The digestive process is tied to allergies, particularly to foods, as Dr. Michael Rosenbaum and Dominic Bosco clearly concur with in their book, Super Fitness Beyond Vitamins. The problem starts with incomplete digestion that results from improper chewing of food and poor action of hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile. These are influenced by stress and by excessive fluid intake around meals. The incomplete digestion along with the "leaky gut" that comes from inflammation in the gastrointestinal mucosa—resulting from stress, the intake of fried and fatty foods, as well as chemicals, and the presence of parasites or Candida albicans—allow absorption of larger molecules that then generate an immune reaction. (Also, please note: Low-level infectious microorganisms may also create allergic propensity; I believe this is common with worms, other parasites, yeasts, and certain bacteria.) Chronic stress affects pancreatic and adrenal function which are tied to digestion, energy level, and food cravings.
The key here is to minimize food allergies by enhancing digestion—chewing well, eating good foods, lowering stress, and supporting digestive juices. Decreasing inflammation and healing the gut, treating any abnormally present microorganisms, supporting immune and glandular functions, and stimulating proper detoxification will all help minimize food reactions, and allergies in general. Many nutrients, which will be discussed shortly, can support all of these functions as well.
Toxicity in the environment is another probable cause for the increasing numbers of allergic people. Exposure to many more irritating and allergenic substances also may adversely affect our immune function. Today, many people are reacting to new synthetic products and pollutants in the air. Formaldehyde, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide in the air as well as many industrial or food chemicals found in food, such as the antibiotics, certain food colors, sulfites, MSG, and sodium benzoate, may all stimulate allergic responses as well as lower our immunity. There are many other chemicals that are not easy to diagnose or avoid. Living as natural a life as possible, avoiding polluted areas and chemicals, is the best we can do.
Stress also plays a major role in allergies by dysregulating immune functions and by weakening adrenal response. Stress can also directly influence our digestive function, which I believe can be a core factor in allergies. Chronic stress may lead to a reduction of hydrochloric acid output (initially it may raise HCl secretions) and digestive enzyme function, so that we do not break down our food properly. Absorption of larger food molecules into the blood may lead to increased antibody responses and subsequent allergies. Furthermore, the effects of stress on our immune system can lead to an increase in infections, which contribute to both environmental and food allergies. For example, parasitic intestinal infections may act as direct allergens and also increase other allergic responses. In addition, other aspects of stress, including emotional and mental stress, anxiety, and fatigue, all increase susceptibility to allergies. Menstrual stress (hormonal changes) also seems to increase allergic reactions.
Abuse of chemicals and refined foods is another factor that can cause or exacerbate allergies. This can also enhance stress levels and weaken immunity, and may lead to nutritional deficiencies—another problem that increases allergic sensitivity. Low nutrient levels of vitamin C, most B vitamins, vitamin A, and many minerals influence body function sufficiently to weaken allergic resistance.
Excess or repeated contact with particular foods and substances in the environment causes allergies. It usually takes a few days for our immune system, mainly our T lymphocytes, to be sensitized to an antigen and guide the formation of antibodies by B lymphocytes. After that, reactions to exposures are immediate and usually produce mild immune-inflammatory responses. Initially, histamine released by other cells causes some redness, swelling, and fluid release and also stimulates the T cell antibody activity. Later exposures create repeated antigen-antibody responses, which can have a variety of effects on the tissues and bodily functions.
Temperature extremes also influence many people’s allergic problems and generally increase susceptibility to allergies. Quick changes of temperature, particularly going from heat to air conditioning, may themselves produce symptoms such as sinus congestion, skin rash, hives, or even asthmatic attacks.
The causes of allergies are indeed a complex issue. Everything from our genes to our spiritual awareness is a factor, with diet and stress levels being especially important. The traditional Chinese medical viewpoint suggests that allergies reflect internal balance or imbalance, mainly of the wood (liver) and metal (lungs and colon) elements, as well as being a result of general energy congestion. If that is the case, then rebalancing these organs within the entire energy system will help improve allergic symptoms. I have seen improvement with acupuncture treatments along with some liver and colon detoxification through diet and herbs.
Just as there are many causes, there are also many symptoms related to allergies, both gross and subtle, visible and invisible. Often acute symptoms such as fatigue, itching, or a runny nose can progress to a chronic problem with repeated exposure, especially to food allergens; such difficulties as headache, depression, or arthritis may follow. Really, any of the inflammatory "itis" diseases, such as colitis, arthritis, dermatitis, and bronchitis, can come from allergies.
Evaluating allergies is another complex and controversial issue. There are a number of tests available to evaluate environmental and food allergies. Skin testing is probably the best way to isolate specific environmental allergens, because these are harder to detect ourselves, especially for substances such as pollens. Molds may be a bit easier to isolate, as by noticing our reactions upon going into a damp house. Allergies to animals are often fairly simple to identify, though many of us deny our chronic reaction to our beloved cat or dog. There are many techniques for skin testing. I prefer the Rinkel method because it individualizes the analysis and treatment plan. Some doctors use group antigen testing, mixing a variety of pollens or animal danders together. This is simpler and usually less costly and time consuming, though not always as effective, especially in patients with more complex problems.
When it comes to foods, the source of most allergies, skin testing is not as useful. Only a small percentage of reactions may be found through this method. That is why traditional allergists believe that all the brouhaha over food allergies is unwarranted. But many allergy-oriented family doctors know that food allergies are indeed important, and the basis of many problems. (One of these is Dr. Theron Randolph, who set up an inpatient clinical ecology unit at a Chicago hospital, where he isolates people from most allergens and then tests them with one allergen at a time.)
Possible Allergy Symptoms and Problems
|Fatigue||Runny nose||Weight gain|
|Learning disabilities||Sinus congestion||Weight swings|
|Hyperactivity||Canker sores||Binge eating|
|Mood swings||Tinnitis||Frequent hunger|
|Irritability||Ear congestion ||Joint pain|
|Depression||Recurrent ear infections||Swelling of hands or feet|
|Muscle aches||Cough||Arthritis, juvenile|
|Muscle weakness||Sore throat ||Arthritis, rheumatoid|
|Disorientation||Chest congestion||Drug addiction|
|Poor thinking||Itching||Cigarette smoking|
|Diarrhea||Nonspecific rash||Regional ileitis|
|Constipation||Palpitations|| Ulcerative colitis|
|Vomiting|| Edema|| Bloating|
|Dark circles under eyes ||Heartburn||Vaginal itching|
|Recurrent vaginitis|| Loss of sex drive|
Some tests are fairly good for measuring food allergies; techniques have improved in recent years. The RAST (Radio Allergo Sorbent Test), which measures IgG or IgE antibodies to specific food antigens, is probably the best. It is costly, but it can give us the most accurate results for a large number of foods all at once. Cytotoxic testing, which measures the cellular response (mainly of white blood cells) to food antigens, has fallen into disuse because of lack of accuracy of many labs due to the subjective nature of the test. A newer, computerized technique, ALCAT, which measures white blood cell reactions to food antigens, may be a more useful test.
There are tests that completely evaluate and correlate allergic reactions to food with actual patient experiences. Self-testing or a clinical form of self-testing is really the best. These include a variety of techniques using a general method called provocative testing, where the patient receives sublingual drops of foods, ingests capsules containing powdered foods, or eats whole foods. Ideally, the patient does not know what food is being tested and has not eaten it for several days, for then reactions will be most clear. However, in a clinical setting, a patient may know what food is being tested, may have eaten it within the last 12–24 hours, and may have only 30 minutes to observe a reaction. All these factors make this type of test less accurate. It may take longer than the time allotted to react to a food, and our psyche often influences our reactions when we know what food is being tested. In addition, when several foods are tested on the same day, overlapping reactions may occur.