain of reactions will happen every time the allergen enters the body and results in the release of histamine and the onset of the allergy symptoms.
The two most used methods for diagnosing allergies are skin allergy testing and blood allergy testing.
There are 3 methods used to administer the skin allergy test:
- Scratch test (also known as puncture or prick test) where the skin of the subject is pricked with a needle containing a small amount of purified allergen in marked areas on the forearm or back. This method does not cause bleeding.
- Intradermal test where a small amount of allergen is injected under the skin.
- Patch test where the allergen is applied to a patch which is then placed on the skin.
The RAST allergy test (short for radioallergosorbent test) is a blood allergy test used to determine what substances is a person allergic to. This test has very high specificity and is extremely sensitive in comparison to the skin allergy testing. Other major advantages of RAST blood allergy testing are that it’s not always necessary to remove the patient from the allergy medication regimen, and testing can still be done if widespread skin conditions like eczema exist.
Conventional allergy treatments emphasize avoidance of allergens and require the use of antihistamines, antibiotics, antacids and other prescription drugs. But this treats only the symptoms of allergies while the underlying cause of the illness is neglected. To top that, overuse of these drugs may have adverse results. Studies show that while antihistamines relieve the discomfort, their use may prolong the duration of the attack. Aspirin and antihistamines are fighting against fever and inflammation which are body’s healing mechanisms. In the end, overusing all these drugs will weaken the immune system leaving you without much defense when exposed to other diseases.
Unfortunately the conventional diagnosis methods presented above are not looking at the whole system and they do not take into account other factors such as food sensibilities or how a substance affects the immune system, metabolism and digestive system. The most important step in fighting the allergies is balancing the system by adopting a non-inflammatory diet that supports and promotes metabolic, immune and digestive health.
For more information on ways to minimize or even prevent another allergy attack, read our article What’s Your Anti-Allergy Attack Plan? Natural remedies and supplements worth taking into consideration.