What Are Allergies? Can probiotics help with allergies?

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Professor, Super Nutrition Academy
Spring is in full swing and allergies abound. If you have allergies, you’re probably feeling like nature is attacking you with armies of pollen.
Spring cleaning brings out the dust mites, plants coming out of winter slumber put out their pollen, and fungus puts out its spores.

What are allergies?

Allergy symptoms are your own immune system going haywire. Allergies range from common sniffles, eczema and asthma to more serious conditions such as hay fever and anaphylaxis. Some allergies, such as going into anaphylactic shock within minutes of eating nuts, are instant. Other immunal responses can be delayed, and are much harder to detect.

Delayed allergic reactions

Let’s say you ate some bread and you notice that tomorrow, you have a rapid heart rate, well, how do you necessarily know it’s from bread? It’s very tough to detect this stuff. You ate all kinds of other things yesterday. But let’s say you have a theory that it is the bread and you try removing bread from your diet.
If you’re right about it being the bread, then when you stop eating bread, the symptoms will improve. For instance, if you get a runny nose every time you have bread or wheat, then you can, over time, pinpoint your sensitivity by removing the food entirely for a few weeks, and then reintroducing it. When you reintroduce the bread, then your symptoms should come back within a few days of consuming it.
Delayed reactions are generally not acutely life-threatening. However, I’m going to argue that even though they’re not life-threatening today, this kind of chronic inflammation on a long-term basis becomes your foundation for disease. This is something you’re not going to hear from a doctor because they can’t detect it based on their testing methods.
It all comes down to inflammation. We see that an allergic response is basically an inflammatory response in the body. Whether that’s anaphylactic shock or a more subtle response, if we have this kind of chronic systemic inflammation happening every single day of our lives, that is going to wreak havoc on our health down the road.
To understand allergies better, let’s look at your immune system.

What exactly is your immune system?

The immune system is your body’s defense system against foreign invaders. The phrase “immune system” is a way describing the body’s methods of dealing with foreign substances. Because almost every organ of the body has some method of defense, almost every part of your body is part of your immune system.
The skin, mucosal membranes, hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), and saliva provide the first barriers to entry. Next, the “innate immunity” cells like neutrophils and monocytes are called into action, in which an inflammatory response (ie. red, swelling, pain) occurs. If your body needs even more help, an antibody response (T cells and B cells) happens within your body.
Your antibodies identify and “tag” foreign invaders (antigens) so that they can respond quicker and more effectively to that same antigen in the future.
These foreign invaders — antigens — are identified by white blood cells created within your thymus gland and bone marrow. Your white blood cells circulate your body through the lymph system. Because your lymph fluid is not powered by a heart (like your blood), you need to physically exercise in order to get your lymph fluid moving.
The lymphatic system is where most of the actions of the immune system take place. Inside the lymph nodes is where the “battle” and processing usually occur. This is where inflammatory responses of mast cells — histamine release — is happening within your body.

The Cause of Allergies

So, what is the cause of allergies? It may surprise you to discover that it is inadequate exposure to soil-associated bacteria in early childhood. That’s why we’re seeing this huge discrepancy between those who were brought up and live in the city versus those who are brought up and live in the country. Being exposed to pets, soil and germs in general builds your natural immunity. (This isn’t to be confused with exposure to chemicals, which your body cannot create antibodies for.)
The typical medical treatment for allergies is to deal with the symptoms. Whether you are an athlete with muscle inflammation or an older woman with eczema, the doctor says, “You know what? We’re not too sure what’s going on here, but we’ll give you some corticosteroids to settle down that inflammation of the body.” They’ll give you a topical cream, pill or inhaler to settle down your inflammation.
These prescriptions do work but they have traumatic impacts on your health over the long run. Claritin and Reactine and other antihistamines reduce the level of histamine in your body, so therefore, you won’t have the runny nose and the itchy eyes, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Firsthand Experience

I can tell you firsthand. I had really bad asthma when I was a kid, up until I was about in my midteens. I remember specifically times in my life when I was trying to sleep — where I would be working so hard to breathe. It really is not fun to have that degree of asthma, where you feel you can’t even breathe.
I remember my immunologist and my allergist telling me, “You have asthma. You have eczema. Don’t have any animals in the house. Make sure there are no carpets; everything should be clean.”
And that’s really the opposite of what we’re seeing now to being beneficial for early-childhood development of a good immune system. Growing up with pet dogs or cats — and especially pet dogs — is associated with lower rates of allergy and asthma.
However, if the dog stays indoors all day, like a condo in the city, you’re not going to get the same effect, but if the dog is able to go outside, do its thing, eat some dirt, dig his snout in the grass, eat some worms, whatever it does, and brings that back into the house, you’d think that’s not a great thing because now it’s getting dirty and whatever. That’s one of the best things we can do for our kids.
So, it seems, ironically, that the earlier you are exposed to a wide variety of germs, the better off your immune system’s going to be. It’s very, very counterintuitive to what we have been led to believe, with all this, “I gotta wash her hands with antibacterial soap,” and, “I can’t get any germs. We’ve gotta clean our hands all the time, all the time, all the time.”
The good news is that things can change if your childhood wasn’t ideal. Over the last ten years I’ve cut out allergens and changed my diet. I rarely ever use my puffer. Maybe once, if it’s allergy season.
I have done in-depth research with respect to alopecia because that is the autoimmune condition that I have. I’ve regrown most of my hair, but doctors are doubtful that my changes had anything to do with it. Some doctors say it doesn’t really matter what you do; it’s going to come and go. I don’t believe that. I’ve noticed when my diet is clean, things definitely improve.

Does getting sick help?

I mentioned that being exposed to allergens, being exposed to microorganisms, bacteria and germs is a good thing in terms of populating our gut flora with the right bacteria. However, being exposed to viruses may or may not be protective. There was a 2008 study that showed children who were sick in the first year of life were more likely to develop asthma than those who were not sick during their first year of life.

Can Probiotics Help?

Can probiotics help? Well, the short answer is yes. A study done in The Journal of Pediatrics in 2009, looked at the effects of probiotics. Group one was fed just lactobacillus acidophilus; group two was given lactobacillus acidophilus plus bifidobacterium. These probiotics were given daily for six months. Group three was given a placebo.
Group one, the lactobacillus acidophilus group, reduced the fever incidents by 53%; cough by 41%; antibiotic use decreased by 68%! And days absent from school was decreased by 32%!
Group two was the combination of lactobacillus plus bifidobacterium. This reduced fever incidents by 73%; reduced cough by 62%; antibiotic use reduced by 84%; and days absent from school or kindergarten, 28%.
It is a very straightforward conclusion that probiotics will help. It’s a great idea to supplement with probiotics and fermented foods to populate your body with the beneficial bacteria that are supposed to be there. We live in an overly germ-free environment. Adding in good germs — probiotics — is a proven aid.

If you’d like to learn more nutrition truths and develop a solid understanding of how food and your body interact to create great health and prevent disease, then…

Click here to learn about Super Nutrition Academy. To give you an idea of how much fascinating information the Super Nutrition Academy holds, this entire article is only about 30% of Lesson 22, which is just one of 48 lessons, not counting the bonus videos.
– Yuri Elkaim
Want another great article from Yuri? Check out The Truth About Fat and Best Vegan Protein Sources.

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