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Crucial information on hidden connections between food, pollen, and chemicals that trigger allergy ...
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Crucial information on hidden connections between food, pollen, and chemicals that trigger allergy attacks
Hundreds of nondrug, alternative techniques to help you cut down on conventional medications
Practical self-treatment plans for the 15 most common allergies, from asthma and hay fever to food, dust mites, and pets
At-a-glance Symptom Solver charts to target origin and treatment options fast
More than 40 illustrations, including drawings for easy identification of ordinary offenders like poison ivy, oak, and sumac
Latest scientific breakthroughs in conventional, alternative, and environmental medicine to empower you to make informed choices
Immediate, safe allergy relief and improved quality of life
Author Biography: Rick Ansorge is a veteran reporter who won the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's national journalism award in 1997. He and Eric Metcalf, also a former new reporter, have been researching and interviewing for this project for 3 years. Both live in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
AFTER THE FALL of the Berlin Wall, researchers from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin saw a golden opportunity to study the effects of lifestyle on allergies. Reunited Germany made an ideal laboratory.
Since World War II, the country had been divided into capitalist West Germany and communist East Germany. For 45 years, Cold War tensions, concrete walls, and barbed-wire fences kept the two Germanys apart. Essentially, the West Germans and East Germans were one people living on separate and unequal planets.
Thanks to their postwar "economic miracle," West Germans enjoyed one of the world's highest standards of living. Many lived in luxurious homes, cruised the autobahn in gleaming Mercedes-Benzes, and ate whatever they pleased.
Not all was perfect in this capitalist utopia, however. Universal car ownership polluted the atmosphere with excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide. In fact, the West German government's indifference to environmental concerns gave rise to a new political party, the Greens.
Still, living conditions were far worse in East Germany. Intent on industrialization, the nation's communist rulers ignored the nation's infrastructure, allowing roads, railways, and buildings to deteriorate. Living standards were abysmally low, with housing and consumer goods in extremely short supply. The typical East German had to wait years in order to buy a shoddily built East German automobile.
In this low-rent"workers' paradise," environmental protection was an oxymoron. Industrial areas were plagued with excessively high levels of air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
Growing citizen discontent led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990.
From 1991 to 1992, the Robert Koch Institute tested more than 5,300 West Germans and more than 2,600 former East Germans for allergies. Guess which ones were most likely to be sneezing and wheezing? Those from the impoverished, polluted East?
Researchers found that allergies were far more common among Germans from the affluent West, especially those who were born after World War II. In fact, West German baby boomers were up to 83 percent more likely than their East German counterparts to have allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) and asthma. Since no such differences in allergy rates were found in Germans born before World War II, researchers suspected that West Germany's postwar lifestyle had somehow sensitized its children to pollen, mold, dust mites, and other types of allergens.
Why should we care about a bunch of wheezy West German baby boomers?
Because as goes West Germany, so goes the Western world.
The incidence of allergy and asthma has been rising in every country in the Western world since about 1980.
Most alarming is the increase in asthma. In the United States alone, more than 15 million people, including 5 million children, have this life-threatening disease. Each year, asthma accounts for nearly 2 million emergency room visits, 500,000 hospitalizations, and more than 5,000 deaths.
The annual cost to American society: a staggering $4.5 billion.
Although experts can't agree on the exact causes behind the epidemic, this much seems clear: We're literally choking to death on our own abundance.
The High Cost
of the Good Life
Is giving up our worldly goods, heading for the hills, and taking up subsistence farming our only hope of beating allergies?
Not at all. As the German study suggests, the allergy epidemic isn't caused by factors that are beyond our control, such as air pollution. If pollution were the culprit, then asthma would have run rampant in East Germany.
Nor is the allergy epidemic some kind of genetic curse. Until recently, most experts believed that allergy resulted from having the wrong parents. If you have allergies, you probably already know the score. If both of your parents have allergies, your odds of developing them are 40 to 60 percent. If one of your parents has allergies, your odds are 20 to 40 percent.
If allergies were solely dependent on genetics, though, countries as homogeneous as East and West Germany would have nearly identical allergy rates. "Genetic differences cannot explain the increased allergies in the West compared to the former East Germany," the German researchers say. "This implies that environmental exposure or living conditions (lifestyle) are factors causing the differences in sensitization rates in East and West Germany."
Throughout the world, examples of the "German paradox" abound. In Great Britain, high social class is associated with higher rates of eczema. In the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, the wealthiest residents have the highest rates of asthma. In Asia, allergies are more common in Japan than in China.
"These are people who are of common genetic descent," says Donald Leung, M.D., head of pediatric allergy and immunology at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver and editor of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. "Although heredity is very important, the environment has become even more important in the rise of allergies."
If Dr. Leung is right, that opens up a world of possibilities. For if allergies are a consequence of the Western lifestyle, we should be able to reduce or even eliminate our allergy symptoms by changing our lifestyle. We should be able to lead the "good" life with a clear conscience—and clearer sinuses, lungs, and skin.
Indeed, the wide disparity in allergy rates from country to country is forcing even the most conservative doctors to rethink their stand on the nature-versus-nurture debate. In a world of haves and have-nots, the haves definitely have more allergies—up to 15 times more.
When researchers from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies asked 13- and 14-year-olds if they had experienced asthma symptoms during the previous year, positive responses ranged from 29 to 32.2 percent in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom, to only 2.1 to 4.4 percent in such countries as Russia, China, Indonesia, and Greece.
As further proof of the role of the Western lifestyle in increasing allergy rates, experts point out that the Western-born children of parents from developing countries are just as likely to develop allergies as Western kids.
In the United States, which practically invented the Western lifestyle, the allergy rate is spinning out of control. A recent study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology shows that approximately 38 percent of Americans have at least one kind of allergy.
That's over 100 million people.
The Next Generation
Across the board, allergies are becoming more prevalent. And not just the most common ones either. In addition to increased cases of asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema, and chronic sinusitis, Americans are developing allergies that were almost unheard of a generation ago, to substances as diverse as latex, nickel, and peanuts.
Since such substances are found in thousands of products, they can be hidden sources of misery to people who don't even suspect they have allergies. Latex proteins, for instance, can be transferred from food handlers' gloves to the foods they serve. Nickel can be found in even the most expensive gold jewelry. And peanuts? They're nearly impossible to avoid. Have you ever seen a food label that reads: "May or may not contain peanuts"?
That's because the food-processing industry uses peanuts and may not be aware if its equipment is contaminated with peanut residue, according to Marianne Frieri, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and director of the allergy/immunology training program at Nassau University Medical Center/North Shore University Hospital in East Meadow and Manhasset, New York.
Add to this the millions of Americans who have become sensitive to things such as chemicals, cosmetics, smoke, and pollutants—in some cases so sensitive that they've chosen to live in porcelain-lined trailers—and you have the makings of an "allergic majority."
If the allergy epidemic continues unabated, more than 50 percent of Americans will soon have some kind of allergy or sensitivity. The cost of treating these conditions will make today's $18-billion-a-year tab seem like, well, peanuts.
The Environmental Factors
behind Increasing Allergy
Our immune systems aren't supposed to be hypersensitive. They're supposed to behave like smart bombs, destroying hostile invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. But Western immune systems are more like dumb bombs. They've become so oversensitized that they explode in the presence of such seemingly benign substances as pollen grains, mold spores, animal dander, and food.
Let's look at some of the environmental factors that might be responsible for all this mayhem.
Outdoor pollution. First, let's clear up a common misperception. As noxious as air pollution is, it doesn't cause allergies. "No one is allergic to ozone," confirms Gary Gross, M.D., an allergist and clinical professor of medicine at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
Another common misperception is that air pollution is getting worse. "Air quality has actually been improving in both the United States and Europe during the last two decades," says Harold Nelson, M.D., senior staff physician at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver.
That said, there's no question that air pollution can set off underlying allergies and make existing allergies worse. "There's some evidence that chronic ozone exposure may be a risk factor for developing asthma," Dr. Nelson adds.
That could be one reason why African-Americans—who tend to live in heavily polluted urban areas—are three times as likely to die of asthma as are other racial groups.
Increasing truck traffic may be contributing to asthma problems, says Robert Nathan, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and an allergy practitioner in Colorado Springs. Trucks spew diesel exhaust, an irritant that causes airway inflammation. They also scatter tire debris, not just onto the highway but also into the atmosphere. "As latex particles become airborne, they may be triggering an increasing immune response," Dr. Nathan says.
Indoor pollution. Experts say it's no accident that the allergy epidemic began shortly after the off crisis in the 1970s. Remember the mad rush to make our homes more energy-efficient? In our zeal to defeat OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), we insulated and sealed up our homes.
Unfortunately, by sealing out cold air, we inadvertently sealed in a host of allergens and irritants, including mold, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and formaldehyde. And let's not forget the fumes emanating from the toxic-waste dumps in our workshops and under our kitchen sinks. Without good ventilation, these bad guys were free to concentrate, circulate, and contaminate.
We even gave them a cushy hideout, right under our feet. Allergy experts now know that wall-to-wall carpeting conceals a multitude of allergens.
By the mid-1980s, rising drug-related crime in some cities was forcing us to flee our parks, streets, and sidewalks and spend even more time in our contaminated homes. In some neighborhoods, opening a window to let in fresh air was tantamount to waving a banner reading "Rob Me." Even in relatively crime-free areas, many of us got caught up in indoor activities such as playing video games, spending time on computers, and increased television watching. As we cocooned with our families and friends, we blissfully thought we were creating an oasis of calm.
At the same time, our homes were getting older and more decrepit. No matter how hard we tried to maintain them, we often fought a losing battle against planned obsolescence.
"The housing in this country was built to last a certain amount of time, around 50 years, let's say," says Jay Portnoy, M.D., chief of allergy, asthma, and immunology at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. "At the end of 50 years, though, people don't leave their homes and build new ones. They just continue to live in them as they fall apart." Many of the homes Dr. Portnoy has inspected in metropolitan Kansas City, Missouri, are so moldy that no amount of remediation can save them. "We'd be better off just tearing them down," he says.
Lack of exercise. Since we're spending so much more time in our homes, is it any wonder we're out of shape?
"The consequences of sitting for 3 or more hours per day—in front of a television, video, or computer—are decreased activity, increased obesity, and increased exposure to indoor allergens," says Thomas Platts-Mills, M.D., an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Prolonged sitting may also influence lung mechanics and predispose children to asthma."
For people with allergies, a sedentary lifestyle can set in motion a vicious cycle of weight gain and worsening symptoms. The heavier they get, the lousier they feel, and the less likely they are to get up and get moving.
But as tempting as it might be to abandon exercise, it's a self-defeating strategy. Since their cardiovascular systems are already under stress, people with allergies need all the aerobic exercise they can get. "People who are in shape do better," Dr. Portnoy says. "They have more heart-lung capacity, so they can do more before they run into problems."
They also feel better. "Exercise stimulates endorphins, so it always has a modulating effect on the immune system," explains Steven Bock, M.D., cofounder and codirector of the Rhinebeck Health Center in Rhinebeck, New York, and the Center for Progressive Medicine in Albany and coauthor of Natural Relief for Your Child's Asthma.
Further, even those people with exercise-induced asthma probably aren't as allergic to exercise as they think. Many are pleasantly surprised to find that swimming burns calories and builds strength in a warm, humid environment that's good for twitchy lungs.
If you need proof, look no further than Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Despite having asthma, she won four gold medals at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Then, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, she won yet another gold medal with her teammates in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay.
Other notable athletes with asthma include track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, baseball Hall-of-Famer Jim "Catfish" Hunter, and football player Jerome "The Bus" Bettis.
Poor diet. Our allergy woes often begin with our first swallow of non-mother's milk. Since infant formulas contain such allergens as cow's milk and soy, overreliance on them is strongly associated with childhood allergies and intolerances.
The more you breastfeed, the less likely it is that your children will have allergies. If they do have them, it's possible they'll be less severe.
Even more important is delaying the introduction of foods that can cause a lifetime of misery. Besides cow's milk and soy, the most notorious offenders include wheat, seafood, eggs, and peanuts.
As we get older, life in the fast-food lane makes allergies even worse. Eating fatty foods promotes inflammation, which is the common denominator of allergies and asthma.
Since the typical American diet is high in fat and woefully short of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, many of us are seemingly robust but seriously undernourished. Fatty foods will promote inflammation and possibly cause asthma flare-ups. A more recent diagnosis on the allergy scene is termed leaky-gut syndrome. Some doctors say this occurs when allergies to food and other substances in the gastrointestinal tract create irritation, inflammation, and permeability of the intestinal wall, allowing certain molecules to pass through the wall and sensitize the immune system.
When you add in stress—which depletes the body of its natural allergy-fighting hormones, epinephrine and cortisone—you have the perfect recipe for an allergic assault.
The hygiene hypothesis. In recent years, experts have theorized that we've become more susceptible to allergies because we're too squeaky clean. Compared to people in developing countries, we're far more likely to sanitize our homes and offices with antiseptics. We're also more likely to sanitize ourselves with antibiotics, including the broad-spectrum varieties that were introduced around 1960.
"It may be that our immune systems are not being exposed to as many infectious diseases, so they respond to outside exposures in an abnormal `allergic' manner," Dr. Portnoy says.
The German researchers found that most West German preschoolers stayed at home, so they had little contact with other children and little exposure to routine childhood respiratory infections. Most East German preschoolers, by contrast, attended day care, so they got their full quota of daily germs.
Excerpted from Allergy Free naturally by RIck Ansorge, Eric Metcalf. Copyright © 2001 by Rodale Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Part One: The Allergy Epidemic|
|The Emerging Allergic Majority||3|
|The Case for a New, Self-Help Approach to Allergies||12|
|The Conventional View of Allergies||14|
|The Conventional Approach to Diagnosing and Treating|
|The Environmental-Medicine View of Allergies||33|
|The Alternative View of Allergies||47|
|Finding the Best Treatment||56|
|Part Two: The Allergy-Free Environment|
|Outwit Allergy Triggers Wherever You Are||71|
|The Allergy-Free Home||73|
|The Allergy-Free Yard||98|
|The Allergy-Free Workplace||111|
|Part Three: The Allergy-Free Lifestyle|
|Learn How to Lower Your Allergic Response||133|
|The Allergy-Free Diet||135|
|The Allergy-Free Supplementation Schedule||149|
|The Allergy-Free Exercise Plan||159|
|Allergy-Free Stress Busters||173|
|The Allergy-Free Child||185|
|Part Four: Allergy-Free ActionPlans|
|Are You Allergic? (quiz)||207|
|Learn to Dodge Allergic Woes from Head to Toes||209|
|Dust Mites, Roaches, and Other Insect Allergies||268|
|Food Allergies and Intolerances||278|
|Poison Plant Allergy||373|
|Stinging and Biting Insect Allergies||393|
|Part Five: Common Allergic Symptoms: Causes and Treatments|
|Symptom Solver: Skin Problems||411|
|Symptom Solver: Eye Problems||426|
|Symptom Solver: Ear Problems||434|
|Part Six: The Hidden Allergy Connection|
|Unearth the Causes of Some Mysterious Conditions||443|
|Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder||445|
|Chronic Fatigue Syndrome||456|
|Inflammatory Bowel Disease||475|
|Multiple Chemical Sensitivity||480|
|Guidelines for Safe Use of Herbs, Essential Oils, and Supplements|