What is an allergy?

April 2013 Three Paragraph Newsletter

It's clear that allergies are much more prevalent today than they were in the past. One study estimated that rates of pediatric allergy have increased by 600% since 1970, so that a child today is about 7 times more likely to have an allergy than 40 years ago. What is contributing to this? There are probably many factors, but when we begin to think about allergy as a disruption of our healthy borders–first a loss of border too far in, and then a pushing of our border too far out–we can better understand how it can be addressed. Because we need to start at the root cause. Antihistamines and steroids reduce the inflammatory symptoms, but they do not heal our boundary. So it is useful to look at two extremes of border imbalance.

The first step of allergy (which does not garner as much attention as the second), happens when something comes too far into our body. It oversteps the protective barriers of our skin, the lining of our nose, mouth, lungs or intestines. Substances are of course brought into the body all of the time, with the air we breathe and the food we eat. But when something comes into the body and cannot be transformed, it is recognized as foreign and the body feels assaulted. The first gesture of allergy then, is that something comes into us, but too far. Why do things come in too far? Sometimes it is simply related to the overwhelming amount of substance (smoke from a forest fire, pollen from a flowering tree), and it's true that we have an incredible number of things coming towards us all the time which we should protect against (pollutants in the air, additives in food, chemicals in things we work with). But there are also an equally incredible number of things competing for our attention which we are supposed to pay attention to all the time (noises, traffic, schedules, email). And that modern combination seems to confuse our healthy experience of boundary. We need to be totally open to the things we have to pay attention to, and closed and protective against all the foreign substances we encounter. So a first step in addressing allergies (seasonal, environmental, sensory) is to strengthen our experience of self and outside, our boundary. This can be done through using medicines that contain Silica (quartz), as well as preparations of certain citrus fruits (most especially lemon and quince). And by trying to reduce the number of things we are exposing ourselves to, which can include things like nasal saline rinses or allergy-elimination diets.

The second step of allergy is the reaction against what is foreign, and this process is what we usually experience as allergy symptoms. The immune system meets, then tries to break down and eliminate what does not belong in the body. This is in many ways a digestive process, but one is now happening in the wrong place, to compensate for something that came too far in. The eyes, nose, lungs and skin are not very good digestive organs. The challenge is that when we routinely suppress inflammatory processes in the body–with antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories, anti-pyretics (fever reducers)–we may hamper the body's own ability to meet and transform what it encounters as outside substance. In some ways our immune system needs the practice, to be better able to determine what is inside and what is outside. Then it can function in a balanced way. Being exposed to a wide variety of outside substance is not the main problem, as a study actually showed that children living on a farm had significantly reduced risks of hay fever, eczema and asthma. (Allergy. 2006 Apr;61(4):414-21. Allergic diseases and atopic sensitization in children related to farming and anthroposophic lifestyle–the PARSIFAL study.) There are also studies showing that restricted use of anti-biotics and anti-pyretics is related to a lower overall risk of allergy, and that routine dosing of Tylenol at an early age are associated with an almost two-fold risk of asthma symptoms by age nine. Supporting the digestive capacities of the body is a second important step in anthroposophic treatment of allergy, which may include bitters like absinthium, raw food cleanses, formic acid, or birch leaf tea. A holistic approach seeks to strengthen both aspects of allergy, so that we don't get pushed too far in, and then have to compensate by pushing too far out.

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