A natural approach to allergies
by Alex C Pitt Introduction to Allergies
Allergic Rhinitis and Hayfever
Allergies on the increase
There’s been an increase in allergies in the UK in the last 20 years. Other richer nations show similar increases but under developed countries don’t have such high incidences of allergies.
Perhaps much can be attributed to our modern way of living. Pollution from power plants, factories and car exhausts certainly contribute. But our way of life means our children are not building up immunities like they used too in our centrally heated ultra clean houses, with less contact with plants and animals or other small children.
We also use antibiotics to cure everything so our bodies forget how to fend off diseases, and our diet contains an unnatural amount of processed food and chemical additives and imported food that we’re not used to eating.
Conventional western treatments and alternative therapies
Paediatricians are trained to prioritorise diseases and treat problems with medication and surgery. The study of allergies usually focuses on a limited range of allergies – asthma, hayfever, excema – as the cause of a child’s problems.
Many now believe that an allergy is actually a malfunction of the immune system and can affect a person’s entire body. Often, allergies may be affecting the stomach, urinary tract, muscles and skeleton, and most important, the central nervous system.
If your child has asthma, food intolerance or anaphylaxis, hayfever, excema or other skin conditions, there are conventional drugs that can help. But there are also complimentary therapies which take time to assess and treat your child as a whole person and not only look at allergy symptoms but at building up health and immunity generally.
With allergies preventing illness is more effective than drugs to treat symptoms.
What are Allergies?
Most people’s immune systems produce disease-fighting antibodies which act as a defence against any invader (antigen). When you have a virus or bacterial infection swelling, redness and fever indicate that your immune system is working.
But in people with allergies, their antibodies are overstimulated and react to normally harmless substances, not just diseases. They fight these harmless invaders each time they are encountered.
The most common antibody is immunoglobulin E (IgE) which is mainly active in blood, the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and mouth and in the skin. When antigens are encountered IgE releases chemicals in the body and this allergen/antibody “war” causes most allergic reactions.
Where do allergies come from?
The following all cause allergic reactions in some people:
- Ingestants: substances that enter the body by mouth such as food, drugs or environmental toxins.
- Inhalants: allergens are breathed in through the nose or mouth such as pollens, moulds, animal secretions or dust mites.
- Contact allergies: these enter the body through the skin for example powders, lotions, nickel, rubber and latex .
- Other factors: situations that may aggravate the allergy like weather changes, heat, cold, humidity, infections, fires, pollution and second hand cigarette smoke.
Allergies can be inherited so check if you or any member of your family, including brothers and sisters has a history of asthma or hayfever or excema. There’s a chance your children may have allergies, but they can also develop even if no one in your family suffers.
Feeding your child
Starting before they’re born you can guard your child against possible inherited allergies by being careful when pregnant and avoiding food that might cause allergies such as peanuts.
And when you’re breastfeeding you can avoid similar allergy inducing food. Some recommend avoiding saturated fats as these can cause allergies. And try to breastfeed for at least the first four months as studies have shown that babies breastfed for this time have fewer respiratory tract illnesses and are less likely to develop allergies later in life.
Breastmilk is thought to be so good for several reasons. There’s no foreign milk to produce an allergic response to, it contains nutritional elements, there are thought to be anti-inflammatory substances in it and it gives your baby valuable antibodies from you to boost their immune system.
Children under three are most likely to have food sensitivities as their immune systems are underdeveloped. Those with food allergies are more likely to suffer respiratory allergies as they get older.
The best advice is to be careful when weaning and don’t introduce solid foods till after six months. Start with well tolerated foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, peas and potatoes. Introduce one food a few days at a time so you can see if allergies develop. And if you have a family history of allergy delay introduction of known problem foods such as dairy products, wheat and eggs and don’t give peanuts till after 3 years.
Toddlers and older children
It is difficult to get children to eat healthily, when most of them object to vegetables and would prefer to eat chocolate or ice-cream once they’ve been given a taste of it. But we can encourage them.
Try to make your own food, and avoid processed food with additives which are definitely not good for young children with developing digestive systems. Read food labels and avoid monosodium glutamate and e-numbers.
Also avoid GM foods and buy organic when you can. Most supermarkets now stock organic ranges, go to a health food shop or order direct from organic food companies who deliver to your door. There are plenty of good organic ranges of babyfoods now too. Even better grow your own fruit and vegetables from organic seed without using chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
Here are some tips on encouraging your child to eat more food that’s good for them:
- Give them softer fruit and vegetables like strawberries, avocados and mushrooms
- With fruit and vegetables, chop them, mash them or juice them so they’re easir to eat
- Make your own cakes with real fruit in or fruit sugar and all organic ingredients
- Buy organic chocolate as it’s purer and has less sugar, or carob flavoured sweets
- Give them dried fruits and fruit strips for snacks
- If you buy frozen or ready prepared meals buy the organic or vegetarian ranges
- Encourage children to help you make the dinner, sandwiches or cakes
- Some children find chicken or fish hard to eat so give them other protein products such as beans, quorn, tofu or eggs
- Most children love yoghurt, milk and cheese and there are plenty of organic ranges
Dirt and hygiene
Being dirty is good for them
In this country we spend so much time cleaning our houses, using anti-bacterial sprays, keeping children indoors and using a lot of babywipes to keep them clean. One hundred years ago, more people lived on farms, hygiene was poorer, and there were no bacteria-killing drugs.But research suggests and our mothers will tell us that ingesting a little bit of dirt is no bad thing. It builds up children’s immune systems. And if children play outdoors and get cuts and bruises they’ll get used to fighting off infection. In April 1999 14,000 children in Bristol were studied. Those that bathed every day and washed more than 3 or 4 times a day had a one in five chance of getting asthma but those bathing every other day and washing less often each day had a one in seven chance.
Farmers children don’t get so many allergies
A study in Salzburg amongst nearly 3,000 Austrian children aged 8-10, discovered that those with regular contact with farm animals were less likely than others to have developed allergies. The study took into account that country air is generally cleaner than in towns. But you don’t have to live on a farm, just have contact with animals and farmyard dust to build up antibodies
The countryside and foot and mouth
Of course given the current crisis of foot and mouth it may not be advisable to take small children to visit farms right now. Although this is a disease of animals and poses very small risk to humans, smoke from bonfires and fires contains irritants that can affect people with asthma. Those living in the country are asked to keep children away from fires, stay out of the smoke and shut windows and doors and have medications close at hand in case children feel unwell.
Colds and Viruses
Children at nursery or with brothers and sisters get less allergies Although we worry about our babies every time they have a cold, research shows that increased exposure to viruses at an early age may protect against allergy. The decline in early childhood infections may be partly responsible for the increase in allergies.
A study from Munich published in the British Medical Journal, suggests our hygienic lifestyles, many vaccinations and antibiotics, may be contributing to rising rates of asthma. More than 1,300 children from birth to the age of seven were studied and those who had respiratory tract infections more than twice in their first year were half as likely to have asthma by the age of seven as babies who only had one or no colds. A similar study was carried out in three towns in East Germany with similar results.
Children with brothers or sisters or who attend nursery or a childminders pick up more infections, coughs, colds and diarrhoea. Their immune systems develop quicker and they develop fewer allergies.
Action Against Allergy: PO Box 278, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 4QQ Tel: 020 8892 2711
This lists consultants in the UK who are specialists in food allergies, hayfever and such.
For differing physicians views on the use of different drugs for children:
Safe Natural Remedies for babies and children Amanda Cochrane Thorsons (Harper Collins)Michael Van Stratens Foods for Mind and Body, Thorsons
Your Child: Allergies, Brigid McConville with Dr Rajendra Sharma, Element Books