Dealing with allergies

What is an allergy?

Allergies are commonplace in our modern lifestyles and the severity can range from a mild reaction all the way to a fatal outcome. At least 1 in 4 of us will have an allergy at some point in our life but that statistic is on the rise.

Allergies are historically more common in childhood and can disappear as children get older, but adults can also react to something with which they weren’t previously allergic to. A good example of that is a food allergy or hay fever.

So, what exactly is an allergy? Well, it’s an adverse (incorrect) reaction to something we have come into contact with which is ordinarily harmless. The offending item that caused an allergic reaction is called an allergen.

What are the most common allergies?

The most common form of an allergy tends to be:

  • Food – triggered by either a specific food or groups of food (as in the case of Coeliac disease)
  • Hay Fever (allergic rhinitis) – triggered by grass or pollen
  • Dust – triggered by dust mites
  • Pet hair – triggered by tiny flakes of skin in pet hair or fur
  • Insect bites
Why do people get an allergy?

Now we’ve all experienced an allergy either directly or through a friend or family member and it’s not pleasant.

The reaction is just the tip of the iceberg – it’s the visible manifestation of a more-involved process. By understanding what this process is, we can be better equipped to manage an allergy. It all starts with our immune system…

A quick overview of the immune system

We can consider our immune system as made up of two parts:

Innate immune system: This is what we’re born with (it’s based on our parents’ immunity and environmental factors at the time)

Acquired immune system: This is what we develop as we age through the creation of antibodies which are a response to threats to our normal biological operation

The two parts of our immune system work together to keep our defences strong. The two parts keep themselves in balance through proteins called ‘cytokines’ that are released by our immune cells, such as T-cells.

Our body decides which part of our immune system is best placed to deal with a threat to our health. If one side takes the lead, the other drops back in dealing with that threat.  As we can see then, the healthy functioning of our cells is critical to a healthy immune system.

Our constitution (body type) plays a major role in how strong our immune system is – some of us naturally have a stronger immune system than others.

The key to having the best possible immunity for our body type is keeping our body in its natural balance. When this isn’t the case and we move out of balance, then our immunity can drop.

Our constitution and lifestyle mean some of us have a lower defence level than others – so it takes less for us to tip out of balance which increases the chances of getting allergies.

1 in 4 of us will suffer from an allergy at some point in our life

What causes an allergy?

The biggest disruptor to normal functioning of our cells is…stress!

Whether the source of stress is mental or physical, the result is a breakdown in normal operations at a cellular level involving cytokines. This lowers immunity.

Our body will react to stress in distinct ways depending on the scale of it and our natural constitution.

If we know what to look for in terms of its response, it can help us stay well, including avoiding or minimising the impact of allergies. So, let’s look at how stress affects allergies specifically.

How does stress lead to allergies?

Stress impacts our digestive system which in turn impacts our immune system (70% of our immune cells are created in our gut). This impacts our ability to deal with allergens.

Stress causes our adrenals to work harder. They produce adrenaline to deal with the stress and the longer that goes on for, the more fatigued they become, slowing down our response to managing threats.

The process of stress pushes our body out of balance and our body is always working to rebalance itself – it will always give us the absolute best it can, even if that looks like it’s not doing you any favours at the time!

The three stages of stress on our body

There are three phases of how the body responds to stress:

  • Phase 1 – Reaction
    body produces adrenaline to power through the situation
  • Phase 2 – Adaption
    body continues to produce adrenaline to manage the ongoing situation
  • Phase 3 – Exhaustion
    adrenal fatigue sets in causing the body to be more susceptible to allergies due to the weakened adrenal response

Generally, the adrenal glands will stop allergic reactions. This is why adrenaline is given for an acute allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and why those at risk of anaphylactic shock (from eating peanuts for example) carry an EpiPen around with them.

To a much lesser degree, the lack of adrenal support also contributes to milder allergies such as Hayfever and allergies to pet fur.

A food allergy is an example of the body adapting to stress. An intolerance to a specific food can result in an initial (mild) reaction which you may not notice or connect to a food item. Although this has stressed your body, your body will learn to adapt to that food – but this will slowly push it out of balance, increasingly depleting your energy.

Since stress is a trigger for allergies and our adrenals are responsible for managing stress, the health of our adrenals is important for managing allergies. If you’re continually stressed, you may be suffering from burnout and your adrenals could be overworked as a result.

The relationship between stress and allergies

Stress triggers adrenaline which results in more cortisol being produced (the stress hormone). This affects our cellular electrolyte balance, which in turn increases our blood sugar level (for more energy) and dehydrates us. Dehydration causes a number of health issues including allergic responses.

Mental or physical stress increases the chances of an allergy

From stress to allergy in 10 steps
  1. Stress results in our body producing more cortisol and in doing so changes our cellular status quo
  2. Potassium and magnesium levels (inside the cell) become depleted resulting in our cells holding on to more sodium and calcium (which are generally kept predominantly outside the cell)
  3. This cell mineral imbalance results in a drop in our blood sugar level
  4. Stress is a diuretic, and so water is lost from the body, together with potassium and magnesium. This leads to dehydration and increased acidity in the body
  5. Our body realises its dehydrated and, to correct the cellular imbalance, it takes water from wherever it can afford. This might be the bowel (leading to constipation), muscles (aches and pains) or digestive tract (heartburn) depending on our natural weak spots (determined by our body type). The neurotransmitter which regulates water balance in the body is histamine. Therefore, a loss of water from stress will lead to increased levels of histamine as the body tries to compensate.
  6. The falling blood sugar level resulting from the electrolyte imbalances trigger a craving for sweet foods, caffeine etc and makes the body more acidic
  7. This creates an environment for bad bacteria to breed in our gut, leading to a toxin build up which creates more work for the organs that are designed to eliminate toxins – like our liver, kidneys, lungs, colon and skin
  8. If our body is not as healthy as it should be, stress can cause ‘leaky gut’. This results in toxins getting into our bloodstream faster, requiring more effort from our body to get rid of them. This extra burden further lowers our immunity
  9. The more dehydrated we become, the more histamine our body produces
  10.  The more histamine we produce, the bigger our allergic response
What are the symptoms of an allergy?

You may have experienced some or all of the symptoms of an allergy, but you may not have connected the dots to other health conditions which can actually be a consequence of an ongoing allergy (immunity) problem.

The immediate signs of an allergy tend to fall into these camps:

  • Respiratory issues – sneezing, wheezing, breathing difficulties
  • Skin and eye complaints – itching, weeping skin, water eyes
  • Swelling – eyes, lips, tongue, face
  • Digestion problems – upset stomach, constipation
  • Shock – a severe allergic reaction can result in anaphylactic shock which can be life-threatening

The knock-on effects of an allergy to look out for are:

  • Weakness – fatigue, exhaustion
  • Aches and pains (due to dehydration)
  • Heartburn (due to dehydration)
  • Candida (due to increased acidity in the gut)
Can multiple allergies be connected?

The short answer is yes!

The greater the burden on our body (i.e., stress), and/or the poorer our digestive system, the lower our immunity and so the lower our tolerance threshold for allergens. The longer that goes on, the more things we become vulnerable to.

So, if you’ve suffered from an allergy and you haven’t manged your stress levels, or diet and lifestyle, the chances are you will develop more than one allergy.

Given that our elimination organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, colon and skin) play such a big part in allergies, if they’re not functioning properly, our ability to deal with allergens will be compromised.

A healthy liver is especially important here and is a common factor in having multiple allergies. That becomes a challenge because our modern lifestyle habits aren’t the best support for our liver!

What role does medication play in treating allergies?

Prescription or over-the-counter medication is plentiful and can help reduce allergy symptoms, but they are a temporary solution.

For example, antihistamine medication for hay fever may reduce your symptoms but they’re masking an underlying problem which can increase if left unchecked.

Allergy symptoms are actually your body telling you it’s out of balance and needs help. Relying on medications as a temporary fix ignores the underlying condition and can actually make the situation worse.

Steroids for example (whether topical or oral) push the toxins that your body is trying to eliminate back in! It’s like having rotting food in your kitchen and applying fly spray to keep the flies at bay!

Self-care tips for managing allergies

  1. Make lifestyle changes
    Stress is a major contributing factor to allergies so it’s vital to get a better work/life balance. Your immunity depends on it! And don’t forget that physical stress is still a form of stress – so if you are over-exercising and have a weak constitution, that can also be a factor

  2. Improve your digestion
    Our brain and gut is connected so our digestion can easily be a victim of stress. Keep your digestion strong with a diet suited to your body type and needs. As a rule of thumb, less processed foods and more veg (especially bitter leafy greens) is key. Remember bitter tasting foods are a great support for your liver

  3. Stay hydrated
    Dehydration sets off a chain reaction that results in impaired biological functions that pushes us out of our natural balance. The solution is simple – increase your water intake, especially when you’re stressed BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean drinking more water. Studies show that water can be better absorbed through water-rich foods like many fruits and vegetables than drinking it alone

  4. Drink less tea and coffee
    When we get stressed, we tend to reach for a cuppa, especially if we’re feeling exhausted! Both coffee and tea are stimulants, causing our adrenals to produce cortisol. Because they are diuretics (i.e. make us wee), they can actually dehydrate us and encourage more histamine production – meaning bigger allergic reactions!

  5. Identifying and removing any food triggers
    Common food triggers include wheat, potatoes, eggs, nuts, soya, shellfish and anything that contains gluten. You may have an intolerance to one or more of these items so it’s good to test each one. You can download and use the food sensitivity chart here
Important foods to minimise allergies

Being smart with a healthy diet is critical when you suffer from an allergy, even if it’s not a food related allergy. Eating to maintain your body’s natural balance is your best bet and to do this, the first step is to eat for your specific body type

If you don’t know what your body type is, you can either take the Superfied body type assessment or eat a diverse range of natural foods (of all colours and groups) as a general insurance policy.

Foods that contain all of the B vitamins but in particular, vitamins B5, B9 and B12 are especially useful for helping manage allergies. These include food like meats and fish and grains.  

Vitamin B12 and folic acid (vitamin B9) are especially useful in a biochemical process that supports a number of functions in our body including liver function, histamine metabolism and energy production, all of which help manage allergies. Vitamin B5 is particularly helpful for good adrenal function.

Eating foods which contain naturally occurring antihistamine are also beneficial. These include foods with high levels of vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, berries and peppers), quercetin (such as onions), or bromelain (such as pineapples).

As you can see, there’s more to allergies than meets the eye. If your allergy issues persist despite taking these steps or if you have long-standing allergy issues that are getting worse as you get older, you may benefit from speaking with a qualified expert to help you eleminate the root cause of the issue, professional food sensitivity testing may also be helpful as part of that.

More information:
NHS allergy information 
Allergy UK
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Mary Sharma

Find out more about the Superfied Way

Dealing with sinus issues

What is a sinus problem?

A sinus problem (called sinusitis) is inflammation of the lining of the nasal cavity. Sinusitis symptoms are our body telling us something is up – and a warning sign that it needs attention. In some cases, a sinus issue is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, especially if the immune system is struggling to cope with underlying issues.

What causes sinusitis?

Sinusitis occurs as a result of toxin build-up which pushes the body out of its natural balance and compromises its immunity, thereby making it vulnerable. A number of things can be the resultant trigger of a sinusitis attack and often it can be a number of triggers combined. The summer season can make sinusitis worse because of increased environmental triggers (i.e. pollen) that put more load on an already overloaded body.

1. Micro-organisms
The most common trigger is a virus. Less common but still a culprit is a particular bacterium or even a fungus. The latter can have serious consequences but the chances of fungal infection are relatively low compared to a viral infection.

2. Nasal Polyps
Sometimes nasal polyps (growths) can be the cause of sinusitis and these are often linked to a food allergy. Although nasal polyps can be removed, they will grow back again if the root cause hasn’t been addressed. Their presence can make sinusitis attacks more prevalent but they themselves are a consequence of toxin build-up and not the root cause.

3. Allergies
Another source of sinusitis can be sensitivity to compounds in our foods such as oxalates and salicylates. Salicylates, for example, are found in pain killers such as aspirin and ibuprofen and also in many foods including a number of spices, some leafy green vegetables and stoned fruits. Other sensitivities include gluten or dairy foods.

4. Dental work
Sometimes sinus issues (like migraines) can stem from our teeth; a root canal that remains infected may lead to sinus issues.

5. Emotional Disturbances
At an emotional level, the cause could be as simple (and strange) as someone ‘getting up our nose’. Remember that toxic build-up can be caused by external triggers as well as internal ones! Long-term emotional toxin build-up in this context can lead to depressive states of mind.

6. High levels of Estrogen / Green energy
Sinusitis tends to be more problematic for Green body types and green energy imbalances since excesses lead to increased tissue growth. This can be anywhere in the body, not just in the nasal cavity. The modern equivalent is an elevated level of the estrogen hormone which can increase tissue growth. Interestingly, women actually tend to suffer more from sinusitis than men.

7. Stress
Stress compromises our ‘innate’ immune system and suppresses it, depleting our natural resources to deal with infections. As our innate immune system takes a hit, our ‘acquired’ immune system goes into overdrive, producing more antibodies and histamine. This results in more allergies as the body goes into being hyper-alert to protect itself.

What are the typical symptoms of sinusitis?

Typical tell-tale signs of sinusitis include:

  • Pain or swelling or tenderness in the cheeks, around the eyes, forehead
  • A blocked nose
  • Loss of smell
  • Mucous congestion
  • Headache
  • Toothache
  • Bad breath

These are manifestations of toxins accumulating at a local level. Acute sinusitis can be debilitating so it’s best to deal with it before it gets to that stage.

Do antibiotics or sinus pills work?

A streaming nose is the body trying to deal with an issue – an elimination of toxins (like a bath of bad stuff overflowing). It’s a necessary defence mechanism. Preventing that process can result in toxins being stored internally. Antibiotics and off-the-shelf drugs will dry up the mucous and relieve the congestion, but this can be a temporary fix that actually makes matters worse, long-term.

Medicine alternatives for sinusitis

There are a number of practical self-care steps you can take to resolve a sinus infection.

1. De-stress
Stress causes dehydration which impacts cellular function. Histamine regulates water balance in the body. If we are dehydrated, histamine levels will increase.

2. Drink more water
Drinking more water helps with efficient cellular function (note it should be room temperature and not cold as cold water reduces the digestive efficiency which is required to boost the immune system)

3. Avoid dehydrating foods and drinks
Foods that deplete the body’s water are counter-productive in this situation and so anything that is a diuretic should be avoided (e.g. alcohol, coffee, tea, sugar)

4. Avoid sugar, gluten and dairy foods, especially in the summer
These foods are likely to add to the burden your body is already under in fighting the sinus infection. Check your cravings because when you are out of balance, the things you crave are likely to be the foods that are stressing your body internally. For example, you may crave sugary foods because your body needs a boost in blood sugar levels to give you an energy boost

5. Adding more fresh fruit and vegetables
These foods can help to alkalise the body and bring the water into the cells in the best way.
Lightly cooking these foods won’t overburden the digestive system and thereby avoid increasing the load on the body.

6. Increase vitamin C intake
Vitamin C is a natural anti-histamine and so will play a part in managing the histamine spike likely
caused by bodily stress from diuretics, food sensitivities and stress itself.

7. Neti-pot
These devices are designed to help flush out the nasal cavity and ease nasal congestion. To use one, you must follow the appropriate guidelines to ensure you are using them safely and seek advice if you are not sure.

As you can see, there’s more to sinusitis than meets the eye. If your sinusitis issues persist despite taking these steps or if you have long-standing sinus issues that are getting worse as you get older, you may benefit from speaking with a qualified expert to get to the root cause of the issue. Specific food sensitivity testing may also be helpful as a part of that.

More information:
Salicylate sensitivity and nasal polyps
Women are more susceptible to sinus issues than men

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Mary Sharma

Find out more about the Superfied Way

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