Bugged by Allergies

More research has been published showing the relationship between the microbes that live in the gut and the development of allergies, asthma and eczema.

Allergies can be seriously debilitating and greatly affect ones quality of life

Human beings are covered – inside and out – by bugs: bacteria, yeasts, parasites and likely viruses as well.  In fact human cells are outnumbered 10:1 by microbial cells (that is we each have 10x as many microbes on us and in us as we do human cells)!  This collection of microbes is called the human microbiome.  This microbiome plays many essential roles in our health and wellbeing, or lack thereof.  With a healthy microbiome we have a symbiotic relationship – that is the microbes benefit from having us as a host, and we benefit from having them stay.  Some of the functions provided by a symbiotic microbiome include cholesterol metabolism, hormone metabolism, proper digestion, efficient absorption of nutrients, enzyme production, neurotransmitter (especially serotonin) production and B vitamin and vitamin K production, to name but a few.  The microbes also form a protective physical barrier for the lining of our mucous membranes – the gut, genito-urinary tract and respiratory tract – and our skin.  As a result they help moderate our moods, energy levels, digestion, cholesterol levels and immune function.

The variety of microbes (or bugs, as I affectionately refer to them as) in the gut largely determines whether your immune system will over react, leading to allergies.

Around 80% or so of our immune system actually lies in the lining of the gut wall, and how our immune system responds to different environmental substances – whether it be food, fragrances, chemicals, pollens or dust to name but a few, depends on the combination of microflora in the gut.  With an imbalance of “good” and “opportunistic” microbes, our immune system can be sent into a state of overreaction.  In this case, your body mistakenly identifies a safe substance, such as house dust, pollen or strawberries as being a harmful substance, and so your immune system produces histamine and antibodies against these substances and you end up feeling miserable with hayfever, asthma, eczema or other allergy symptoms.

While we get a blueprint of our gut flora from both parents, we get the majority from mum as we are born through the birth canal.  Babies who are born by c-section by-pass this opportunity to be inoculated with mums microflora and as a result tend to have lower microbial diversity during the first few months of life and have a greater tendency to develop atopic eczema and asthma*.

Allergies are not the only disorders resulting from disturbances to the microbiome.  Other disorders directly linked to an imbalance of flora include auto-immune diseases, IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases**.

Fortunately, looking at nutrition and environmental factors can go along way to restoring healthy gut flora.  Nutrition wise it is essential to remove nutrient empty foods that feed opportunistic microbes as well as to incorporate nourishing foods that heal and re-inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria. As a result of doing so many digestive and immune disorders, including many allergies can be improved, without the need for daily antihistamines, steroid medications or anti-inflammatories.

TOP Foods to Create and Keep a Healthy Microbiome:

  • Fermented probiotic foods such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut
  • Fermented cod liver and skate liver oil (see here)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (such as leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, leeks, cauliflower etc)

Having a discussion about how small the bugs are that will be fermenting this batch of veggies!

Causes of Microbial Imbalance

  • Sugar
  • High starch diet
  • processed foods
  • medications (particularly antibiotics and steroid medications – one reason why a large majority of women on the contraceptive pill experience chronic and recurrent thrush)
  • Stress – mental, emotional, physical.  Keep your levels manageable by practicing meditation (even if just for 2 minutes a day), yoga, walking, exercise, deep breathing, laughing or reading a joyful book

 

It is possible for current sufferers to be allergy free

References

*http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22153774 Feb 2012

**http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22322009 Feb 2012

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