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Why So Many Allergies?

The number of allergies is on the rise, but why so many allergies especially in children?

Allergies and auto-immune disorders occur when our immune system mistakenly identifies an otherwise harmless substance as a threat. It then attacks these inappropriate targets. In the case of an allergy this may be a food, dust, mould, pollen etc or in the case of an autoimmune disease the body is attacked.

 So Why So Many Allergies?

The medical profession does not really have any definitive answers as to why the number of allergies is on the rise. There are however several theories.

> The Hygiene Hypothesis speculates that we are not exposed to enough pathogens, parasites and other microbes giving our immune systems too little to do. This hypothesis has been around for several decades.

> Digestive Health and Leaky Gut – around 80% of our immune system is in our gut, if the gut is not healthy, then we will not be healthy.

> Lifestyle factors such as warmer, drier homes and a more sedentary lifestyle.

The Hygiene Hypothesis

Population studies have found that there is a much lower incidence of allergies, asthma and anaphylaxis in developing countries. It is also known that children who grow up on a farm, around animals and spending a lot of time outside have fewer allergies.

The theory is that these children are exposed to parasites and other microbes, which is much more in line with the way that we evolved.

During evolution our bodies adapted to the constant presence of these parasites and other microbes. Now that they have been removed from our environment we have a very active immune system that is effectively itching for a fight.

In other words, our living conditions and food are so clean they don’t offer our immune systems enough to do, so our systems overreact to harmless allergens instead.

Nick Furnham at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and his team have also found similarities between the proteins in parasitic worms and those in pollens. He suggests that our parasite defences will naturally attack the pollen leading to seasonal allergies.

So what can we do?

We are simply too paranoid about GERMS

If your house is generally clean it is acceptable for your child to play on the floor. Allowing your child to play outside and to be exposed to dirt is beneficial for the immune system. (Avoid areas that may be contaminated with animal waste)

Also, exposure to animals including pets will have benefits for their immune system and your child’s mental well-being.

Digestive Health and Leaky Gut

It is estimated that 80% of our immune system is found in the gut.

When damage is caused to our gut lining by food allergies and intolerances, reactions to antibiotics or pesticides, or illnesses such as gastro-enteritis it allows bacteria, metabolic wastes and undigested proteins to enter our blood stream.

These foreign substances in the blood stimulate the immune system into attacking and trigger inflammation, allergies and auto-immune diseases.

Allergies are also more prevalent in C-section children. Baby’s digestive tracts are sterile.  During a natural birth they will be exposed to the flora found in their mother’s gut. Studies are suggesting that these babies should deliberately be exposed to a swab from their mother in order to populate their gut with the necessary ‘good’ bacteria and other microbes.

So how do we fix this?

“Healing and sealing” your gut has been shown to help alleviate allergy symptoms. The key lies in altering your diet to eliminate any offending foods and introducing healthier choices that will support a proper balance of bacteria in your gut.

It is becoming more generally understood that pesticides in food, processed foods, “junk food”, GMO products and synthetic ingredients in foods can decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, thereby having a negative effect on your immune system.

A registered nutritionist can give you individualized advice on which foods to eat.

Antibiotics should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Following any course of antibiotics it is essential to take a good quality, preferably soil based, probiotic to repopulate the gut with ‘friendly’ bacteria.

Lifestyle factors

Human beings are designed to be active for a greater portion of their day. In our modern world we too often spend many hours sitting down. Our lack of fitness impacts many systems in the body.

We also evolved to be outside in all weathers and temperatures. We live indoors in clean, warm and dry conditions. We are not exposed to challenging conditions and temperature changes that strengthen our bodies.

One study in the UK found that people who took a swim in cold water (sea, river or a lake) daily or several times a week, actually had stronger immune systems, were sick less often and had fewer allergies.

What can we do?

The answer is easy – move more and get out into the fresh air….  If only it were that simple!

Take your child outdoors throughout the year, they will come to no harm in the cold or heat as long as they are properly dressed and protected.

Make sure that they get plenty of exercise and active time – you will benefit too if you play with them.

As an adult, try to make time to be outdoors most days, and plan a time to exercise 5 days a week if you can, even if it is a 30min walk. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether playing ball with your child, building a snow man, going to the gym, a team sport or a regular walking group.

By putting your exercise time into your schedule you will find it easier to achieve. The benefits will be worth the effort!

What Causes IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

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Have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel, or IBS? Or maybe you suspect that you have IBS? Are you seeking answers to the question “What causes IBS?”

You are experiencing one or more symptoms of constipation / diarrhoea / bloating / gas and / or cramping. Your doctor has maybe prescribed some meds to control the symptoms but otherwise been of little help?

The medical profession is beginning to understand more of what causes IBS, such as SIBO (Small intestine bacterial overgrowth), infection, inflammation and abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive tract. However, you may be better to talk to your Functional Medicine Practitioner or Naturopathic Doctor about causes and solutions.

How I First Learned That Food Allergies Cause IBS; My Story

I was 33yrs old when IBS hit me… Up until then I had not had any digestive issues other than cramps if I drank glasses of milk, and suddenly I was in the washroom multiple times, usually at short notice and experiencing terrible diarrhoea, cramps and gas. Everywhere I went the first thing I did was find out where the closest washroom was located.. sound familiar?

When my doctor diagnosed IBS, I asked “So, what causes IBS?”

He said vaguely, “Oh, could be anything..” When I asked about allergies, he stated categorically that there was no possible link between allergies and IBS, and prescribed meds to control the cramping and diarrhoea.

On the suggestion of a friend, I had an Allergy test. It came up positive for yeast, cow’s milk products including cheese (I was a BIG cheese fan) and wheat. I immediately cut these foods out of my diet and within 48hrs felt almost completely normal. What a relief!

My doctor was very skeptical. However, I knew that just a few mouthfuls of bread or one glass of wine, which contains a lot of yeast, and I would be in the washroom for most of the next morning.

Top Food Allergens for IBS

The top food allergens I have found for IBS include wheat, corn, soy, yeast, milk and eggs. However, we are all unique individuals, there is no one size fits all and you can be reacting to any of the foods you are ingesting.

A true allergy causes an immune response and will trigger an almost immediate reaction. Once that food has been eliminated from your system you will likely feel much better.

If you have intolerance to a food the reaction will be slower. There is no immediate immune response, it is more an issues with digesting, breaking down and absorbing the food. The reaction can actually take several days to reach a peak. This makes it quite difficult to work out what is triggering your reactions as it may be nothing you ate today, or even yesterday.

Identifying Food Allergies That Cause IBS

There are a number of ways to test.

Elimination Diet

You can try an elimination diet, removing suspected foods and monitoring the result. After a trial period without the foods you reintroduce them one at a time. It can be difficult to obtain definite answers, especially where you are reacting to several foods – eliminating one brings little relief as you are still reacting to others.

Blood Testing

Your family doctor or a naturopathic doctor can requisition a blood test which looks for antibodies to certain foods. You have to be eating the allergens in your every day diet in order to be tested. This means that if you have removed, say, wheat, and then want to find out if you are Celiac the doctor will ask that eat it for several weeks or even months prior to testing.

I have found blood testing to be reasonably accurate for allergies, but that it can provide false negatives for intolerances and emotional reactions to foods where there is no immune response.

Skin Prick Testing

Skin testing can also provide answers. Your family doctor will need to refer you to a medical allergist to have this done. In my practice I have found this method great for identifying bigger allergies, but have also seen cases where the skin showed no reaction even though there is a strong reaction when eating that food.

Muscle Response Testing, Autonomic Response Testing, Applied Kinesiology

All names for the same thing.. As a Natural Allergist I prefer to use this method. It utilizes the body’s response to potential allergens and can assess allergies, intolerances and emotional reactions to foods. It is an effective way of asking the body to tell us what it likes and does not like. It has the added benefit that you do not have to be eating the allergens in order to be tested and results are immediately available.

Whichever method you choose having an allergy test can provide much needed answers and, as in my case, bring enormous relief from your IBS symptoms.

If you want to find out more about the triggers for IBS come for a complementary discovery session with me or one of my colleagues at Ottawa Holistic Wellness.