The theories, problems, and treatments of allergies and hypersensitivities represent an enormous topic that could easily fill an entire book—in fact, many such books have been written by noted medical authors. This section discusses some of the basic concepts in the field of allergy, with an emphasis on new work related to this growing twentieth-century dilemma, particularly regarding the use of diet and supplements in treating both food and environmental allergies.
Allergies are a result of our physiological and biochemical interaction with the world around us and within us—with the foods, chemicals, and natural substances in our immediate environment that we ingest, inhale, or physically contact, and with various internal microbes and body tissues. Our body’s immune system is designed to correctly identify and differentiate between self and nonself—that is, between what our body needs and what is foreign to it—and when it encounters foreign substances, it reacts by making antibodies or releasing certain chemicals, such as histamines. Of course, it is appropriate for us to make protective antibodies against infectious organisms, chemicals, and other foreign substances; pollens, molds, animal hairs, dust, and foods all contain protein antigens that stimulate some antibody response. The problem arises when we have an inappropriate response, or "hyperresponse." Then the antibodies attach to the antigens, causing a variety of internal reactions. Histamine and other chemicals are released into the system, causing an inflammatory reaction. These antigen-antibody (Ag-Ab) reactions affect the tissues and organs, mainly the skin, mucous membranes, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms commonly produced include itchy and watery eyes, runny and congested nose and sinuses, skin reactions, and rapid heart rate. Less obvious but still common allergic symptoms include fatigue, headache, intestinal gas or pain, abdominal bloating, and mood changes.
These allergic manifestations often are the result of multiple stressors and biochemical reactions. I often describe this to patients as the "cup runneth over" theory. Certain people may be reactive to specific environmental and food products, as I myself am. However, if our diet is relatively clean, our stress level is low, and our normal eliminative functions are working well, we will exhibit minimal, if any, symptoms. On the other hand, if we have too many stressors going into our cup—a high-demand schedule; a few dinners out with more bread, cheese and wine; a few extra worries; less exercise; and a little constipation—our cup may "runneth over" and we may experience sinus or upper respiratory symptoms, a skin rash, or other "allergic" problems. From a naturopathic viewpoint, allergic symptoms represent detoxification of any overly congested body; the traditional Chinese viewpoint suggests an imbalance of energies and organs. Western medicine has its own theories, which I also present.