Allergies-Understanding Causes and Risks

allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies, children, alternative medicine, natural medicine  The incidence of allergic rhinitis seems to be increasing every year, among both infants and adults. Most doctors will simply treat the symptoms, but it’s important to look more closely at some of the underlying causes, and how you can prevent allergies from affecting your quality of life.

Benefits of pets, siblings, and farms

To look at this question, researchers questioned 8,486 adults, aged 20 to 40, from 13 countries, about their childhoods and their current respiratory health. After nine years, the study participants completed these questionnaires again and also were asked whether and when they developed nasal allergies or hay fever.

After taking into account other things that may affect allergies, including family history of allergies and whether their parents smoked, the researchers identified several childhood factors linked with later developing allergies:

  • Contact with children, either siblings or in daycare, decreased the risk of developing allergies.
  • The more siblings a person had, the lower his or her likelihood of developing rhinitis.
  • Sharing a bedroom with an older sibling was protective against developing allergies.
  • Having pets in the home or living on a farm as a child significantly decreased the likelihood of developing allergies.
  • Having a mother who smoked while they were in utero and when they were a child increased allergy risk.
  • Women had fewer allergies than men as kids, but more allergies as adults.

The balance between clean and not-so-clean

Some of these results may be surprising because they suggest that childhood exposure to more “dirt and germs” can keep allergies at bay. On the other hand, other studies suggest that for children growing up in urban environments, being exposed to urban pests such as cockroaches may increase allergy and asthma risk. Read on for tips on finding the right “balance of clean” to keep your family healthy.

  • If your child has been begging for a pet, don’t let the “dirt and germ factor” dissuade you. Of course, only consider adding a pet to your family if you know you can care for it properly, and pick one that fits your lifestyle. For example, cats tend to be lower maintenance than dogs.
  • Periodically taking your child out to a farm to see where our food comes from is a terrific learning experience, and it may just offer the added benefit of reducing your child’s risk of developing allergies.
  • Some parents of kids who have to share bedrooms feel they aren’t giving their kids the best of everything. But having siblings share a bedroom may be one of the best ways to allergy-proof your little ones.
I also recommend blood testing to identify potential environmental and food allergies, as this can also help to narrow down treatment options, making it more likely that you’ll experience longer term relief from hay fever symptoms.

Food Allergies-More Common Than You Think!

A study published in the October issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology estimated that nearly 2.5 percent of Americans have at least one food allergy. The study, which is believed to be the largest food allergy study to date, showed that the allergies were more common in children 5 years old or younger. 


“This study is comprehensive in its scope and is the first to use specific blood serum levels and look at food allergies across the whole life spectrum,” says study senior investigator Darryl Zeldin, M.D., acting clinical director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). 

In the study, children under the age of 5 were more than twice as likely as those older than 20 to have a food allergy and black people were three times as likely as white people to have one, while men were nearly 1.9 times more likely than women to be affected. Black boys were more than four times as likely as white women over 20 to have a food allergy. 

The findings also show that food allergies were more common in those with asthma. While the researchers did not study cause and effect between food allergies and asthma, having a food allergy appeared to compound the risk for asthma and vice versa. 

Those with asthma had nearly four times the risk of having a food allergy than those without it. Overall, people with food allergies were nearly seven times more likely than those without them to have required ER treatment for their asthma in the 12 months leading up to the study. 

“Our findings confirm a long-suspected interplay between food allergies and asthma, and that people with one of the conditions are at higher risk for the other,” says investigator Robert Wood, M.D., director of Allergy and Immunology at Hopkins Children’s. 

Wood notes that many children experience an “allergic march,” developing a food allergy first and getting asthma and hay fever later. 

While people with food allergies were somewhat more likely to be diagnosed with hay fever, the link between the two was not particularly strong, and they did not appear to have higher risk for eczema, the investigators found. 


If you or your child are suffering from asthma or other allergy-related conditions, you should definitely consider pursuing food allergy testing from a licensed naturopathic physician.

Gluten and the Nervous System

This is something my colleagues and I have been familiar with for quite some time, but a new report published in the Lancet Neurology demonstrates further proof that an intolerance to gluten containing foods can cause much more than just digestive symptoms.

Sensitivities beyond celiac

“Celiac disease is only one
aspect of a range of possible manifestations of gluten sensitivity. In
some individuals, gluten sensitivity is shown to manifest solely with
neurological dysfunction,” the authors of the new report explain.

Neurological
disorders that might be tied to a gluten sensitivity include a lack of
muscle coordination leading to instability (ataxia), tingling and
numbness (neuropathies), and migraine-like headaches (encephalopathy).
The authors go on to say that the tests that help to establish a
diagnosis of celiac disease may not reliably show if a person has a
gluten sensitivity that affects only their nervous system. For this
reason, they suggest other tests that may help uncover a hidden gluten
sensitivity in people suffering from certain neurological disorders.

The
report’s authors recommend, “To improve diagnosis rates, the perception
of physicians that gluten sensitivity is solely a disease of the gut
must be changed.”

If you think you have a gluten sensitivity


Get medical support. Identifying and treating a gluten
sensitivity can help you avoid serious complications.

Be
proactive
. Ask your naturopathic doctor if he or she is familiar with the tests
that are useful for identifying different types of gluten sensitivities,
or if he or she can refer you to someone who is.

Pay
attention
. If you think your symptoms might be related to gluten,
consider a six-week gluten-free diet trial. If you’re going in for lab
work, though, eat your normal diet so your test will gauge your regular
reactions.

Living with a gluten sensitivity

Gluten
sensitivity is in the spotlight, so there’s never been an easier time to
go gluten-free. New food packaging requirements mandate that
gluten-free foods be accurately labeled, and gluten-free cookbooks
abound on bookstore shelves. Ask your grocer whether they can recommend
books, recipes, and other resources to help.

(Lancet Neurol
2010;9:318-30)