It’s that time of the year again. Allergies are running rampant, and with it come all the associated sinus infections, runny eyes, and perpetual “colds.” Allergies are big business and between all the pharmaceuticals, skin testing, and allergy shots, there is not a real impetus to teach the public what is causing these allergies.
It is essential to understand allergies in their simplest form. Modern allergies to pollen, dogs, dust mites, etc. are really nothing more than the overreaction of the immune system to elements that have been in our environment since the dawning of man. Sure, if cave dwellers ran through a field of pollen (think “Sound of Music” with a loincloth), they may start sneezing to clear the excess pollen, but today’s over sensitization is extreme. “Normal” exposure to the elements causes an immune system meltdown and people become snot factories. So what has changed to make us so susceptible to our environment and why are our immune systems overreacting and creating allergic reactions?
Surprise, surprise, it is our gut. Yep, you heard me-it’s our gut. This is where 60-70 percent of our immune system lives and where over 90% of our daily immune response occurs. A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system and fewer allergies. If the gut is not healthy and is “leaky”, this allows the immune system to feel like it is under attack all the time then it becomes overactive and attacks everything including pollen, dander, and mites. What contributes to a “leaky gut” and eventually an allergic over response? Well, it’s the things that make our gut healthy or unhealthy and there are over 100 trillion reasons in our first example.
My first question to a lot of allergy sufferers is whether they were C-section babies and the second is whether they were breastfed. Why is this important? Well, this determines your gut’s bacterial health which is extremely important. We are hotels for bacteria. They are 100 trillion of them and 10 trillion of us (cells of the body). They have more to do with our health and our immune system than any other thing in our environment. Passing through the vaginal canal is a great start in life (insert joke of choice here) because of the bacteria we “inherit” and then the breast milk keeps these bacteria healthy and happy and these bacteria then, in turn, modulate the immune system.
When we are products of C-sections or are formula-fed, these bacteria get off on the wrong foot and we are much more likely to have asthma and eczema. If a person has taken over 5 antibiotics in a lifetime, it is usually a good indicator that they have a predisposition to allergies, because antibiotics kill good bacteria and allow bad bacteria and fungus to overgrow which sends the wrong signal to the immune system. A good analogy is spraying roundup on your grass and expecting more beautiful grass. What you end up with is an overgrowth of weeds after the Roundup has worn off and the same applies to your guts with antibiotics.
Well, now you have done it and unintentionally been the victim of one or all of these three things (as most Americans have) and you’ve got bedlam in your gut, and are feeling guilty, so you eat some milk and cookies to assuage that guilt. Well, one hour of pleasure is worth 48-72 hours of misery right? If you’ve already got a leaky gut, then the gluten and dairy from the milk and cookies are the last things you want to introduce to this immune system meltdown. Gluten, followed by dairy are the two most common food items leading to overactive immune systems and allergies.
100 percent of people have an immune response to gluten. Severity depends a lot on things we have already discussed such as birth history, breastfeeding, and antibiotic exposure, but in every one of us, regardless of previous exposure, it opens gaps in the gut allowing large food particles to pass through and stimulate the immune system and causes it to become over-reactive and allergies are part of this overreaction.
Dairy is a homogenized, pasteurized mess. The type of milk we are drinking now is not the same as in the past. The A1 protein type of milk, which is the vast majority of our milk, along with the homogenization, pasteurization process exposes our immune system to very inflammatory proteins (Raw milk and goat’s milk are usually A2 and much more immune friendly). These new proteins, evolutionarily, are not recognized by our immune system, and our immune system feels like it is under attack and this “alert” immune system then overcompensates when exposed to other things in the environment, viola, allergies.
Well, we can’t technically be born twice and get bacteria that way. We can’t go back and breastfeed (you could but not looked highly upon by society), or reverse time and not take the antibiotics. So what are the interventions that we can make now to calm our allergies? To start, make a better environment for the immune system so that it is calm. Healing the gut will accomplish this.
Probiotics are temporary bacteria that we introduce into our intestine that act as immune messengers. The type of probiotics matter as certain bacteria send different messages so not just any probiotic will do. An even better solution is using the foundation for bacteria health like prebiotics which are polyphenols and fiber. My favorite product is Poly-prebiotic powder. This will be the foundation for increasing your good bacteria foundation.
Glutamine is an amino acid that the small intestine needs for energy. I use 2 to 3 grams per day to help the gut heal. I combine this with aloe vera and curcumin and this speeds healing. A gut with no holes in it is no longer leaky and the immune system will calm down.
Finally, eat the right foods. The Mediterranean Diet is a good choice: whole foods with lots of fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods (stuff that comes in packages). Avoid gluten and dairy and eat fermented foods (miso, sauerkraut, etc).
Dr. Nathan Morris, MD