An allergy is a reaction that occurs when the immune system is overly sensitive to a substance that is normally harmless. This substance is usually something in the environment, such as dust mites, pollen, animal dander, medications, bites, and stings. Allergies to food proteins are also very common – the most common food allergies are cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. However, other foods can also cause IgE allergies. It is important to remember that a food allergy is different to a food sensitivity or intolerance. Read here for the difference between intolerance and sensitivity.
Immediately or soon after the body is exposed to the allergen, an immune reaction occurs, causing the IgE antibodies to produce in the body. During this process, inflammatory substances, such as histamine, are produced. These inflammatory compounds cause symptoms and anaphylaxis.
What are the underlying causes of allergies?
Genetics appears to be a significant determining factor in the development of allergies.
Research has suggested that exposure to different foods as a baby may contribute to the risk of developing food allergies. In a 2015 study, 600 children were randomly assigned to eat peanuts or avoid peanuts. Children who started eating peanuts at a younger age (younger than one year) were less likely to have developed a peanut allergy at age five than those who avoided peanuts. However, the researchers emphasised that this may not be effective for everyone. While most children grow out of allergies to eggs and milk, allergies to nuts and seafood can be lifelong. More research is needed to confirm the link.
The health of the digestive system should also be explored in any case of allergy. A healthy gut lining is made up of epithelial cells that are held together by tight junctions, creating a strong barrier. This ensures that proteins and antigens that can cause allergic reactions can not escape the digestive system and enter other areas of the body. If the gut lining becomes damaged – a term known as ‘leaky gut’ or impaired intestinal permeability – proteins and antigens may pass through the intestinal wall, entering the bloodstream and potentially causing an allergic response. A study found that patients with both food allergies and food sensitivities had increased intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut). They also found that the more damaged the gut lining was, the more severe the allergies and intolerances were.
How can a Naturopath help to improve signs and symptoms of allergy?
Firstly, a comprehensive examination of your individual (and family) history enables your Naturopath to put the pieces of the puzzle together – making links between your environment, diet, lifestyle, and the health of your body systems. Your Naturopath will then usually recommend comprehensive pathology testing. This can help to identify the foods you are reacting to if they are unknown. Pathology testing may include testing the blood for antibodies and assessing the health of the digestive system through a comprehensive and diagnostic stool analysis or a leaky gut test. After pathology testing, you will then be given a tailored treatment plan, which may include:
Treatments to repair gut health – our Naturopaths are highly experienced in working with clients to improve their gut health. Each person’s treatment plan is different and may include nutritional medicine to enhance collagen production, probiotic therapy to repopulate healthy levels of bacteria, and gut-healing foods to reduce inflammation.
Nutritional and herbal medicines to modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation – food allergies can cause inflammation of the wall of the small intestine and activation of the immune system. Once the offending foods have been identified and omitted from the diet, it is imperative to repair any damage to the gut and rebalance the function of the immune system.
A customised eating plan – nutrient deficiencies are common in people who have restricted their diet due to allergies. Therefore, our Naturopaths ensure that you are offered alternatives to foods you must avoid, ensuring you aren’t missing out on vital nutrients.
If allergies are having an impact on your health, we would love to work with you.
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