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The Vitamin Cure for Allergies

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Offers authoritative, up-to-date, and practical information on taking vitamins to prevent and reduce allergy symptoms.

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8 Chapters

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CHAPTER 1: What is an Allergy?

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Atextbook definition of allergy has been argued about among doctors and scientists for over a hundred years now. Just during the time that I’ve been a doctor, we have seen the idea of food allergies come out of nowhere to be accepted, although the “old guard” of doctors still like to restrict the term allergy to symptoms like asthma and eczema, and they refer to “food intolerances” rather than food allergies. If you suffer from allergies, you don’t give a hoot what they call it. In this book, I’m going to cover allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and anything else you like to call them, so the exact medical definitions don’t work. The dictionary definition of allergy is a damaging immune response by the body to a substance, especially pollen, fur, food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive. In other words, an allergy is any encounter with something from the environment that gives you symptoms.

How do you know it’s an allergy? Common allergy symptoms may include sneezing, wheezing, itching, bloating, cramps, lack of energy, sleepiness, irritability, trouble concentrating, and headaches. But each of these can be caused by other things than allergies, so an allergy should be suspected when exposure to something in particular gives you the symptoms. For example, you walk through a park and start to sneeze; or you eat eggs or another food and you start to bloat; or you get in a taxi with one of those air fresheners and you get a sore throat or a headache.

 

CHAPTER 2: Allergies That Kill

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We are in an allergy epidemic all across the developed world. However you measure it, rates of allergy have risen massively over the past three decades. And some of these allergies can be fatal—namely, anaphylaxis, asthma, and oral allergy syndrome.

The fastest-growing type of allergy is anaphylaxis, with asthma not far behind. Hospital admissions for anaphylaxis have risen alarmingly in the past decade alone. In the United States, there are more than 60,000 cases of anaphylaxis every year; about 300 of those cases are fatal. Asthma rates have been climbing in the same way, and the prevalence in the U.S. is now estimated at about 11 percent, meaning that one person in nine suffers from asthma at some time. Every year, more than 5,000 people die from it. Both diagnoses have increased the fastest in young children.

Oral allergy syndrome is something we haven’t known about for very long. It has also been called oral anaphylaxis, oral hay fever, and the pollen-food allergy syndrome, which tells you how it happens—it is a cross-reaction that develops between specific pollens and specific foods. Exposure to either can then give immediate symptoms of itching and swelling at the point of contact, such as the lips, tongue, mouth, even the throat. It can be mild and harmless, but can also be so severe that it merges into anaphylaxis.

 

CHAPTER 3: Avoiding Inhalants

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So, you think you may have an allergy? What can you do about it? This chapter is about the obvious first step—staying away from it (avoiding) and/or cutting it out of your life and environment (removing). These are two aspects of the same thing, which you want to do in order to confirm or refute your diagnosis and to stay well (or at least less unwell).

There are limits to how much you can do to avoid and remove allergens. If you have hay fever from ragweed pollen, for instance, only relocating to the Arctic Circle will really work, and even that’s not guaranteed. You will find that there are limits to how much you are prepared to do as well, to how much your life will allow you to do. It is difficult to avoid wheat or dairy products totally if you want to have a life outside your home. But there are also steps you can take to protect yourself as well, which we will discuss later in the book. In this chapter and the following one, we’ll look at avoiding and removing allergens, both for diagnosis and for treatment.

 

CHAPTER 4: Avoiding Foods and Chemicals

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In the last chapter, we looked at ways to avoid and remove inhalants in order to alleviate allergies. In this chapter, we will discuss similar strategies for food allergies/intolerances and chemical sensitivities.

With a certain amount of observation and logic, you may well be able to figure out which foods cause you to have an allergic reaction, although there are some pitfalls you need to be aware of, and sometimes you just can’t do it without expert help. Two big caveats, however:

1.   Food allergies can be severe and dangerous—for example, the growing number of peanut allergies may cause serious symptoms—so re-read Chapter 2: Allergies That Kill. If your allergies cause similar problems, follow the precautions.

2.   Food intolerances are not so dangerous, but they are not so quick either. With an allergy, you usually react within an hour of exposure, but intolerances can easily take seventy-two hours to show (in rare cases, as much as a week). Factor in that a food can take forty-eight hours to pass through your digestive system, and it can be very hard to link a reaction to a particular food exposure. Often, the symptoms are just there all the time, or on a daily basis.

 

CHAPTER 5: Genes, Pollution, and Diet

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Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, we have entered a new era of health care—personalized medicine. The “old” genetics was about telling you, “your baby has Down syndrome” or “you have a 25 percent chance of developing what your father had.” It was based on big changes in your genes, or your DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). The new genomics makes it possible for us to tell you that “your genes give you an increased risk of heart disease or allergies or some other disease, but here’s what you can do about it.”

It also enables us to predict the drugs that will work better on you, which is why the pharmaceutical industry is so interested. Genomics is all about how your genes interact with your diet, your environment, and your medications. It is based on very small changes in DNA known as SNiPs—single nucleotide polymorphisms. Nucleotides are the letters of DNA, the units that spell out the whole word that tells the cell exactly what molecule to build. You may have seen illustrations of a part of the human genome, which is 3,200,000,000 nucleotides long. If stretched out straight, the human genome would be as tall as a person—about six feet. It’s just a long sequence of four nucleotides: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. A SNiP happens when one of these nucleotide sequences is changed, and even a tiny change can make a huge difference.

 

CHAPTER 6: Nutrition for Allergies

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We’ve talked about preventing allergies, but you can’t always do that. What if it’s ragweed pollen that’s making you sneeze, for instance? Moving out of the city, away from the pollution, would seem a good idea, but it might just expose you to more pollen, making you worse off. Or what if you have a chemical sensitivity, but you can’t avoid the chemicals completely and still live in your city and go to your job? In this chapter, we’re going to look at supplements you can take to reduce or even switch off the symptoms you get when exposed to your allergens. I’ll also give you guidelines about how much of each to take and how often.

The simplest way to use this advice is to take all of the nutrients, and this will certainly help most people. But this isn’t always necessary or practical.

• You may not need all of the supplements all of the time. And they don’t come for free, of course. If cost is an issue, or if being able to take something several times a day is tricky, you are free to experiment and see what you can get away with. It’s your body and your symptoms after all. Important exceptions to this are when it’s a serious reaction—never take chances with those (see Chapter 2: Allergies That Kill).

 

CHAPTER 7: Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

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How much exercise do you get? Even if you’ve got a gym membership or a favorite sport, there’s not many of us who get enough regular, steady exercise. According to researchers, 78 percent of Americans do not get an adequate amount of physical activity.1 But regular exercise is what we were built for, except that we used to call it “work.” The human body, with its long, strong legs and a broad back, was designed for walking and running, for carrying, for digging, and for working with tools. This is how humans lived up until recent history. World War Two changed everything, bringing in labor-saving devices, nuclear power, and many of the advances we take for granted now. Since then, our physical workload has diminished and we take in too many food calories as fuel for doing it. That’s why we are all getting fatter.

But exercise isn’t only good for losing weight or improving your body shape—it has a number of other benefits.

• Exercise burns calories, but even if it doesn’t have that effect for you, it can still reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn helps everything work a little better, including your immune system.

 

CHAPTER 8: Desensitization and Other Options

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What can you do if none of the previously discussed options work? While it’s my experience with several thousand patients that these natural solutions work, there’s always one person for whom nothing seems to work. Let it not be you, but if it is, here are some other options.

A vaccination is a small dose of something (an infection such as tetanus or meningitis) designed to make your immune system respond to it in future—to sensitize you. Desensitization involves a small dose of something (an allergen such as pollen or milk, for example) designed to stop your immune system from responding—to desensitize you. Whether these small doses have a sensitizing or desensitizing effect, or none, depends on the dose, what other chemicals and molecules are in the shot, and the route of administration.

A good example of the route of administration is what I said previously in the book about babies developing anaphylaxis to peanuts when they had never eaten it but had touched it. Touching it first meant they developed this violent allergic reaction; if they had eaten it first, they would almost certainly have tolerated it fine, as most people do. This shows how simply changing the point of contact with something can have a powerful effect. Making that work for good rather than bad is what both vaccination and desensitization are trying to do.

 

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