Allergies: An Integrated Approach
by Elson M. Haas, MD © 2015
Allergies include a variety of bodily reactions to our external and internal environments. These often include reactions to agents such as:
- Pollens, weeds, dust, molds and animal hair (dander)
- A multitude of foods, most commonly cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, and baker’s and brewer’s yeast, and sometimes other foods such as corn, soy, almonds, and even garlic or beans
- Chemical agents
- Invasive microbes, such as yeasts, parasites, and some viruses and bacteria
Allergies often trigger chemical responses in the body such as the release of histamine from our cells, causing the familiar allergic reactions–redness, swelling or discharge, itching, and sometimes pain. Hay fever, asthma, and eczema are classic allergic disorders. Other manifestations of allergies involve the skin (hives or urticaria), the nose and sinuses (allergic rhinitis or “hay fever”), the digestive tract, as well as most other systems of the body.
Another process in our body possibly triggered by allergy-like reactions can cause autoimmune diseases, which may involve the immune cells and the production of antibodies. As examples, these inflammatory reactions can affect the joints (rheumatoid arthritis) or the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Allergies can also affect our mental and emotional states, affecting brain chemicals and causing anxiety or depression. Also, the presence of infection or inflammation may trigger the immune system with allergy-like reactions. This is all reviewed in my book, Ultimate Immunity (Rodale, October, 2014)
In mainstream medical treatment, allergies are diagnosed from skin prick testing and then treated with desensitization injections and avoidance of the reactive agents. Newer desensitization treatments include sublingual drops. Often, these treatments are used along with drug therapy to control the immediate symptoms. The drugs have been primarily antihistamines that block the histamine effect, but nowadays the stronger corticosteroid drugs are employed earlier to suppress the immune/allergic responses in the body.
In my experience, this type of approach may only be needed for long term or extreme cases. However, in many situations, being allergic is a state of reactivity that is the body’s response to its constant high level of congestion or imbalance. From a natural medicine point of view, most allergic symptoms are seen as the body’s attempt to cleanse and detoxify itself. In Chinese medicine, it is an imbalance of the elements that most commonly comes from Liver energy stagnation (congestion and stress on the liver), frustration and suppressed anger, and resistance to change.
Let’s take an integrated approach to allergies (as we can for most illnesses). Clearly, allergies can result from a number of causes. Many people develop allergic reactions in response to stressful times in their life–as they age, when they move to a new area, after experiencing certain illnesses, or following exposure to certain chemicals. In terms of the health of our digestion, there are many factors that may contribute to our allergic state: our overall diet; the overuse of certain foods; the general health of the intestinal tract, and the microbial balance (the microbiome) or the overgrowth of parasites or yeast, specifically Candida albicans. (My book, The Detox Diet discusses the gastrointestinal effect on overall health.)
For example, I have had an allergic potential for most of my life. While growing up in Michigan, I had hay fever every year and a variety of skin rashes. Here in California, at times I have been allergic to weeds, pollens, and dust in the spring and summer. However, I have also noticed that when I really pay attention to my lifestyle, I can be pretty much allergy-free. That means eating a clean diet high in fruits and vegetables, doing cleansing fasts, exercising regularly, and keeping my stress low.
In fact, when I did my first 10-day Master Cleanser/lemonade fast in 1975 and then changed my diet, I was clear of allergies for many years. You can get further information on this cleansing/healing process in many of my books, particularly Staying Healthy with the Seasons. I have also overseen thousands of people on cleansing fasts and individualized detoxification diets. Those who have allergy problems almost always do exceptionally well.
A nutritional approach can really make a difference. When children become allergic, or when they experience recurrent ear “infections,” I guide them and their parents in a nutritional approach. Getting the kids off cow’s milk products is often the first step in reducing allergies and congestion, particularly in the nose, sinuses, and ears. Of course, this is truest when there is a cow’s milk reaction. Testing for specific reactions is helpful in individulalizing the treatment plan. Also, avoiding refined foods, sugars, and chemical additives, particularly food colorings, may help. Adding a children’s multivitamin/mineral and extra vitamin C, about 250-500 mg 3 to 4 times daily may also reduce the allergies.
For adults, I suggest higher amounts of vitamin C (500-1000mg 3 to 4 times daily) during an infection or hay fever season along with about 250-500 mg of Quercitin, a special bioflavonoid shown to have antihistamine effects in the body. Another option is to use a vitamin C supplement that contains a mixed bioflavonoid along with a separate quercitin (150 to 250 mg), both taken several times daily. I have often seen this program improve allergic symptoms and reduce the need for medications.
For people who are concerned about food reactions, some eating guidelines I can provide are the following:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods
- Diversify your diet
- Rotate foods and don’t eat any one food every day
- Eat only non-allergenic foods at first
A non-allergenic, or allergy elimination diet could include the following foods:
- All fruits, except citrus
- All vegetables, except corn and tomatoes
- Brown or white rice
- Turkey (ideally free-range)
- White fish – e.g. halibut, sole, swordfish
- Almonds or walnuts, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Other natural therapies are also helpful. The use of acupuncture and herbs can often be effective; homeopathic remedies can also help minimize or clear allergies. I cannot suggest specific remedies, however, because the remedies are based on the specific symptoms of an individual at a given moment in time.
My book, The False Fat Diet, looks at food reactions and provides you with a simple method for reducing all allergic type reactions. I also have an extensive discussion of allergies in my book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition and in my new book, Ultimate Immunity. Also, I usually do a guided 10-day juice cleanse group at my office each spring. It’s a very uplifting, rejuvenating, and healing process. You could get a few friends or family members to do it along with you.