We are continuously being exposed to foreign substances from our environment with our skin, our respiratory system and our gut being the first line of defense to the outside world. 

For most people this works and our immune system does a great job at recognizing and dealing with anything that gets through but for some people our immune system responds inappropriately. 

These ‘allergens’ can be pollen, cat dander, dust, a food, a natural substance (such as histamine or salicylates) or a synthetic chemical or product such as a colour or perfume. 


Difference between allergies and intolerances

An allergy is an immune response whereas an intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. An intolerance is usually that you don’t have the enzymes required to break down a specific food or your body is just overly sensitive to a specific substance.

In an allergy, your body reacts to something that is inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin and your immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This is the same process that occurs when we experience a virus, bacteria or parasite just a different antibody. 

Each IgE antibody can be very specific, reacting against certain pollens and other allergens. In other words, a person can be allergic to one type of pollen from one plant, but not another. When you are exposed to an allergen, the body starts producing a large quantity of similar IgE antibodies. The next exposure to the same allergen may result in an allergic reaction. Which is why your reaction to a second bee sting can be much more severe than the first. 

Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and can affect lots of different body systems but can include hay fever, sneezing and runny nose, allergic asthma, skin rashes and eczema, vomiting and diarrhea and usually happen quickly.  

The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis and can be a life threatening reaction where tissues can swell and stop you breathing – usually results in a rapid drop in blood pressure. Need hospital treatment and you may be prescribed an epipen (which epinephrine/adrenaline)  which increases heart beat. 

In an allergy, there is also a release of histamine (a naturally occurring chemical that is released when we are exposed to an allergen) which is behind all the itchy, sneezy, bloating and nausea symptoms. How you react to the allergen is unique to you.

The ONLY way you can be diagnosed with an allergy is through either a skin prick test or blood test (for IgE antibodies).  If a food allergy is suspected then a food challenge test will be given but this needs to be done by a trained allergy specialist. 

Hair tests do NOT diagnose allergy.  There is no scientific evidence for this. 

Whilst children may grow out of allergies, the best way to deal with allergies is to avoid the allergen or you can use anti-histamine medication and herbs. 

Intolerances are generally slower to develop, they are considered chronic and you can have a threshold which means that small amounts don’t cause a reaction.  


What is the link between allergies and gut health

Lots!  Food can exacerbate allergies as well as being the cause. If we aren’t digesting our foods properly this can also exacerbate allergies. 

Any alteration in our gut bacteria has been found to be the leading reason for food allergies and respiratory allergy such as asthma and rhinitis. Lots of interesting studies on people showing that those with specific allergies have a very different make up of gut bacteria.  

A damaged or inflamed gut lining can also cause an over stimulated immune system especially in those with food allergies (and intolerances). 

If you have many food sensitivities – I highly recommend getting a SIBO test as SIBO has been associated with multiple food sensitivities/allergies.It can also mean that your liver and gall bladder need some love.  


Top Tips

  1. If you think you have an allergy then please get tested and get advice from a trained allergy specialist. 
  2. Avoid the allergen as best you can
  3. Diet makes a big difference – reduce sugar and poor quality fats as they can exacerbate ‘leaky gut’, eat a good amount of fibre and plant foods to feed the good bacteria and provide antioxidants. 
  4. Consider supplementing with vitamin C, quercetin and bromelain which may reduce histamine levels and are anti inflammatory and can support mucus membranes. 
  5. Consider herbs such as nettle, baikal skullcap, reishi and shitake mushrooms, milk thistle and perilla which can all help with intolerance and allergy and are anti- histamine and anti inflammatory. 
  6. There are specific probiotics that have been shown to reduce allergic reactions – Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Lactobacillus paracasei LP33.  They have been to reduce respiratory type symptoms and allergic eczema. 
  7. Improve your gut health – contact Sarah for how she can support you to improve your diet, heal your gut lining and get a good balance with your gut bacteria. 

I will be specifically focusing on food intolerances in a few weeks but to give you a heads up I will be running a short course on how to do a proper elimination and challenge of foods that you think you may be intolerant too.  So reach out and email me at sarahb@sarahbrenchleynaturopathy.com if you are interested in taking part in this. 

There is a YouTube video of this blog. Head over to Sarah’s You Tube Channel if you are interested in watching rather than reading. 

If you want to get to know me or work with me then go to the links page  https://sarahbrenchleynaturopathy.com/links/ to find out more or book a free 30 minute call for a chat.

Email me at sarahb@sarahbrenchleynaturopathy.com 

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