The first thing we need to understand is what an allergy is. An allergy is a reaction to something outside the body that the body itself feels is a threat to it. More specifically, this is the immune system.
The truth of the matter is, everybody has allergies in as much as the body is always going to view outside agents such as pollen, grass, weeds, and even foods as invaders.
The difference between someone who “suffers” from allergies and someone who doesn’t is the degree to which the body reacts or in the case of sufferers, overreacts to the allergen.
For example, let’s take hay fever season where the pollen count is especially high and have two people walk out into the street.
The person who has a normal immune system and doesn’t overreact to every outside allergen will probably not even notice that the pollen count is high.
There will be no itching, sneezing, watering of the eyes or any symptoms whatsoever. The person who has an overactive immune system, at least to this particular type of allergen, will begin to sneeze.
Maybe the eyes will start to water. In severe cases the person may even have trouble breathing, all because their immune system is viewing the pollen as a great threat.
So the question is, why do some people have immune systems that behave normally and others have immune systems that overreact?
Studies show that in most cases this is because these people are genetically disposed to reacting in such a manner.
Maybe they inherited this particular predisposition from their mother or father. Maybe it even skipped a generation, but in most cases this is simply inherited.
In other cases, allergies are not inherited. In these cases the person’s immune system does not work correctly or is weakened because of some other condition.
Maybe they are a poor eater and thus aren’t getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy. This can weaken the immune system and cause it to behave erratically.
In other cases the weakened immune system is caused by another underlying problem such as an inability of the body to absorb a certain protein or amino acid.
In either case, the immune system becomes what we call “hyperactive”. This results in the immune system identifying quite harmless substances as enemies and then reacts totally out of proportion to the threat itself.
In some cases the reaction can be severe enough to cause some serious health problems. Yes, people can die from allergies so this is not something to be taken lightly.
Many people believe that if there is a genetic disposition to allergies then there is nothing that can do to solve the problem. This is actually not so.
There are many things a person can naturally do to build up their immune system so that allergies are no longer a problem. These will be covered in future articles.
Food allergies and intolerances
You go out to the local pizza parlor, order two slices with extra cheese, sit down at the booth with your pizza in one hand and coke in the other and chow down.
A few hours later after you’ve arrived back home just in time to watch your favorite TV show, suddenly your stomach feels like it’s about to erupt like a volcano. You run like a madman to the bathroom just in time to experience what seems to be the complete emptying of your insides.
In the case of the runs after eating a couple of slices of pizza most likely you’re lactose intolerant which is just one type of food allergy.
Technically, you can be allergic to just about any kind of food but there are some that seem to be more common that others.
Before we go any further let’s define exactly what a food allergy is. Food allergies can be broken down into 2 categories. The first one is hypersensitivity.
This is an adverse reaction of the immune system itself and is unrelated to any actual physical effect of the food or food additive. These reactions are caused by immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
The second category is food intolerance. This is actually caused by the food itself and is not a function of the immune system itself overreacting to the food or food additive. The symptoms of an intolerance may be very similar to those of an actual immune symptom reaction but the causes are quite different.
Of the two, actual immune system reactions are the more common, though it does appear that a trend to intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, is on the rise.
What actually happens with food allergies is that people with allergies produce IgE antibodies to specific epitopes in the food allergen.
These antibodies bind to IgE receptors on the mast cells of tissue that are on the skin, digestive tract and respiratory system. The exposure of these antigens causes the release of histamines.
This ultimately results in mucus secretion and muscle contraction which then leads to a wide range of symptoms which can range from unpleasant to serious or even severe. How severe?
Allergic reactions to food can be fatal almost immediately following the ingestion of food. Probably one of the most prevalent and dangerous of these food allergies are people who are allergic to peanuts.
Just recently, as of this writing, a girl died simply from kissing someone who had recently eaten peanuts. That is how dangerous these allergies can be.
Less severe reactions to food allergies are oropharyngeal pruritus, angioedema, stridor, cough, dyspnea, wheezing, and dysphonia.
Aside from peanuts, the most common foods that people are allergic to are tree nuts, and shellfish.
Unfortunately the best way to avoid food allergies is to have a food allergy test done and then to avoid the foods that show positive on the test.
Camille McClellan, MD, DNM, MBS
McClellan Natural Health, Wellness & Nutrition
Free Naturopathic/Homeopathic Consults Available