There are four different types of allergic, or hypersensitivity, reactions and most common type is called a Type I response. In this type of reaction, when a person is first exposed to an allergen, several cells of the immune system start a cascade of reactions. The Th2 type of T helper cells (or lymphocytes) present the allergen to B cells, which then produce IgE antibodies. These IgE antibodies attach strongly to receptors on basophils and mast cells, two other types of immune cells, sensitizing them to future exposures.
When the person contacts the allergen again, the interaction between the allergen and the IgE antibodies on the mast cells and basophils stimulates these cells to release chemicals that intensify the inflammatory response causing allergy symptoms. Eosinophils, another type of white blood cell, are stimulated later in the process and release chemicals that further activate mast cells; this can increase and continue the inflammatory response even without additional exposures to the allergen.
There are many treatment options for allergies that stabilize the mast cells and basophils so they can’t release the inflammatory chemicals, including vitamin C and Quercetin. I feel the more important treatment goal is to shift the immune system balance away from the Th2 helper cells to the Th1 helper cells. This will reduce the initial step in the allergic response and improve other aspects of health. The Th1 helper cells are better able to fight bacteria and viruses and detect and destroy cancer cells; the Th2 helper cells are also implicated in many other diseases besides allergies, including asthma and some types of auto-immune diseases. However, Th2 helper cells, basophils, and eosinophils aren’t all bad; antibodies are one way the body fights infections and eosinophils are important in killing parasites.
The body produces many different chemicals to signal which type of immunity (Th1 or Th2) should be stimulated, and these chemicals can be influenced by many dietary and lifestyle factors. The three most common factors that significantly increase Th2 are:
- faulty digestion, leading to absorption of partially digested and unusable proteins, which increases the antibody immune response;
- white sugar, which directly weakens the functioning of immune cells, and weakens resistance to all infections; and
- trans-fatty and omega-6 acids, found in most heated and processed vegetable oils (e.g., soybean, safflower, corn, sunflower, and canola oil) and foods. The trans-fatty acids weaken killer-T cell activity. Vegetable oils are acceptable IF they are cold or expeller pressed oils, and stored in the dark.
Other factors to avoid include chronic infections, Candida (yeast), Streptococcus thermophilus (commonly found in yogurt), asbestos, heavy metals, pesticides, tobacco, alcohol, steroids, stress, negative emotions, sedentary lifestyle, lack of water, low body temperature, chronic insomnia, and weight lifting to excess.
There are also many factors that increase the Th1 immunity, including:
Probiotics change the Th2-Th1 balance of the immune system to re-establish the normal immune tolerance, in other words, the immune system knows what to respond to (i.e., bacterial infection) and what not to respond to (i.e., food). This is the same mechanism as allergy shots. It will take a longer time to re-establish this immune tolerance if it wasn’t initially created as a child, and symptom reduction can take up to 3 months.
Continued use of a probiotic is necessary because the entire surface of the upper intestines replaces itself every 72 hours and the colon replaces itself every 12 days. These new surfaces need to be recolonized because the bacteria are lost with the cell shedding; there will be a loss of colonization over time if there is no replenishing. There are different forms of probiotics and the most important factors are that the organisms are alive and are in the correct balance and amounts of the Bifidus and Lactobacillus bacteria. For example, much higher levels are needed after antibiotics because Lactobacillus and Bifidus are highly sensitive to broad-spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics can eliminate 90% of these beneficial flora, allowing pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and yeast to increase. Many probiotics also contain fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which is a soluble fiber. FOS can cause gas for some patients, which is an indicator of a bacterial imbalance in the intestines because pathogenic bacteria produce gas when they encounter FOS. Gas will decrease as the balance changes back to the beneficial bacterial types because Lactobacillus and Bifidus produce acid in the presence of FOS, not gas.
For babies, breast feeding decreases incidence of allergies by establishing the correct balance of Bifidus and Lactobacillus bacteria. In breast fed babies, Bifidus accounts for 95% intestinal bacteria by 7 days and 97% by 19 weeks; formula-fed babies have only 22% by 7 days and only 77% at 19 weeks. Without probiotic supplementation, formula-fed babies never reach the levels of Bifidus seen in breast-fed babies. Supplementation of probiotic in babies should focus on higher levels of Bifidus than Lactobacillus and can start at birth to support healthy levels from breast-feeding and supplement formula feeding.
Omega-3 Fatty acids are found in all cold water fish, especially salmon, sardines, mackerel, halibut, and trout, with lesser amounts in dark-green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables and algae.
Oleic acids are best found in cold or expeller pressed extra virgin olive oil. Secondary choices include hazelnut or filbert oil (or the whole nuts), green and ripe olives, and almonds. Coconut oil can be used alternately with the other beneficial oils, especially for cooking.
Green foods, including spirulina and chlorella, are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes needed for detoxification and optimum nutrition.
Digestive enzymes break up proteins into usable amino acids and levels can be increased with supplemental enzymes and/or pancreatic support. Apple cider vinegar stimulates hydrochloric acid, which is required to digest protein and activate enzymes. Eating slowly to allow natural salivary enzymes to work and eating only when hungry will also support good digestion. B vitamins are also required to support hydrochloric acid production and magnesium is required by the pancreas to produce enzymes to digest proteins. Both B vitamins and magnesium are also necessary for proper adrenal functioning. L-glutamine is an amino acid that serves as the major fuel for the cells of the intestines and is necessary for intestinal immunity. Chronic infections can also shift immunity toward Th2 and create an additional burden for the immune system, so investigating and treating chronic infections, especially in the digestive tract, is another key step.
DHEA is one of the adrenal hormones and the precursor to estrogen and testosterone. DHEA stimulates the Th1 immune chemicals, which indicates that an adrenal imbalance (exhaustion or overstimulation) may actually cause an immune imbalance. Therefore, knowing your adrenal status and using appropriate adrenal support, including DHEA if you are deficient, is an essential part of balancing the immune system. Many of the most common adrenal support treatments, such as licorice and ginseng, also have their own beneficial effects on immunity.
Glutathione acts as an antioxidant and is essential for balancing the Th1 and Th2 immune states.
Sunlight, water, touch, positive attitude, and acupuncture also have a positive effect on immunity.