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Are Allergies Increasing?

By Denise Elliot

There has been a dramatic increase in the occurrences of food and environmental allergies in recent times. Are our immune systems struggling? Is our nervous system worn out? Or are the number of allergens increasing? Often it is never one answer.

A true allergy is when the immune system is activated, however in our era we are seeing more and more “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to food. If a true allergy exists for a particular food it will trigger the acquired immunity, in which case the body starts to recognise the food as a foreign invader. The reaction can be immediate or occur within a few days, which is the hard part when you are trying to identify the food that may have caused the reactions. Food reactions can be a serious health matter and professional advice may be needed.

Allergic rhinitis is predominantly triggered by inhaled allergens. The symptom is sneezing, often with a watery nasal discharge alternating with nasal congestion and commonly with itchy eyes. A family history is often present.

To control the symptoms and remove the cause, is often easier said than done. Avoiding the seasonal pollens and particular plants is usually a good first option. Naturopaths and herbalists believe that mucous membranes can be in an overly sensitive state creating excessive catarrh (nose or throat mucus) when exposed to some food e.g. dairy or refined carbohydrates.

There are immune modulating herbs, anticatarrhal herbs, mucous membrane restoratives and many options that a qualified medical herbalist can help with. Sometimes it may be not what to take, but what to stop taking, to actually move forward on your path to wellness.

The commonly prescribed pharmaceutical option is an anti-histamine. Histamine is a compound released by the mast cells (a type of white blood cell), that causes the redness and swelling within nasal passages. These mast cells are distributed throughout the body, and in exceptionally high concentrations in the respiratory system.

Quercetin is an active flavonoid that offers an excellent natural anti-histamine action, as well as antioxidant protection. This occurs naturally in vitamin C and in the white pith of an orange, watermelon etc. The release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators is what triggers the allergic rhinitis (irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose). A substantial dose of vitamin C may also offer some antihistamine action.

As a dietary source onions are also high in quercetin, so it is not a silly idea to increase your intake of onions. Fried onions with cumin seeds is calming on the digestive system, and delicious, while whole onions baked in the oven can be either eaten or if you are congested mash them up and make a warm chest pack. A bit mucky to apply but can be effective. Lie back, relax, be kind to yourself and support your nervous system. Excess nervous energy can intensify allergic symptoms and aggravate other systems in the body.