allergies and sensitivities

baby-food-allergies-intolerances-big_bannerAllergies and sensitivities are often confused even though they are entirely different. That said, a sensitivity can lead to an allergy, and an allergy can in turn contribute to auto-immune disorders and chronic illness. The key factors involved are toxic exposure, immune health and stress, all of which lower immune tolerance and function.

In this post I unravel all this as well as to explain the factors that contribute to allergies and auto-immune problems. I’ll also explain some key ideas for how to heal and recover your health. Remember – health is like a bank account: its incremental, with each good thing done building up and compounding the benefits of previous healthy things done. So invest in your health today … and everyday!

The difference between a sensitivity, allergy and intolerance

  • Allergy: immune hypersensitivity to allergen due to previous exposure and build up of anti-bodies. Re-exposure to antigen results in adverse reactions involving elevated antibodies (mainly IgE), release of inflammatory chemicals and development of various symptoms
  • Sensitivity: non-anti-body mediated reaction to sensitizing agent usually caused by food or chemicals that results in other immunological processes and adverse symptoms
  • Intolerance: absence of chemical or physiological process needed to digest a food (eg enzyme deficiency in the case of lactose intolerance). Not an allergy

Common allergic and food triggers

  • Plant pollen, animal fur, mold spores, chemical products, air pollutants (eg car and tobacco)
  • Yeast, wheat, corn, milk and dairy, eggs, soy, shellfish, peanuts, chocolate, food dyes, additives

Common health issues associated with allergenic and sensitivity responses

Most frequent are allergenic rhinitis / hay fever, arthritis, asthma, bed-wetting, chronic runny nose, diarrhea, ear infections, eczema, fatigue, headache, irritability, concentration problems, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder

The signs of allergies

Symptoms may manifest immediately upon exposure or hours to days after exposure to antigen

  • Head: dark circles, swelling and wrinkles under eyes; headaches, dizziness; fatigue;      insomnia
  • Sinuses: blurred vision, watery eyes; ear ache, hearing loss, tinnitus, ear infection;      runny nose; sore throat, sinusitis
  • Heart and Lungs: palpitations and arrhythmia; high heart rate; lung congestion
  • GI: mucus and/ or undigested foods in stools, inflammatory bowel disorders (eg      Crohn’s), Celiac, Colitis, gallbladder problems, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, extreme thirst, coated tongue
  • Skin: hives, rashes, eczema, dermatitis, dry skin, dandruff, brittle hair and nails
  • Disease: diabetes, chronic fatigue, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Urinary Tract      Disorder
  • Behavioral: cravings, aggression, addiction, eating disorder, anxiety, confusion,      autism, depression, hyperactivity, daydreaming / loss of concentration, irritability, learning disabilities, panic attacks, restlessness, schizophrenia, slurred speech, mental lethargy and dullness
  • Other: auto-immune disorders, fatigue, muscle aches, swelling of hands and feet, weight fluctuation and obesity
  • Children: colic, epilepsy, failure to thrive, growing pains

Causes of allergies and sensitivities

  • Dietary and lifestyle factors that break down immune system and barrier function,      as well as contributing to toxic overload
    • Immune imbalance:
      • Toxic overload due to pollution may weaken immune and detoxification systems  through using up shared resources (eg glutathione, zinc, selenium, anti-oxidants)
      • Damage to immune function due to vaccination and immunization: especially in children and when immunization is repeated as immune system is overloaded during treatment (common symptoms reveal immune system in fighting / is overloaded: eg fatigue, headache, mental fog, feeling of having a cold)
      • Damage to intestinal flora due to antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs, birth control medications: these destroy or inhibit key GI defense mechanisms such as immune prostacyclins leading to lack of gut endothelial turnover resulting in infection, faulty absorption and nutrient deficiency
      • Damage to immune function: antibiotics suppressing symptoms and preventing immune recognition and adaptation to antigen
      • Repetitive diet that concentrates ingestion of toxins (pesticides) inside food into the body, as well as contributing to nutritional deficiency (and organ system dysfunction) as well as the possibility of an allergen arising due to the immune system being repeatedly exposed to a potential allergen (eg gluten)
    • Barrier Function:
      • Leaky gut syndrome:Infection, inflammation and malabsorption may lead to increased gut barrier permeability (eg widening of Tight Junction permeability) leading to undigested food particles entering blood system and causing immune response and anti-body formation to that food (and foods related to it by plant family)
        • Causes include alcohol consumption; NSAIDs; viral, fungal or bacterial infection; parasites; nutrient deficiencies; stress; antibiotics; radiation; environmental toxins
      • Air defenses: mucus formation in airway defenses (eg nose, bronchials) may be disrupted due to lack of humidity in air, and excess environmental irritants damaging mucus membranes
      • Skin defense: disrupted due to deficiencies in water and EFA consumption, UV radiation, Hormonal irregularities and stress
  • Environmental sensitivities
    • Heredity / Genetics – predisposing a person to allergy or disease which can begin the process toward immune hypersensitivity and toxic overload
    • Poor Nutrition – refined and processed foods and are rich in toxins and nutrient deficient deprives the body of the nutrients it needs to defend and detoxify itself, as well as increasing exposure to toxins and free radicals. The result is increased risk of cellular damage, especially to the GI tract, and a compromised immune system disposed to allergenic and heightened immune response
    • Infections – allergen sensitivity can be enhanced following severe infection, such as bacterial, parasitic, viral or fungal. Chronic inflammation or irritation of the GI tract can lead to leaky gut, whereby partially digested foods, bacteria and partially digested foods are able to cross the intestinal barrier into the blood causing allergenic or immune responses
    • Chemicals – air pollution both indoors and outdoors; pesticides, herbicides, petro-chemicals (eg packaging) and additives in food. These add to the toxic load of the body that leads to the development of allergenic response. Furthermore, when an individual becomes sensitized or allergic to one chemical due to toxic overload and chronic low level exposure, the individual can become sensitive to a number of related chemicals that never before prompted reactions: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Furthermore, symptoms in MCS can switch and differ from exposure to the same chemical
    • Stress – emotional and physical stress both diverts nutrients and body resources from the immune and detoxification system as well as causing upregulated inflammatory compounds and free radical production
    • Other factors – medications (eg steroids and anti-biotics); hormonal changes (eg menstruation, aging, surgery); glandular disorders (eg hypo-thyroid, hypo-adrenal); physical trauma (eg surgery, accident); dental amalgams; electromagnetic disturbances (eg electronic devices)
  • Toxic overload: causing problems due to shared nutrient co-factors needed for optimal system function (ie detoxification and immune systems) to clear both toxins and allergens. The result of overload on either system as well as lack of nutrient co-factors for optimal function is increased sensitivity to potential food, airborne and chemical allergens. Adrenal stress will furthermore divert physiological as well as nutrient resources from pathways needed for optimal immune function

The relationship between environmental sensitivities and allergies, auto-immune disorders and chronic illness

  • Exposure to environmental toxins causes body to defend itself through immune and enzymatic processes: the duration of the process depends on the toxicity of the toxin and the length of exposure, as well as the toxic load of the body
  • As toxic load increases, the body’s ability to clear them through the key systems of the lymphatic, immune and liver detoxification systems, as well as the Gastrointestinal system becomes compromised and so does the functionality of those organ systems
  • Enhanced toxic load places the immune system in an enhanced, hyperactive state whereby it attacks the body’s toxic load, diverting energy and resources from essential activities of fighting bacteria, viruses and other microbes. If the body’s immune resources are lowered and diverted in this manner, the effect is immuno-suppressive which raises the risk of allergic response, chemical sensitivity and chronic health and auto-immune disorders
  • If the fight against toxins drains cells stores of nutrients, then cellular function becomes compromised and the body is less able to assimilate key nutrients
  • Toxic overload or disease lead to toxins accumulating in the blood and stored in fat, the brain and other tissues, which can damage enzymes and upset metabolism
    • Toxins stored in the central nervous system give rise to Parkinson’s, nerve       damage, shaking and seizures
    • Toxins in muscles and cartilage give rise to Arthritis
    • Carcinogenic toxins cause mutations in cellular DNA and enhance cancer risk
    • Toxins disrupt hormone activity and makes the body too acidic

Recovery and Healing


  • Involves identifying possible allergens and sensitivities and removing exposure to them (elimination diet). It also involves key nutrient support for liver detoxification pathways (eg anti-oxidants)
  • Clears the body of toxins circulating in the bloodstream and embedded in soft tissue and fat, toxins that can lead to toxic overload, organ (eg liver) dysfunction, immuno-suppression and hyper-immune reactivity, as well as chronic and auto-immune disorders
  • Clearing can be done with dietary juices, special diets as well as with bodywork,      lymphatic drainage, anti-oxidant and herbal support, as well as exercise and mind body therapy to ensure positive emotions and reduced stress – it is important to note that detoxification enhances stress as toxins are released from soft tissue and fat for elimination, and also due to addictive withdrawal symptoms from allergenic foods

Nutrition co-factors

  • Diet  recommendations include following
    • Elimination diet = remove allergens
    • Rotation diet = vary nutrient intake, decrease exposure to individual foods that may become allergens due to overexposure
    • Whole foods diet = decrease modern processing of food that the body has not adapted to
    • Food Combining diet = digestion may be optimized noting absorption of different foods and combining to enhance nutrient intake and GI function
  • Zinc and Vitamin A: vital co-factors in production of Secretory IgA (secreted in mouth and cells of GI tract and binds to allergens preventing absorption). Deficiency of either increases susceptibility to allergies and allergenic response
    • Zinc is also a co-factor in production of Stomach Acid (HCl) needed for proper chemical breakdown of food for absorption and it aids immune function by activating the thymus gland
    • Vitamin A is needed for healthy skin, mucuous membranes and epithelial membranes and useful for treating and preventing allergenic symptoms (eg eczema) as well as conditions that may result (eg asthma, IBD, Auto-immune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis)
  • Bioflavonoids: support free-radical neutralization, needed during immune response and liver detoxification. Identifiable: responsible for colors of fruit and flowers.
  • Bioflavonoid Functions:
    • Biological response modifiers, altering body responses to allergens, viruses,      carcinogens
    • Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic
    • Increase Vit A levels within cells, decrease leakiness and breakages of small blood vessels, protect against free-radical damage, support joint structures
    • Collagen saviour
    • Shown to reverse plaques of arthritis and atherosclerosis and inhibit formation and secretion of inflammatory compounds that produce allergic response
    • Quercetin (from wine, tea, onions, apples, berries, lettuce) acts to stabilize mast cells and is powerful anti-histamine
  • Vitamin C: powerful anti-oxidant and also stimulates phagocytes needed to seek out and destroy food allergens as well as clear IgG immune compounds from blood before they cause organ and tissue damage. Vit C also a powerful anti-histamine and counteracts inflammatory responses in allergenic response (eg hay fever and asthma)
  • Probiotics: needed to optimize intestinal bacterial balance which is often out of balance during allergenic response
  • Digestive enzymes: such as Bromelain (Pineapple) and Papain (papaya) needed when GI digestive function and permeability is compromised during allergenic or chronic immune response
  • Omega 3: needed for skin health, optimal cell membrane function and production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Specific types: EPA, DHA and GLA
  • Herbal medicine:
    • Immune enhancement / strengthening weakened immune system: Echinacea, Astralagus, Goldenseal, Pfaffia paniculata (or Suma / Brazilian ginseng)
    • Anti-inflammatory: Stinging nettle, Gingko Bilboa, Licorice, Feverfew
    • GI healing of mucuous membranes: Marshmellow, Slippery Elm, Cabbage Juice, Okra, Fenugreek, Aloe Vera
  • Saturated fat: should be minimized due to effect in promoting inflammatory prostaglandins
  • Toxic and nutrient poor foods: foods with additives, trans fats, high pesticide levels, lipid peroxides as well as processed and refined foods should be minimized due to effects in increasing toxic load and providing insufficient, incomplete and unnatural nutrients

Key Terms for Allergies and Sensitivities

Allergy – IgE or IgG mediated antibody response involving humoral B cells and upregulated TH-2

Sensitivity – adverse reaction to sensitizing agent that is not anti-body mediated but may involve cellular T-cell immune response and upregulated TH-1

Antigen – substance capable of mobilizing the immune system and generally are large molecules that are recognized as being nonself, or foreign to the body. When an immune response is activated, the immune system:

  • Recognizes and acts against specific particular pathogens or foreign substances
  • Is systemic in involving the whole body and not being restricted to the initial infection site
  • Has memory, whereby initial exposure to an antigen primes the body to react more vigorously against those same antigens when it identifies them in subsequent meetings

Antibody – B-cells produced by plasma cells following antigen identification. They take up to 5 days to build in sufficient number after primary response / initial exposure. During secondary response / repeat exposure, anti-body production by plasma cells is intense and fast, leading to peak production of anti-bodies within 24hrs (they stay in the blood for weeks after). IgG is the most numerous in the body, followed by IgA (which are important for GI protection). IgE is least numerous

IgE – anti-body involved is immediate allergenic response. Symptoms of response include release of histamine in the resultant inflammatory process (following IgE antigen identification) that leads to redness of skin, excess mucus production, swelling and itchy eyes – within 2 hours of exposure

IgG – anti-body involved in delayed allergenic response, usually resulting from exposure to food antigen, and taking 24 to 72 for response to occur and symptoms to be felt. In the process, tissue cells may be damaged due to binding of antigen to tissue cells (cytotoxic allergies), or due to formation of Circulating Immune Compounds (CIC) leading to inflammation and organ dysfunction

Histamine – inflammatory chemical released by mast cells upon anti-body / antigen binding. Release causes the blood vessels to widen, enabling more fluid into body tissues, resulting in swelling. It also triggers smooth muscle to contract (in lungs, blood vessels, heart, stomach, intestines, bladder). Resulting symptoms include runny nose; hot, swollen and tender body parts; skin flushing.

Rotation Diet – advised in order to avoid allergenic response to a food which the body is constantly exposed to, especially when immune hypersensitivity may spark that allergic response. Added, rotation is advised to vary the source and supply of nutrients needed by the body, eating a variety of different foods and eating the same food only once every 4 days

Elimination Diet – involves identifying and removing allergenic foods and food sensitivities. Identification may best be performed with blood tests and cross reactivity food tests. Initially, all common food allergens should be removed – including gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, citrus, corn, beef and peanut. Lectins and nightshade family foods should be removed, especially in auto-immune disorders. Foods should be removed for 60 to 90 days, as should common sources of chemicals – such as pesticides in non-organic foods and antibodies and nitrates in non-organic animal foods. Removal of foods may cause symptoms of addictive withdrawal which may last up to 5 days. Foods may be re-introduced on a trial basis to examine immune response to possible reactive foods – the reaction, if it occurs, should result within 3 days of exposure to the food.

Environmental medicine – chemical toxins in food, air, water, the home or place of work can enter the body causing toxic imbalances resulting in immune suppression and / or immune hyper-sensitivity. In addition, medications and dental fillings may to the same. The result is chemical sensitivity as well as food sensitivity and allergy, with resultant symptoms that can range from fatigue and minor mental problems to chronic disorders and organ dysfunction, as well as auto-immune disorders. Environmental medicine takes note of these underlying dietary and environmental causes and contributory factors when addressing a health problem.

Xenobiotics – substances and chemicals that are foreign to the body and are not normally expected to be present in it, thus causing an immune reaction as the body identifies, isolates and removes them. Medications are classed as xenobiotics, as are pollutants.

Endotoxins – toxic substances produced during and as a result of the body’s own metabolic processes. Examples can include Free radicals produced during ATP energy production and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as free radicals produced during immune inflammatory processes. Equally, liver detoxification reactions produce harmful endotoxins during phase 1 and phase 2 reactions. And the immune system produces potentially harmful substances to the body’s own tissues (such as CICs) during its work

Toxic load – concerns the body’s detoxification system, principally the liver, and the load put on it to remove xenobiotics, endotoxins as well as hormones. An excess in toxic load leads to toxic overload with a consequence of loss of homeostasis

Adapted from:

Kail, K., Lawrence, B. & Goldberg, B. (2000). Allergy Free: An Alternative Medicine Guide. Tiburon, Ca., Alternative Books

Goldberg, B. (2002). Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide(2ndEd.). Berkeley, Ca., Celestial Arts.

Bock, Kenneth & Sabin, N. (1997). The Road to Immunity. N.Y.: Pocket Books

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s