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Allergies: Environmental or Food? Which Are You Suffering From?

Ate allergies robbing you of a happy, productive life? If so, I can relate!

As a child I sneezed constantly whenever I was outdoors or around second-hand smoke (both of my parents smoked). My eyes and the roof of my mouth were swollen and itchy. My nose was a never-ending faucet, and I remember being embarrassed at school when I didn't bring enough tissues.

My father gave me desensitizing injections daily during the spring and summer In addition, I took antihistamines that made me sleepy and affected my ability to study and play sports. Every fall and winter, I had terrible colds and flu that led to bronchitis and pneumonia. No one connected my allergies with my sicknesses, but they were connected. Frequently an allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a substance that is harmless to most people.

There are two kinds of allergies: environmental (airborne) and food. Either can produce a variety of symptoms and lead to asthma, bronchitis, headaches, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and other health problems. Allergies affect not only how you feel physically, but emotionally as well. In fact, depression and anxiety are often symptoms of an allergic reaction.

But before you run and take a medicinal or herbal antidepressant, look for the cause of your emotional upsets. Do they occur after eating certain foods? Do you experience them after exposure to environmental substances like smog, dust, pollens, or perfumes? Be gentle with yourself as you explore your options for treatment. Impatience may also be part of an allergy syndrome.

Environmental allergies can be triggered by such things as perfumes, house dust, tobacco smoke, molds, cleaning products, gasoline fumes, and exhaust. Food allergies may not be allergies at all, but a sensitivity caused by overeating a particular food. These symptoms can often be reduced or eliminated, while allergies remain constant. A true allergy is where you always get the same reaction when you eat something. Both food allergies and sensitivities may trigger irritable bowel syndrome and other, milder, digestive problems.

Common food sensitivities include wheat, dairy, and corn. Eggs, tomatoes, soy, peanuts, and chocolate sensitivities are also common, but you can react to anything. I've known people to react to eating chicken and even bananas.

Is it an allergy?

There are a number of tests for allergies. Medical doctors frequently use skin testing, or the "scratch test," which is a consistent way to test for environmental allergies. Unfortunately, it is less accurate in identifying problem foods. In, an excellent resource book, Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Richard Wilkinson, MD, director of the Yakima Allergy Clinic in Yakima, WA, says that the Serial Endpoint Titration (SET) is even better It results in the formulation of allergy shots or drops that get results within a few weeks. Scratch test methods can take a year or more.

The IgG Elisa and FICA (Food Immune Complex Assay) test is much more precise in determining both allergies and sensitivities. It measures the presence of specific foods and their antibodies in the blood, says James Braly, MD, medical director of Immuno Labs, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, FL (800-231-9197, or Blood samples can be mailed in and analyzed by computer quickly and accurately.

The Pan American Allergy Society has a listing of doctors throughout the country who use these and other methods for testing and treating allergies. You can get this listing on the Internet for no charge at PAAS_%20Directory.htm, or get a printed directory for $5.00 from P.O. Box 947, Fredericksburg, TX 78624.

There are other, less conventional, diagnostic tests such as electroacupuncture biofeedback and NAET, a system for identifying and treating allergies developed by acupuncturist/chiropractor Devi Nambudripad. Many practitioners of electroacupuncture biofeedback keep a low profile, since this system is not recognized by medical science as being accurate. However, if you can find someone who uses it, you may find, as I did years ago, that the results are very good. NAET uses acupuncture or acupressure to re-program the brain's response to an allergen. I thought this was very woo-woo until a doctor friend of mine who had studied NAET from Dr Devi desensitized me to corn. Whenever I ate a product with corn, I got sleepy. I don't anymore. (NAET information: or call 888-890-0670).

Reducing allergic reactions

Digestion: The most important step in improving your digestion is to chew your food well and to eat when you're sitting down. Chew all starches and sugars very, very well -- even carrot juice and mashed potatoes -- because the first stage of their digestion is in the mouth. Be calm and receptive when you eat.

Add probiotics and prebiotics to your diet. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help keep the pathogenic bacteria that cause disease in check. They include acidophilus, bifidus, bulgaricum, and others. Use single probiotics for a stronger activity. When friendly bacteria are mixed together they compete with one another The exception is Healthy Trinity (Natren, Inc.), which combines three probiotics and surrounds them with an oil molecule to separate them. I like and use all Natren products and get good results with them. Probiotics exist in small amounts from yogurt, miso, saurkraut, and other fermented dairy and soy products.

Prebiotics are food for friendly bacteria found in whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables, and fruits. One most widely known is FOS, which stands for fructo-oligosaccharides. FOS are found in Jerusalem artichokes (called sun chokes), onions, and garlic. FOS is also sold in natural food stores and added to probiotics. I have known Natasha Trenev, president of Natren, Inc., for more than a dozen years. If FOS helped probiotics, she would use them. In Probiotics: Nature's Internal Healers, she explains that not all friendly bacteria eat FOS, and FOS stimulates the growth of at least one pathogenic bacteria: Klebsiella. It's not very stable, says Trenev, and is manufactured by chemical synthesis, so it's not natural. Get your FOS from the foods you eat.

If you still have gas, bloating, fatigue, headaches, or other digestive problems, you could have an overgrowth of a yeast, Candida albicans. Candida is hard to get under control. It takes vigilance and doing everything necessary. This includes taking plenty of probiotics, eating a low-carbohydrate diet (candida feeds on refined sugars and excess carbs), and using an anti-fungal (herbal, nutritional like caprylic acid, or pharmaceutical such as Nystatin or Nyzerol). You should see some results within a few weeks, but to get candida under control often takes as long as a year and sometimes longer.

When digestive problems persist, I suggest digestive enzymes. You can take pancreatic enzymes made from animal tissues, or plant enzymes. Both will help you digest your foods better Try taking one or two enzymes with a meal. If this helps, try cutting back after two or three months. You may then be able to produce enough on your own, especially if you're chewing well.

Are you too sensitive?

If you eat the same foods every day, you may have a sensitivity to that food, like wheat (bread, pasta, cookies). If your ancestors came from Asia or were Sephardic Jews, you may have a problem digesting lactose (milk sugar). You can inherit a predisposition to a food sensitivity or create it through your eating habits. In either case, the solution is the same: Stop eating the problem food 100 percent for two weeks. Then eat it by itself. If you have a sensitivity to it, you'll get a negative reaction like extreme fatigue, bloating, or a headache.

Once you've identified a food allergen, completely eliminate it for three to six months. Then, re-test it by itself once more. Repeat until you get no reaction. At this point you can re-introduce it in small amounts -- but not daily.

Support your immune system

Allergies can be a result of an impaired or weakened immune system, so the more you strengthen yours, the more you are likely to reduce your allergic symptoms. Look at your years of exposure to toxins and use the March article on detoxification to rid your body of some of your toxic overload. Even reducing it a bit can boost your immunity.

Eating a lot of refined sugar (75 grams) can reduce your immunity by 50 percent within two hours, according to the authors of Longevity. Stop eating refined sugar and replace with small amounts of fruit-juice sweetened desserts and snacks.

Support your adrenal glands

Stress contributes to allergies by changing the body's physical and mental responses, says Carolee Bateson-Koch, DC, ND in her book Allergies: Disease in Disguise. I've found this to be true. Years ago, my landlady complained to me about her spring airborne allergies. She had seen an allergist with no results and didn't want to change her diet or lifestyle. I gave her some raw adrenal gland supplements and within a week she noticed a vast improvement.

Why did this work? The adrenal glands handle all stressors in our lives: physical, emotional, environmental, dietary, thermal (too hot or too cold), etc. When you reduce the stressors or support the adrenal glands by giving them nutrients they can use immediately, like those found in raw adrenal supplements, you may reduce the severity of allergic symptoms.

Finding help

The Alternative Medicine Guide lists the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, 8201 Greensboro Dr., Suite 300, McLean, VA 22102 (703-610-9037) as an organization that can help you find a licensed naturopathic physician. Naturopaths use a variety of techniques and may be an excellent place to start unless you can find an acupuncturist, homeopath, medical doctor, or nutritionist in your area who is familiar with allergy treatment.

Seek professional help if your journey doesn't give you the results you're looking for. Eliminating allergic symptoms can be tricky, but I've found in my own practice that it can be done with persistence. Don't give up.

The Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1997, (800-3334525).

Trenev, Natasha. Probiotics: Nature's Internal Healers, Avery Publishing, 1988.

Bateson-Koch, Carolee, DC, ND. Allergies: Disease in Disguise, Alive Books, Vancouver, Canada, 1998.

Cowden, W. Lee, MD, et al. Longevity: An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide,, Inc.,2001 (800-515-4325).

Pouls, Gregory, DC, and Maile Pouls, PhD. The Supplement Shopper, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 2999, (800-333-4325).
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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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