Your body wants to be well. In order to understand how to treat someone with a disease, we first need to recognize the fact that our bodies are constantly trying to create wellness. Even when someone is suffering in a state of illness, every process that happens is in the pursuit of establishing a balance.
For example, if someone has acute diarrhea from ingesting a parasite, the diarrhea is the body’s way of ridding itself of this foreign invader. Another example is stress, which leads to high blood pressure. Evolutionarily, if we were stressed, that meant we needed to run away from some kind of danger — like a saber-tooth tiger! — and elevating your blood pressure helped get the blood you need to your muscles so you could run faster.
Since beginning my pursuit of understanding the complexities of the human body more than 10 years ago, I have been constantly amazed at the ability of the human body to repair itself.
Allergies — An Immune Response Gone Haywire
Allergies are not an exception to this rule. In the case of allergies, the body is mounting an immune response against something that it wrongly perceives as a threat. When the proper checks and balances are not in place, the immune system can go haywire and mistakenly overreact to things like food and the environment.
Think of your body’s immune system as security guards at the front-door entrance to your body. If the security guards suddenly stopped recognizing the people that work in the building every day, they would start a fight with these people, which would lead to chronic stress and unnecessary roughness. In this case, unless you’re able to get rid of all of the people who work in the building, this constant state of distress would not resolve itself. Therefore, the solution would involve re-introducing the security guards to the workers slowly, on a daily basis, so that over time, they would stop overreacting to them.
How to Cure Allergies
This is the same way that immunotherapy works. It’s a re-education of the immune system in order to down-regulate the hyperresponsiveness that it has against specific allergens. A few weeks ago, I was in Onalaska, Wisconsin, with the incredibly intelligent and gracious group at Allergychoices and Allergy Associates of La Crosse, in order to learn how to implement this extremely helpful and underutilized treatment of allergies for my own patients.
Immunotherapy is the only proven method of curing someone from allergies to the environment, molds, and foods like wheat and dairy. The doctors at Allergy Associates of La Crosse have been using sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) to treat illnesses related to allergies for almost 50 years, and it has been effective in the majority of cases.
SLIT involves creating a completely personalized formula of liquid, tailormade to the person’s allergies, which a person places under their tongue on a daily basis until they’ve built long-term tolerance. It is extremely safe in that there have been no life-threatening reactions to the billion-plus doses given.
So, why use drops under the tongue instead of injections? Because our natural response to foreign molecules in the mouth is to develop a tolerance to them. Injecting foreign substances with a needle activates a different immune response, which can actually cause a more severe reaction.
Why Haven’t I Heard of Sublingual Therapy Before?
You’re probably wondering how this extremely effective and safe method of treating allergies can go unnoticed and underutilized for so long. One unfortunate and simple answer is that the pharmaceutical companies can’t profit from it. Pharmaceutical companies can only sell drugs that have been through stringent testing. And, the FDA will only approve specific doses of a specific chemical which must go through millions of dollars of testing.
Under the La Crosse Method™ Practice Protocol, the treatment that the La Crosse doctors developed, SLIT is completely personalized and different based on individual allergens and sensitivity levels, and therefore there is no way to test every single permutation of these formulations to have them tested and approved.
Just as each patient’s allergy is different, the treatment varies to fit their need — it’s not a “one size fits all” proposition. In short, if pharmaceutical companies do not back something up in medicine, its marketability becomes difficult. This is the quick and dirty answer, and it is a testament to the environment of the medical field today. But I digress…let’s get back to treating your allergies.
If you’re interested in trying sublingual immunotherapy, I recommend that you talk about whether you might be a candidate with a trained professional. In the meantime, there are several approaches that you can take to try to control your allergies without the use of medications.
When considering natural approaches to allergy, you must always first consider your gut health. The inner lining of our large intestine, or colon, is where more than two-thirds of our immune cells are produced. Since allergies are an immune-mediated issue, ensuring that your gut health is optimal will ensure that your allergies are under the best possible control.
Here are a few tips on how you can get started treating your gut — and therefore your allergies — today:
Take probiotics and/or eat fermented foods: The probiotic which has the most evidence for aiding allergic rhinitis is Lactobacillus paracasei. It has been shown in human studies to decrease symptoms of grass pollen and dust mite allergy. This bacteria can be naturally found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Putting healthy bacteria in your gut will allow your immune system to function better, and therefore calm down any hyperresponsiveness to allergens.
Detoxify your internal and external environment: Try to buy and eat only organic foods. The heavy use of pesticides in our nation’s agriculture and antibiotics in our livestock are causing disruption to our gut microbiome. In Dr. Leo Galland’s book, The Allergy Solution, he highlights the abundance of scientific research showing that the toxins and chemicals in our environment and in our homes are increasing our incidence and severity of allergies. One very helpful tip is to use soaps with only natural ingredients and that specifically do not contain triclosan. ( See his book for more information on clearing your home of allergy-inducing chemicals, something he cleverly calls “Mission Detoxable.”)
Avoid antibiotic use as much as possible: We need our gut bacteria in order to keep our immune systems strong. Taking a seven-day course of antibiotics can wipe out about 50 percent of your gut flora, and this effect can last up to 6 months. The trillions of bacteria in your gut are constantly fighting for you. Next time you feel you’re coming down with some kind of respiratory, ear, or sinus infection, remember that 80 to 95 percent of these infections are viral and will resolve without the use of antibiotics. Talk to your doctor, whether integrative or conventional, about whether you truly need that course of medication or not, and if there are alternative treatments that you can use for relief. If we are good to our gut bacteria, they will return the favor by supporting our immunity.
Eat high-fiber foods: Foods high in prebiotics, or soluble fibers, feed your healthy gut bacteria. These friendly bacteria want to keep you healthy, so treat them right by feeding them every day. Don’t eat things that feed their enemies, like sugar and pesticides, and cause them to get squashed out in the armageddon that exists within our colons at every moment. Choose to feed the healthy-bacteria team and starve out the inflammatory bacteria and yeast. Examples of these prebiotic foods are asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, and bananas.
Ensure your vitamin D level is between 50-80 ng/ml: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for our immune systems. Because of chronic deprivation of sunlight in modern society, we are generally all lacking it to varying degrees. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with multiple problems with the immune system, including autoimmune diseases and allergies. Taking vitamin D has also been shown to improve the effects of immunotherapy. Most adults require at least 2000 IU daily to reach adequate levels; however, the best way to know how much you should supplement is by having your level checked by a qualified physician.
To learn more about sublingual immunotherapy, see www.allergychoices.com.
Soyona Rafatjah, MD is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who practices Integrative and Functional Medicine at Dr. Frank Lipman’s Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. She is also certified in Sublingual Immunotherapy for environmental, food, and mold allergies.