Spring is finally here, and for most of us, that’s a big relief. For many others, however, this means the return of sneezing, coughing, wheezing, itching – better known as spring allergies. Research shows that more kids than ever before have allergies, and it seems every year we’re told it will be the “worst spring ever” for allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), 23.6 million Americans were diagnosed with hay fever in the last year. The prevalence of allergies is surging upward, with as many as 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children having at least one allergy.
Why are more kids than ever before allergic and/or have asthma? The difference is not the pollen, the difference is how our bodies react to the pollen. An allergic response happens when the body’s immune system overreacts to allergens such as dust and pollen. The response is that the body overproduces neutralizing chemicals such as histamines to correct the problem. Why is this happening more and more with each passing spring?
Let’s look at some growing trends in our society to figure out why childhood allergies have become so severe and so prevalent.
The Hygiene Hypothesis
We are too clean. There’s a growing body of research showing that children exposed to lots of germs early in life are less likely to develop allergies, asthma or autoimmune disorders as they grow up. The reason being that when these microbes enter the gut they keep a rare part of the immune system reined in. In other words, exposure to common germs keeps the immune system properly functioning and busy and able to not over-react when encountering nasty bugs and other biological stuff later in life. We are meant to encounter some microbes and dirt when we are young. It’s how our immune system grows strong.
Today, we’ve developed a cleanlier lifestyle, and our bodies no longer need to fight germs as much as they did in the past. As a result, the immune system has shifted away from fighting infection to developing more allergic tendencies. There’s also our love of antibacterial everything – and now there’s evidence that suggests that there may be an association between triclosan exposure (an ingredient in antibacterial soaps) and allergies.
What You Can Do: Ditch the antibacterial soaps, disinfectants and toxic chemical cleaners. Use natural cleaning products instead – these include vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, baking soda, and castile soap. Simple hand washing with soap and water still remains one of the most effective ways to decrease the risk of spreading infections after preparing food, using the toilet, or after coughing or blowing your nose. Let your children play and get dirty, and remember – you don’t have to wash or sanitize everything.
The American Diet
Our diet has increasingly become more processed, with less of us eating anything that resembles real food. We’ve also seen the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food supply. These additives and pesticides may be changing our gut flora so that our bodies can no longer handle certain foods and creating sensitivity. Researchers are discovering that these foods impact the immune system, which influences allergic reactions. Your immune system is the barrier that protects your body against impurities and when it’s broken down the body is less able to protect against allergens and infections.
In addition, there are foods that exaggerate inflammation because they themselves are irritants. These include sugar, alcohol, grains, and processed foods – staples in many of our diets. We ingest far too many foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids – found in processed and fast foods – and far too few rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in cold-water fish.
What You Can Do: Avoid histamine containing foods (foods that are aged and fermented – beer, alcohol, cheeses, pickles, sausage, etc). Eat more anti-inflammatory foods – fresh produce, fish and nuts (less sugar, grains, and processed foods), and drink more water.
The Rise of C-Sections
Babies born through c-sections may have different immune systems. According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers evaluated more than 1,200 newborns when they were 1 month, 6 months, 1 year and 2 years old. By age 2, babies born by cesarean section were five times more likely to have allergies than those born naturally when exposed to high levels of common household allergens such as pet dander and dust mites. Babies who are born by cesarean and never make that trip through the birth canal apparently never receive some key bugs from their mothers.
What You Can Do: There’s no question that cesarean surgery is both necessary and unavoidable at times, and can save both mothers’ and babies’ lives when performed appropriately. However, it’s important to remember that you have the right to refuse or consent to any procedure and you certainly have the right to make an informed decision when it comes to your health and the health of your baby. If you did have a cesarean for any reason, I recommend using a high-quality infant probiotic to help populate your baby’s gut with beneficial flora.
The Chiropractic Connection
It is vital for your health that your immune system and inflammation response is well balanced. The immune system not only destroys foreign tissue but also unwanted parts of our own tissues. Inflammation is your body’s effort to deal with damaged tissue and begin repair. Upset in these systems can lead to your body causing havoc on itself. Your body’s lack of ability to properly adapt to the changing environment is what we label as a seasonal allergy. After all, everyone breathes the same ragweed pollen, yet everyone does not have seasonal allergies
A healthy spine is essential for a healthy nerve system, which coordinates ALL of the other systems in your body. Only recently have researchers uncovered the molecular connections between the nerve system, the immune system, and inflammation. As chiropractors, we have a direct influence over the nervous system. We now know through research that chiropractic care has beneficial effects on immunoglobulins, B-lymphocytes (white blood cells), pulmonary function and other immune system processes. Besides the growing research, there are countless case studies of patients (including myself) who have seen drastic improvements in their allergies from a balanced immune system from regular chiropractic care.