“Ahhh, the fresh scent of
“Hmm, that yummy peanut butter
and jelly sandwich!!! “
For most of us, the above
statements are a thing of joy, the beginning of something exciting, however,
for some, the coming of spring, the presence of an allergen like peanuts or
other allergens are not as exciting and result in a battle of itches, hives,
stuffy noses and in some cases, more serious anaphylactic reactions. If you’re
unaware of a sensitvity, you might find yourself stating the following;
“Oops, where did these hives come
“Oh Goodness, why is my nose
runny and itchy and sneezy?”
“Uh oh, I’m having difficulty
The source of our allergies actually starts before we are born – part of it is our genetics, but a lot of it has to do with the environment and early exposures. Exposure to our mothers’ beneficial microbiome and antibodies provides us with essential protection but also helps build our immune systems, which would be useful in identifying appropriate stimuli, instead of misfiring against the benign stimuli, like pollen or peanuts, causing an allergic reaction.
The term ‘allergy’ was coined by Clemens von Pirquet in 1906 to call attention to the unusual propensity of some individuals to develop signs and symptoms of reactivity, or ‘hypersensitivity reactions’, when exposed to innocuous substances in the environment, affecting approximately 10-30% of the world’s population. It is considered one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world and can range from mild to severe and in some cases, could be life-threatening. Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status.
Allergic reactions are inappropriate, inflammatory, overreactions to generally non-toxic stimuli (or allergens), including pollen, certain food, insects, animal dander, latex, and some medicines, to name a few. In response to an allergen, the body responds with excessive production of specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies and mast cell activation, which initiates a cascade of molecular events that affect the respiratory tract (allergic rhinitis and asthma), skin (dermatitis) and multi-system targets (anaphylaxis). Consistent exposure to allergens will lead to a chronic inflammatory response that will continue to irritate and harm the affected tissues. The chronic inflammatory and allergic reaction can have far more serious effects and cause long-lasting damage to the tissues and organs, therefore, it is important to know what allergens a person is susceptible to, avoid those allergens or treat immediately any allergic reactions. In the last decade, it has become very clear that the pathology of allergic disorders reflects the long-term consequences of chronic allergic inflammation, therefore focusing on managing allergic disorders, redirecting our immune systems and calming the inflammatory response will be beneficial.
The easiest suggestion for
managing allergies and the subsequent inflammatory reactions is to avoid the
allergens, however, in the real world, this might not be the most feasible
option, considering that some of the allergens are constantly present in the
environment and just by existing, we become exposed to some of these allergens.
In lieu of avoiding the allergens, where impossible, there are a few other ways
to manage allergic and inflammatory reactions, including:
- Ensuring controlled exposures to allergens that can’t be avoided: when possible, avoid exposure to allergens. When impossible, take additional care to limit exposure. Talk to friends, colleagues, etc. to notify them of your allergies. This might be helpful in reducing the chances for exposure. If allergic to environmental elements, it may be very difficult to limit exposure, however, ensure that you carry your EpiPen or other first-aid allergic treatments, in the event that you encounter a potential allergen.
- Deal properly with stress and stressors: As mentioned above, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that stress plays a big role in allergic reactions and chronic inflammation, so learning how to handle your stress or working on ways to reduce or eliminate stress – e.g. journalling, exercise, positive mental imagery, etc. – may reduce the frequency of allergic reactions
- Changing your diets and incorporating dietary/natural health supplements: Research has shown that diets rich in vitamin C and vitamin E are useful in reducing immune imbalances and helping with the allergic response. Other vitamins, like vitamin D, are essential immune modulators and supplementation may play a big role in reducing inflammatory responses to allergies. Because the inflammatory response is long linked to an allergic response, as well as other chronic disease conditions, having a diet that plays a strong anti-inflammatory role, may be beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric (dietary and supplemental) are great anti-inflammatory agents. Palmitoylethanolamide, an endogenous cannabinoid-like molecule has also been widely studied for its role in pain and inflammation, as well as immunity and allergic reactions. It has been shown to inhibit mast cell activation. This compound is present in many food options and as a supplement. Green tea catechins are also widely known for their roles in inflammatory diseases. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in many fruits and in supplements, and herbal supplements like urtica dioica (stinging nettle), perilla frutescens are widely used for their anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine effects. These supplements are recommended as prophylactic agents and should be used prior to exposure, when possible.
- Gut health and the microbiome have been implicated in many health conditions; it plays a central role in the body, including modulating the immune response and is influenced by multiple environmental and dietary factors. This suggests that a healthy gut microbiome can be a potential therapeutic target for inflammatory diseases, such as allergy. Probiotic foods like kefir and sauerkraut, as well as supplementation with good probiotics and prebiotics (fibers, short-chain fatty acids like butyrate) to replenish and feed the good gut bacteria respectively, should be added to your daily routine to help build a healthy gut microbiome and modulate the immune system.
- Finally, always contact your health care practitioner when starting any new medication or dietary changes. Your health care practitioner may also be able to prescribe agents that can inhibit mast cell activation and reduce allergic inflammation.
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