With the spring finally upon us, many people’s allergies start to act up. All of medical science agrees that allergies come about due to an overreaction of the immune system. Let me take a minute to explain allergies from my naturopathic point of view.
I see the allergic reaction as a cup of immune system irritation that finally overflows. Usually, just living in a suburban city like Toronto will cause some degree of irritation of the immune system due to the smog and other irritants in the air (1). Just for the purposes of illustration, lets say this fills the immune system irritation cup 1/3 of the way.
The psychological stresses of life, work, and a busy home life kids can also have a significant irritating effect on the immune system (2). Simply put, chronic stress will eventually exhaust the adrenal glands. These glands produce cortisol, a hormone responsible for keeping the immune system calm. Exhausted adrenal glands do not secrete enough cortisol, thus allowing the immunesystem to overreact. This fills the cup another 1/3 way.
Diet plays a huge role in the inflammation or irritation of the immune system (3). Some foods, particularly those high in Omega 3 fatty acids, can actively work to calm the immune system. On the other hand, certain foods, particularly fats derived from animals, activate the inflammatory pathway causing allergy symptoms to aggravate. In addition, the immune system can recognise some regularly consumed foods as irritants, and even though they may be healthy for most people, some people will experience immune aggravation when consuming these foods. At the clinic we utilize some great tests to check the body’s reaction to foods. Diet can account for another 1/3 or even ½ of the immune system irritation cup filling.
And finally, the pollens released by grasses, trees, weeds, and even the dust and pet dander can irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. With the immune system being on high alert due to the other components filling the cup, all the components add up and the immune system overeacts or overflows causing the allergy symptoms or itchy watery eyes, runny nose, etc that we all know.
It’s also important to keep in mind, that while the allergy symptoms themselves are significant and worth addressing, that constant underlying inflammation can be a contributing factor to many chronic diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, cholesterol, and many of the illnesses plaguing our modern society.
- New insights in the pathogenesis of atopic disease. Ionescu JG. J Med Life. 2009 Apr-Jun;2(2):146-54.
- Stress, atopy and allergy: A re-evaluation from a psychoneuroimmunologic persepective. Liezmann C, Klapp B, Peters EM. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011 Jan;3(1):37-40.
- Dietary Immunomodulatory Factors in the Development of Immune Tolerance. West CE, D’Vaz N, Prescott SL. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011 May 3.