Allergies: How They Happen and How Probiotics Can Help
Some of us are lucky to get warning signs before allergies hit; those subtle signs that tell us we better take defensive action, or suffer! Other times there is no warning, and the misery continues until the medication kicks in (if we have access to it). But have you ever wondered why some people suffer from these maladies while others do not? The answers may surprise you!
It is not just the luck of the draw. While having one or both parents that have allergies gives the child a predisposition to having them as well, we also see another factor that could also influence allergic reactions. The Hygiene Hypothesis is the idea that the clean environment that westerners live in has prevented our bodies from being colonized with the good bacteria that we need to develop a healthy immune system.
An allergic reaction happens when the body senses a foreign “invader”. After this invader is recognized an immune system response is triggered. For the most part, the immune system keeps these responses limited to harmful microbes and toxins. Occasionally the immune system will get confused and send out the signal for war on harmless things such as pet dander, certain foods, dust, insect venom, and so on. Immune system responses happen on a variety of levels. These levels include topical (hives, redness), membrane (stuffy/runny nose, itchy/red eyes, itchy/swollen throat), or digestive (upset stomach, diarrhea). Reactivity can include one, some or all of these. New studies are suggesting that having allergies could be related to the health of our gastro-intestinal tracts. This research also provides that taking probiotics not only reduces reactions in the gut, but within the body as a whole.
Your gut, next to the skin, is your largest barrier between you and the outside world. Taking into account the monumental obstacles any microbe has to endure when ingested to even make its way to the intestines; our bodies have to make the decision on whether or not what we eat is safe. Anything not considered safe will trigger that immune response, as imperfect as that response can be. If a microbe, invader, or allergens manage to slip by and establish themselves, the toxins and by-products that they produce may cross the mucosal barrier. This barrier consists of the cells of the gut, a mucus layer, and the gut flora unique to every human. Not having the right balance of good bacteria in our guts helps to create an “open-door” policy, when entrance into our bloodstream should be VIP access only.
The over-use and misapplication of antibiotics are also finding a connection on the allergy war front. The capabilities of these “miracle” drugs are fading as the problems are surfacing. Drug-resistant strains and the reemergence of diseases such as tuberculosis, which was almost eradicated from industrialized countries, have doctors and scientists taking a new look at the “promise” of these drugs. Antibiotics work to kill cells but their effects are not highly selective, but in a broad manner where any cell can be susceptible to the damaging effects. “It is no accident that the most allergic generation in history has been raised on antibiotics. Several times a week I see a new patient whose allergies appeared or became much worse after a course of antibiotics,” Leo Galland, MD.
This is part of the reason why more and more doctors are prescribing probiotics in conjunction with antibiotic therapy. Eventually antibiotics may even be phased out by the use of probiotics. Dr. Colin Hill, a University College Cork, Ireland scientist and his team have demonstrated the protective effects of probiotics in animals. The results concluded that probiotics have both a preventative and operative effect on the body. This protection seen from the probiotics bacteria varied from positive effects to the host immune system to a method of action called direct antagonism (where the probiotic directly kills the pathogenic bacteria). “We have shown that we can protect and even treat animals against pathogenic bacteria by introducing harmless bacteria at the site of infection,” Dr. Hill adds.
Our bodies are under constant states of motion. It takes energy to keep them running efficiently. It takes even more energy to run a body inefficiently as the body has to work so much harder to fulfill its basic functions on fewer resources. By taking something as simple as a probiotic, we can work to alleviate a good portion of those natural and unnatural stresses on our body. This ensures that there is extra energy available for other purposes and for better uses. The hectic lifestyles today ensure that our bodies have plenty of access to multiple strains of the bad bacteria. It is up to us, either by diet improvement or supplement use, to give those good bacteria a running head-start.