Allergies: Why You May Be Allergic To the 21st Century
Among the industrialised nations, health statisticians predict that those who are children now will be the first generation that has poorer health, more obesity and a shorter lifespan than their parents. With the many benefits of affluence and education in such countries, how has this tragic state developed?
Sadly, even when people make an effort regarding good health habits, like faithfully tending a garden built over hidden quicksand, poor foundations will let them down.
From the twentieth century onwards a world has been created like none other before. Each year you ingest some of the 80,000 lab-made chemicals which have had no testing of their cumulative consequences. Most fresh looking products that seem to promise good health in fact come from low nutrient soils, prodded into production by artificial protectors and growth promoters. Apart from food, industrial chemicals are breathed in or land on your skin, get absorbed and take a joyride through the blood stream. This is thanks to out-gassing particles from every plastic, paint, dye, resin, glue, petrol fume and scented toiletry or cleaning agent surrounding you (see my website TIPS: Chemicals; also Are Vitamin Supplements A Commercial Con?).
Since the industrial revolution food has had more of a commercial priority than a nutritional one. Hunter-gatherers used to eat annually from a range of over 200 foods. Most urban-ites now substantially partake of only 10 (wheat, dairy, sugar, eggs, a few meats, vegetables and fruit). Such repetitive intake strains nutrient resources and the specific enzymes needed to break down each food. Farmers once grew several varieties of grain for their own use; now wheat predominates internationally. Historically there were once hundreds of types of wheat while now there are three dominant strains worldwide. These have been bred and engineered for the highest gluten content possible to ensure fluffy, high-rising products. No longer are bread dough and cake batters lengthily fermented, which makes them more digestible. Instead a long list of additives ups the speed, storage time, profit margin – and compromised digestive function.
The land that farmed animals dine on is heavily treated with agrochemicals that leach into waterways. Dairy herds are treated with hormones to accelerate weight gain, milk production and keep lactation to a convenient industry schedule. Milk isn’t fresh, seasonal or naturally fermented. Instead it is heated over high temperatures that damage its proteins and fats, destroys its enzymes and diminishes its vitamins and minerals. Homogenisation further breaks down molecules in a way linked with a greater likelihood of inflammatory passage through the gut wall. Then natural constituents such as fat may be extracted, and other high-tech components added according to trendy concerns, rather than a true appreciation for wholesomeness. Modern foodstuffs are as distant from their original predecessors as our lifestyles are compared to ancient forbears. In contrast however, biologically we are virtually identical.
It is therefore no surprise that generations are weakening, that allergies and other compromised immune system conditions are spiking in prevalence. So what can one person do amid this omnipresent onslaught? The answer is threefold: improve immunity, improve gut health, and decrease intake of your most stressful adverse triggers or allergens. Specialist immunologists in the United Kingdom have reported a significant rise in the number of patients suffering from several allergies at once, with the severity of the reaction also increasing. A consultant immunologist in Birmingham says “We used to say that 15% of the population had an allergy of some sort, now the figure is nearer 40%”. A multinational report noted a sharp increase in allergies in India – not among the poor, but the burgeoning middle class intent on highly processed western foods, chemical laden toiletries and like products.
Your Faithful Watchdog: The Immune System
If you have ever had a fever, or red and itchy skin after an insect bite, a wound with pus, or swollen glands in your throat: congratulations. These indicate an immune system hard at work quelling invaders.
It is the immune system’s job to protect the body from threatening antagonists. These include the body’s own damaged – perhaps cancerous – cells and pathogens: bacteria, viruses, fungi (such as the yeast candida) and parasites (such as worms, giardia, the infectious transmissions of mosquitoes, lice, fleas). An illustrative example of the voracious power of pathogens is what happens to a dead human body. Within hours – without the protection of your immune system – a corpse is invaded by a multitude of bacteria and fungi. Within weeks these organisms leave only the skeleton behind. This intense activity provides a needed and efficient global sanitation service. To a living body however, these organisms can cause infection, which means entry and multiplication. If there is a strong enough immune system though, then the next stage can be prevented: disease or the point of cellular damage.
The Link Between Food and the Immune Response
One of the greatest challenges to the immune system is the food you eat. Over 80% of your immune system’s security forces are therefore positioned along the intestinal tract. Pathogens or contaminants may be attached to foods; a protein or other fraction may be poorly digested, cross the intestinal barrier and cause an inflammatory response there or at a distant site; or a food molecule may – for inherited reasons, excessive use or poor micronutrient levels – act as an antigen or dangerous invader which stimulates production of an antibody. A food antigen becomes bound to a specialised allergic antibody known as an immunoglobulin or Ig. These are produced by white blood cells during an immune response to an invader. They can be recognized by a variety of tests including saliva, blood and hair.
A conventional medical test for environmental allergens (pollen or dust mites for example) and food allergens has been a skin scratch test. However this is best at detecting the presence of one type of immunoglobulin. This type, IgE, is primarily evident with allergies that involve immediate or fixed reactions (and also with the presence of parasites). An example is when a person’s face or throat swells each time peanuts or shellfish are eaten. It is not a good register of other major families – such as IgG, IgD and IgM – which can be implicated with delayed, cyclical or masked reactions. In these cases someone can eat a food that the body considers a threat, and then one to three days later experience worsened moods, eczema, hay fever, digestive problems, headaches or virtually any other symptom.
A hair analysis test is ideal for determining masked reactions. These tests have long been utilised to check for mineral levels and toxic heavy metals. If a person is poisoned and swiftly dies, there are forensically determinable traces in their hair. Newer technology such as ‘near infrared spectroscopy’ – as recently reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology – has related levels of other constituents to the risk for instance, of developing melanoma. Sydney University discovered that breast cancer changes the molecular structure of hair. Tumours secrete cytokines which affects how the follicle forms. However, most inflammatory conditions (about 80% of all disease) produce cytokines or similar markers. Your ‘crowning glory’ provides a visible and varied report on internal status. New Zealand research now advocates the stable picture provided by hair tests on mothers to determine foetal development risks. In contrast blood and urine levels can alter with one meal.
Protecting the Intestinal Barricade
Observing a connection between intake and delayed consequences is not easy, especially if the food is consumed regularly. A reaction may only be experienced or intensified with the addition of stress, menses or other health challenges. Stress – whether psychological or from an adversarial food – draws heavily upon nutrient and glandular resources and decreases IgA levels. IgA is found in respiratory and gut secretions, saliva, tears and helps neutralise harmful viral and bacterial antigens. It is a pre-eminent protector of the intestinal tract lining. This is the critical barricade against the entry of food antigens. When IgA is low the absorption of destructive antigens and pathogens increases explosively.
Increased intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’ (Your Gut) can be the initiating environment for irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, hay fever, asthma, pathogenic infections, auto-immune disorders, cancer, neurological problems (such as depression and anxiety), skin, skeletal and muscular problems (psoriasis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and others). It encourages chronic Inflammation, now viewed by medical science as linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes (here gut toxins induce insulin resistance, poor glucose use, fatigue and easy weight gain), as well as cardiovascular disease (inflammatory markers such as cytokines and C-reactive protein are high risk indicators for stroke, blood clots and heart disease).
Most people think that their immunity is fine if they are not getting colds or flu. The opposite may be true. No more than one mild, annual head cold can be a good eliminative mechanism. It also signals that there is sufficient vitality for the body to summon an acute response. Consider how swiftly young children can develop fever, heavy mucous discharge, vomiting and diarrhea. Young bodies are capable of these vigorous, acute responses to a threat. People with degenerative conditions (such as diabetes) and many with chronic conditions (such as osteoarthritis) may no longer have the vitality to summon a brief, sharp response (When Getting Sick Can Be A Sign Of Good Health; also Pain).
Allergy Tests: Why They Are Useful
Just as any one human being is made up of a vast weave of personal factors, each food – even if whole and organically grown – is likewise complex with thousands of constituents. Put any person together with any one food and any number of chemical reactions – constructive or destructive – can occur. A ‘one diet fits all’ approach is utterly illogical.
Only a small percentage of the population has a classic allergy with a swiftly observable reaction upon the ingestion, inhalation or topical (surface) introduction of an allergen. Far more people are likely to have a delayed reaction, which can also be termed a sensitivity or intolerance. This type of problem most likely begins when a particular food is inadequately broken down or digested. An inflammatory cascade then ensues. When people eat foods that they are sensitive to, a wide range of seemingly unrelated mental and physical symptoms can result. If eaten regularly there may be no noticeable link between consumption, and the erratic or chronic consequences (Moods and Foods).
Why the reactions are so varied has to do with that vast and critical juncture where they commonly initiate. The small intestine (running from the end of the stomach to the start of the bowel or large intestine) is the main area for digestion. If spread out, it would be larger than a tennis court. Its surface area is only about one cell thick to help maximise your absorption of life essential nutrients. However this permeability also means that any foreign, toxic or improperly digested particles can easily cross the mucous membrane lining and move into general circulation.
This can instigate a number of crisis reactions. The immune system may mobilise white blood cells to defeat the invader. For some people this retaliation does not shut off and ongoing damage is done to host tissue such as with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders. Antibodies may bind to the offending particle while stimulating the release of histamine, which causes swelling, reddening and pain in weakened areas. An inflamed gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes less capable of repelling pathogens and dealing with abnormal cells that can become cancerous. Digestion worsens and even an otherwise good diet plus supplements cannot address ongoing nutrient deficiencies.
Whether the problem begins with the gut or with immunity, when one half of this dynamic duo is compromised so will the other be. Chemical messages of alarm and disturbance can then affect any body system, as well as mind and mood. The consequences of unaddressed food intolerances can become seemingly disparate disorders in themselves – perhaps migraines, chronic fatigue, endometriosis or depression. The immune system and the digestive system then become even less tolerant of a wide range of emotional, chemical and environmental triggers. Removing these toxic stressors can achieve a transformative resolution to problems that otherwise elude diagnosis and treatment.
How To Obtain An Allergy Test
The test that has demonstrated its clinical accuracy over many decades is a Hair Tissue Analysis Test – but only when done by a qualified, specialist institution. A tiny hair sample is taken (coloured and treated hair is no problem; body hair may be used if necessary) and sent to a UK-affiliate lab, which employs magnetic resonance testing (the technology used by MRI scans). Results are returned within 5 weeks. These are accompanied with a read-out on any vitamin, mineral or other dietary deficiency. Results and their management will be explained during your scheduled appointment.
Just as critical as the type of test used, is the quality and experience of the lab and the training of its staff. The laboratory I utilise requires their technicians to have 15 years experience in the public health field before applying. There is then 4 years of training before they work with a mentor and assess samples for clients. Over the years I have experimented with other service providers (including sending the same sample to different labs) but there has not been the degree of accuracy proven out over time.
Clients often comment that they had unknowingly accepted many symptoms and problems as ‘normal’, and never really knew what good health felt like before they had this level of assistance.