Allergy is more than just a runny nose. In the practice of Environmental Medicine, allergy is the number one environmentally caused disease or disorder. Yet many people don’t realize how many different problems can develop because of allergies.
The term allergy was first introduced by Dr. Von Pirquet in 1904 and was defined as “any altered reaction to a substance.” This definition of allergy was generally accepted until 1967, when Dr. Ishizaka isolated immunoglobulin E in a person’s blood and identified this protein as the specific marker to identify allergic reactions.
With identification of what was then thought of as the only physiological means of mediating allergy, the term allergy came to be applied only to immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated reactions.
Ishizaka’s new definition of allergy, however, resulted in the failure of most physicians to recognize that people can and do react to many things which are not IgE mediated. Inhalant allergens such as pollen, dust, molds, and danders (typically IgE mediated) are indeed major causes of classical allergy–allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema–and it is helpful to reduce the allergic load coming from them through avoidance or allergy extracts.
However, sensitivities to foods and chemicals are often not IgE mediated and are thus missed in the diagnosis. In our 29 years of experience at The Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, we have found that chronic symptoms and disease are very often caused by exposures to allergenic foods and chemicals. Reactions to these substances may be mediated by immunoglobulin G (IgG) or other immunoglobulins, or may occur as a reaction within the gastrointestinal tract itself.
Based on our experience from working with thousands of patients, we at The Center prefer to use the terms “food and chemical sensitivity” rather than “food and chemical allergy,” knowing that people do react even if the mechanism is not IgE mediated. We have found that common causes of headaches are often (but not always) sensitivity to cane, corn, cola, chocolate, and/or citrus, and common causes of arthritic pain are sensitivity to beef, pork, apple, soy, coffee, and the solanine containing foods–tomato, potato, eggplant and peppers. The mechanism of these reactions is clearly not IgE mediated. To complicate matters further, each person is unique and their triggers for these disorders and other pain syndromes are highly individual.
Most physicians practicing Environmental Medicine are of the opinion that if you could do only one thing with a patient presenting with multiple chronic sign and symptoms, it would be an elimination diet followed by a deliberate challenge testing of the patient’s foods. Most patients are amazed to learn that problem foods are usually those that are eaten frequently or craved. Experience with brittle asthmatics reveals that 50-60 percent get better with food elimination. This again emphasizes the important role of the gut as the gatekeeper of the body and also the importance of good digestion.
Any organ or system of the body can be the target of an “allergic” or sensitivity reaction. Thus, we often see patients presenting with multi-system involvement. Identifying their food, chemical, and inhalant triggers helps resolve such problems as gastro-esophageal reflux, chronic nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bedwetting, frequency and urgency of urination, chronic persistent cough, asthma, and chronic joint pain. Yet the organ system taking the biggest hit is the nervous system. Allergy or sensitivity involving the nervous system as the target of reactions can cause learning disabilities, psychosis and schizophrenia, depression, lethargy, fatigue, agoraphobia, panic attacks, sleep apnea, restless legs, and other neurological impairments. Why use life-long drug therapy when in many cases identifying contributing allergies or sensitivities can eliminate or greatly reduce such problems?
People may often note that their medical problems are cyclical, occurring at a specific time of the year. What they don’t recognize is that the seasonality of onset is related to pollens–trees in the spring, grass in the summer, and weeds in the fall. It is therefore important to ask not only what problem the patient has, but also when do they get their symptoms? It is equally important to understand that foods cross-react with pollens. One may be more reactive to specific foods when there are concomitant pollens in the air. In addition, in women cyclical signs and symptoms may be related to their menstrual cycle. We call this endocrine allergy, reactions being related to hormone sensitivities. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a manifestation of hormonal sensitivity and responds quickly to the Environmental Medicine approach.
One of the major causes of disease is autoimmunity: the body literally attacks itself because it no longer recognizes self from non-self. Such diseases as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and thyroiditis are autoimmune diseases. They are often caused by microorganisms living in the body that cross-react against specific body tissues. Cross-reactivity of the organism Group A beta hemolytic streptococcus with heart and kidney tissue is the cause of rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis. Allergy or sensitivity to even normally occurring microbial flora may trigger autoimmune diseases in susceptible individuals. Using techniques of hypo-sensitization and neutralization can be beneficial in overcoming cross-reactivity to various organisms and thus helping to control autoimmune diseases.
Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that “allergy” is more than just a runny nose, and that it can be the cause of many of your signs and symptoms.