Allergies: What are they and How to Improve your Immune System to Get Rid of Them
Allergies. If you have them, you know how much they can affect your life causing you to sneeze, be itchy, or have watery eyes or a stuffy nose. As many as 40% of people worldwide suffer from at least one allergic condition and researchers have warned that environmental changes could propel allergy levels to increase over time.
But, what are allergies?
When someone has an allergy, what is happening? A normally harmless substance enters your body and your immune system mistakes this substance to be harmful, in doing so attacking it with far more ferocity then needed.
When the irritant is inhaled, eaten or touched, the body produces specific antibodies called immunoglobulins, which can trigger the release of histamines. Once histamines are released, they begin ravaging the body. Your blood pressure will drop, nearby blood vessels dilate and the spaces between cells fill with fluid. This inflammatory response that is taking place causes those allergy symptoms that you know so well.
But did you know there are three different categories of allergies.
1. IgE allergies:
- The reactions most doctors look for or an allergist.
- These are reactions to foods or inhalants that involve the immune system’s IgE antibodies.
- They are the only type of “true classic allergy” according to the conventional definition of allergy.
- They are relatively uncommon affecting a small percentage of all people who have reactions to food.
- These are usually the most severe type of reaction (can cause anaphylaxis) and can remain troublesome throughout life.
- For example people who have severe peanut allergies.
2. IgG Sensitivities:
- They are not classic allergies because they involve IgG antibodies instead of IgE.
- They are normally ignored by allergists but are much more common and usually have milder symptoms.
- Symptoms don’t become evident for several hours but can take up to a day or two before seen.
- Examples would be a gluten sensitivity.
- These include simple, chemical reactions that are usually to foods that do not involve the immune system.
- They are not considered classic allergies but they can cause severe symptoms.
- For example lactose intolerance – people can test negative for a milk allergy but they don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase, so they react strongly to dairy products because they can’t break it down properly.
Why do allergies happen in the first place?
To make sense of this all, let me first break down how your immune system works.
The immune system’s response is subdivided into non-specific (innate) versus specific (adaptive) reactions when it is dealing with foreign invaders.
By non-specific, it means that the cells are less concerned with what type of invader they are dealing with, but they just know something is wrong with it and they want to get rid of it.
Within the non-specific immune system, we have the first line of defence, which includes any barrier that blocks invasion at the portal of entry in your body. This includes your skin, secretions, flushing activities, mucous membranes and your microbiome. This line of defence is trying to not allow things to inside your body, but if they do then the second line of defence steps in which is also non-specific.
The second line of defence is slightly more sensitive and acts rapidly at the local and systemic levels once an intruder gets through the first line of defence. This includes inflammatory reactions and phagocytosis (where white blood cells engulf or eat the pathogen). This response is also called a TH1 response.
The specific immune system (also known as the adaptive immune system) comes in as the third line of defence and it is very different for each individual person based on the particular foreign substances they have encountered over their life. This system is responsible for long-term immunity, where if you get sick your body remembers the invader. This is why if your child naturally gets the chicken pox (from another kid and not the vaccine), they are very unlikely to get it again. The reaction to each different microbe (invader) produces unique protective cells and memory of that microbe. This provides long-term immunity and is also called a TH2 response.
Yes, this is complex, but how does it relate to allergies?
The Th1 response (or the second line of defence) is like the fire department. These cells show up and they are trying to put out the fire immediately. They kill everything they possibly can using the tools the body has such as fevers to burn up the invader, rashes to externalize the invader, diarrhea to flush the system and inflammation to remove the invader.
The Th2 response (or the third line of defence) is like the building inspectors. They are checking up on the integrity of the body all the time. They build a long term memory of problems, so if something comes up that’s not right, they know where to go to fix it in the future. It does this through producing antibodies (memory cells of the immune system).
You always want your TH1 and Th2 responses to be working in harmony but if one becomes stronger over time (or more active), it will cause suppression of the other response. For example, when your more stressed and your sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight system) is dominant, this will suppress your Th1 response, leading to an increase in the Th2 system.
Why is that bad?
This is when allergies can emerge, but also related are asthma, eczema, lupus, autism, ADHD and IBS.
Other than stress, what increases the TH2 response?
- C-sections because there is no exposure to vaginal bacteria needed to create a healthy gut flora
- Vaccination (injections bypass the first and second lines of defence and does not stimulate the Th1 response)
- Widespread use of antibiotics and over sterilization of our environments weaken the Th1 response
- Deficient diets
- Toxic environment
- Nicotine and caffeine
- Trans and saturated fats
There are also ways to increase our Th1 response though. They include:
- Mushroom extracts
- Fish oils
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Chiropractic Adjustments
Did you know?
During pregnancy, progesterone causes a shift of the mother and infant to a Th2 more focused response (in turn supressing the Th1 response). This is important because you don’t want the mother and baby’s immune system to be fighting each other. As the baby develops, is birthed through the vaginal canal, breastfed or receives colostrum and gets skin-to-skin time, their immune systems will begin to stimulate their own Th1 responses. Rural lifestyles, having pets or letting your kids play in the dirt have been known to also build stronger Th1 responses and therefore these kids are less likely to have allergies (Th2 response driven) kids.
The absolute best thing we can do for our kids strengthen their immune system in the first place (before allergies) is by making sure we are doing what ever we can to up regulate the Th1 responses.
My suggestion would be get your kids outside, worry less about them getting dirty, give them some probiotics and fish oils, let their body fight some viruses and infections (when safe of course) and make sure they are getting checked by a chiropractor!
Dr. Sarah Green