Diagnosing disease from symptoms can be as easy as looking at someone’s sore, inflamed, tonsils and recognizing strep throat, or recognizing the telltale signs that indicate the seasonal flu. It can also be relatively easy to diagnose a hay fever allergy, or an allergy to a food such as peanuts.
Dr. Leo Galland believes that unexplained weight loss, weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, mood swings, insomnia, depression, brain fog, headaches, digestive complaints and more, may all be due to allergies.
He calls them hidden allergies and suggests they affect many of us - sometimes with frank symptoms and sometimes with subtle, less defined complaints. If symptoms of allergies can mimic other diseases, and be the source of a missed diagnosis, then the doctor asserts we may be in the midst of an epidemic of allergies.
Dr. Galland, a board-certified internist who has focused on allergies for quite some time, believes that there is an allergy epidemic sweeping the world. Today about 30 percent of the U.S. population suffers with allergic rhinitis as well as a positive skin test (which identifies allergies to specific irritants). Worldwide that translates to over 1 billion people suffering with some type of allergy, and about 300 million individuals suffering with asthma. Asthma is at its highest rate in the U.S., and two-thirds of sufferers are not well-controlled by their medications. If you suffer with insomnia, anxiety, depression, brain fog, migraines, attention disorder, even fibromyalgia then he suggests you may have a “brain allergy.” Other organs can also manifest the symptoms of allergic reactions. But it may all begin in the gut.
The allergy mechanism
There are different theories explaining the mechanism behind the underlying cause of allergy symptoms. Dr. Galland believes that it’s not an excessive immune response, but rather a disabled immune system or immune deficiency that allows an allergy to develop and persist.
If the T lymphocyte response (a part of the immune response to a perceived allergy) is somehow downregulated, then the body is unable to cope with an exposure to a particular irritant – food, animal, grass or otherwise. It’s then crucial to identify what exactly is limiting or downgrading the (T lymphocyte) immune response. Dr. Galland and others assert that our microbiome, or the population and delicate balance of microbes in the gut, influences your immunity, and food choices influence the balance of your microbiome.
Nutrition has a profound effect on allergies
The terms microbiome and gut microbes, which basically refer to the organism balance that exists in our stomach, has been of great interest lately. An imbalance in your gut microbe population has been credited with causing a host of illnesses and symptoms, including obesity. You are what you eat also has implications when it comes to being at risk of developing allergies. Dr. Galland believes there’s ample proof to suggest that a typical American diet filled with fast food, junk food, and highly processed and refined foods directly changes your internal balance, fueling allergies. He indicts, trans fats, unhealthy sugars and refined carbohydrates, and also says we are not consuming enough flavonoid-rich foods which support the immune system. This creates the perfect storm for allergies to occur. Allergy symptoms can include a runny nose, fatigue, brain fog, depression, a regularly “upset stomach, insomnia and the list goes on.
Other allergens we need to fear
In addition to food, Dr. Galland highlights a list of allergens (toxins) that includes harsh cleaners, dust mites, air fresheners. Exposures to these can instigate allergies because of their toxic impact on our immune systems. Triclosan (in so many products including soaps, gels, toothpaste, antibacterial hand washes, clothing, and medical equipment) got a special mention because of its possible impact on staph colonization in our nasal passages. He firmly believes triclosan is fueling a host of problematic health issues including allergies. Having nasal polyps, associated with allergy symptoms, can fuel the staph growth, which in turn produces super-antigens. These super-antigens also down regulate T lymphocytes which, as previously mentioned, results in an impaired immune response. Dietary flavonoids have been shown to help intercept this process.
A bad diet = microbiome disaster
The American diet which emphasizes sugar and unhealthy fats instead of fiber and flavonoid-rich foods is at the core of this gut microbe imbalance and allergies. Our dietary preferences kill off good bacteria in our gut, and allow the bad bacteria to overpopulate. Our health depends on a wide diversity of bacteria, and illness is associated with a loss of that diversity. That fast food, junk-filled diet you are eating and feeding your family, is literally devastating your microbiome population.
The diet solution
Dr. Galland recommends a diet that emphasizes:
- Fruits and Vegetables (seven to nine servings daily)
- Berries like strawberries
- Carotenoid-rich foods
- Fermented foods
- Organic foods
- Omega 3 rich foods (low mercury fish)
- Herbs and spices like turmeric and parsley
- Green tea and oolong tea
- High fiber nuts and seeds
- Probiotics for certain individuals (he recommends a personalized approach)
These foods are anti-inflammatory and can improve T lymphocyte response, helping to support a strong immune system. Of course, just the decision to limit consumption of the unhealthy foods will go a long way to start the healing process, and allow your gut microbiome to self-correct. Dr. Galland considers allergies and weight gain a vicious cycle. He links adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory hormone that shows reduced levels in the presence of excess fat, as an allergy instigator. Lose weight and adiponectin levels increase and directly limit allergy mediators like eosinophils.
What you choose to eat, or not eat, has a clear impact on a number of diseases and in this case our gut microbe balance. Dr. Galland’s theory that nutrition balances immunity is the premise of his new book The Allergy Solution.
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