Whilst putting together a newsletter for the cat charity I run, I came across the following article which got me thinking.
“PETS: GOOD OR BAD FOR ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA?
Much to the surprise of doctors running a study following hundreds of children from birth to age seven, their findings revealed that children who grow up with dogs and cats in their homes have a 50% reduced risk of developing common allergies.
“For generations, allergists have been trained to believe that dogs and cats in the house were bad because they increased the risk of people becoming allergic to them,” said lead investigator, Dr. Dennis Ownby of the Medical College of Georgia in the U.S. Not so, according to the study. Doctors followed a group of 474 healthy babies in Detroit from birth to age seven, comparing the children exposed to two or more indoor dogs and cats during infancy with those who were not exposed to pets.
They found that the children exposed to pets were half as likely to develop common allergies. “This is exactly the opposite of what we would have predicted,” admitted Dr. Ownby.
Cats or dogs provided benefit even for outdoor allergens. “They were protective against allergies to things such as ragweed, timothy grass, and Alternaria, as well as to pets,” noted Christine Cole Johnson, PhD, senior research epidemiologist with Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and one of the study’s coauthors. And the more pets, the better: “It really took two to make the drop in allergy and atopy [rates],” she added.”
This study is significant because everywhere you turn these days, somebody is allergic to something. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people suffer from allergies in one form or another.
So what are allergies?
An allergy is an overaggressive immune response triggered by ingesting certain foods, touching certain substances, or inhaling an irritant such as pollen or animal dander. These triggers are called allergens. The symptoms of allergies vary according to your body’s sensitivity and can range from runny nose, sneezing, itching and redness of the eyes, asthma or skin rash to anaphylaxis and even death in extreme cases.
Diagnosis of allergies is usually made by skin testing – where certain allergens are applied to the skin and you are monitored for a reaction – or by blood tests. Skin testing is favoured because it is easier, cheaper, and in most cases, more sensitive. Traditionally, management of allergies involved simply avoiding the allergen in question or otherwise reducing exposure. For instance, people with cat allergies were encouraged to avoid them. While avoidance may help to reduce symptoms and avoid life-threatening anaphylaxis, it is difficult to achieve for those with pollen or similar air-borne allergies. This new study, however, throws this traditional approach out the window!
Conventional allopathic medicine will tell you that there is no cure for allergies. The allergic reaction is managed with antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, topical creams and antibiotics to treat complications – in other words, medicines that switch off the body’s response. People with allergies know that these treatments don’t work; at best, they provide temporary relief of symptoms, and at worst, they create side effects which can be worse than the allergies themselves. This reductionist approach works well with machines, but is clearly inadequate for addressing living organisms like ourselves.
A different approach
According to renowned homoeopath Dana Ullman, the greatest misunderstanding about allergies is the assumption that the allergen (the cat dander, the pollen, the house dust mite, or whatever) is the problem. Actually, the allergen is simply the trigger, while the allergic person’s body is the loaded gun. Rather than just treating symptoms or avoiding the allergen, the best course is to take action to strengthen the body’s own immune and defense system. Natural therapies which do this help empty the loaded gun or simply make it shoot blanks.
Solid research has proven the effectiveness of homeopathic medicines in hayfever. Dr. David Taylor-Reilly, a professor and homeopath at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, published an important study in the Lancet (October 18, 1986) which showed that homeopathically prepared doses of 12 common flowers were very effective in reducing hayfever symptoms when compared with patients given a placebo.
This same researcher published in the Lancet (October 12, 1994) another high caliber study on the homeopathic treatment of asthma. This double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial performed conventional allergy testing to determine what substance asthma sufferers were most allergic. Then, half of the subjects were given a homeopathic preparation of this substance, while the other half were given a placebo. Those people given the homeopathic medicine experienced a very significant improvement in their symptoms of asthma.
The natural way
From a naturopathic viewpoint, allergies are often associated with weak adrenal, immune, and digestive functions. Natural treatments are used to support and improve those functions and to alleviate symptoms of allergies.
Eat a moderately low-fat, high-complex-carbohydrate diet. Drink one glass of water for every 10kg body weight daily (e.g., a 60kg person would drink 6 glasses of water).
Include a lot of the following foods in the diet:
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
- Deep yellow and orange vegetables
- Nettles, bamboo shoots, cabbage, beetroot tops, beetroots, carrots, yams
- Onions, garlic, ginger, cayenne, horseradish
Eliminate the following from the diet:
- Alcohol, caffeine, and dairy products
- Bananas and citrus fruit
- Food colorings (tartrazine)
- Red meat
Bioflavonoids (e.g., quercetin, catechin, and hesperidin) – Take 2-3 grams daily. When symptoms are severe, take up to 6 grams. Bioflavonoids are natural antihistamines and strongly anti-allergenic. Bromelain and vitamin C can enhance the action of bioflavonoids.
Flaxseed oil – Take 1 tbsp daily.
Probiotics (e.g., lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus) – Take one in the morning and one in the evening. Probiotics are bowel microflora – the bacteria that normally inhabit the intestines. Buy a quality product that has 3 million organisms per capsule.
Vitamin A – Take 25,000 IUs daily.
Vitamin C – Take 1-3 grams daily or to bowel tolerance. (Bowel tolerance is the amount of vitamin C that can be taken without causing diarrhea. This amount is different for each person and can change if the need increases because the body is stressed, injured, or ill.).
Vitamin E – Take 400 IUs daily.
Zinc – Take 30 mg daily.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) – Used as an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) – Reduces congestion and secretions. It is good for itchy eyes, sneezing, and excess mucus.
Gingko (Gingko biloba) – Contains bioflavonoids and is used as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) – Helps reduce allergic, inflammatory, and histaminic reactions and supports liver function.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) – Helps build the body’s resistance to allergies.Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)—Used as an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Reduces congestion and secretions
Allium cepa – Indicated for bland, nonirritating discharge from eyes; copious, watery, acrid discharge from nose; hoarseness; and feeling better in cool air and open room.
Euphrasia – Indicated for symptoms such as copious, watery, acrid discharge from eyes; nonirritating discharge from nose; dry, hard cough; much sneezing; diarrhea; and feeling worse in open air.
Natrum muriaticum – Indicated for watery or egg white-like discharges; cold sores; no sense of taste or smell; headaches; and feeling better outside.
Nux vomica – Indicated for runny nose in daytime, then dry nose at night; violent sneezing; nose feels blocked but there is watery nasal discharge through one nostril; and feeling worse outside.
Wyethia – Indicated for extreme itching in the nose and throat; throat feels swollen; back of throat is dry and burning; and sensation as if something were in nasal passages.