**Disclaimer: This podcast is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or provide specific treatment plans. Please consult with your doctor about your specific medical needs.
Audio transcription below:
Dr. B> Hey, I’m Dr. Biddle and we’re going to talk about allergies today. I have our new patient coordinator, Joy Lambert here to help me out.
Joy > Yes, hi. How are you?
Dr. B> Good. I have not succumb to the Corona virus!
Joy> Excellent. Myself included. So far, so good. Let’s hope it stays that way. But you know, something else happening during this time also. Right now, amidst the pandemic, the trees and plants are blooming.
Dr. B> It’s beautiful. I have three Oak trees in my yard and everything is covered with green, so I have to clean off the outdoor furniture a lot.
Joy> It’s always nice to see the return of green. But that means allergies too, which brings us to today’s topic. Allergies and the pollen season. It’s happening. I thought we could start by talking about what IS an allergy, exactly?
Dr. B> An allergy is an inappropriate immune response to something that is otherwise harmless. So if you do not have a ragweed allergy, you can throw a blanket down in a field and have a wonderful picnic. And if you have a terrible ragweed allergy, that can put you in the hospital with a severe asthma attack, or at least make you miserable with watery eyes and runny nose and sneezing and brain fog and fatigue.
And I know when I have allergies flaring up, I feel really antisocial. I don’t want to be around anybody and I want to talk to anybody. I felt irritable. I feel stupid. A “histamine brain” is a real thing. It makes your brain feel all inflamed.
Joy> So what do you mean by histamine brain? What is a histamine reaction? Isn’t that the reaction of the allergy?
Dr. B> Well, histamine is a chemical we make in our body and it causes tiny blood vessels and our membranes, like those in your nose, to become more permeable so that they leak fluid which we call, snot. That’s our body’s way of trying to get rid of that stuff that we’re reacting to. Try to wash it away. Dilution is the solution! Try to flush it out. And we release that histamine when our white blood cells deep granulate, especially ones called eosinophils.
When our antibodies, called IgE antibodies but sometimes IgG antibodies, hook onto something that they’ve decided is alien, dangerous like ragweed, then they get our white blood cells to release all this histamine and it starts to cycle.
Joy> Well, what creates these allergies in the first place? Why do we react to some things but not others?
Dr. B> Well, there’s two levels to that. Some molecules are shaped such that they’re more irritating to our immune systems. This is why you get more people who are allergic to ragweed than are allergic to Rose pollen…even though Rose fever was the original word for hay fever, ragweed pollen shapes are reliably irritating.
But let’s also look at food allergies. More people become allergic to eggs and wheat and dairy and nuts, then they do to broccoli and sweet potatoes. And that has to do with the shapes of the proteins and how irritating they are to our immune system. But in the bigger picture of allergies, they were really unheard of in the medical literature before the industrial revolution.
If you look at the ancient Greek in Romans, Indian Ayurvedic texts, ancient Chinese medicine, there’s really not a mention of allergies and I believe that’s because the origin of allergies is from a growing toxicity load. The first place that Rose fever was first identified was in the belt buckle of the industrial revolution, in Liverpool, England, where they were burning massive amounts of coal for shipyard building and things like that.
Factory production and coal is kind of our Pandora’s box. Inside the coal is all this lead and arsenic and mercury and cadmium and other toxic metals, especially mercury. When there was great rain forests upon the earth and giant beasts called dinosaurs roamed the earth for hundreds of millions of years, there was a lot more volcanic activity, and the atmosphere of the earth contained a lot more toxic metals. So these reptiles were not as susceptible to toxic metals as we are, because they evolved with them.
Over hundreds of millions of years, a lot of those toxic metals were captured by the forests and then buried in the crust of the earth. And we have come along and dug them up and we’re burning them. And burning coal is the leading source of putting mercury into our environment.
Joy> I had no idea! That’s shocking.
Dr. B.> Yeah. The mercury goes up into the atmosphere from the smoke stacks of the coal burning power plants and gets distributed across the world. So, you know, on a bad day when it’s not the coronavirus shutting down factories, you can actually have pollution coming into the West coast United States from China burning coal. It travels a long way. But all that mercury deposits into the Pacific ocean…in the silt and then the microorganisms eat it…and then the tiny fish eat that and the medium sized fish eat those. And the larger fish eat that. And then we eat the tuna.
Joy> And so that’s where mercury in big fish comes from, is from the toxins that were released from burning coal, which trapped the mercury in the first place?
Dr. B> Exactly. And then it concentrates up the food chain. So a large fish like a tuna is going to have a lot of mercury. Cause once it gets in the fish, they don’t get rid of it, they just store it. For us, the half life of mercury is 25 to 50 years, which means 50 years later you still have half of what you started with under your own ability to detoxify it depending on how good you are at that.
Joy> So was it our exposure to plants absorbing toxins that creates the allergy or is it an association if we’re exposed to a toxin around a certain plant or other substances?
Dr. B> Well, micro plants, like algae and plankton…they are picking all these toxins up from the silt of wetlands and such. But like I said, a large fish will have bio-concentrated mercury from the equivalent of tens of thousands of small fish. So it really gets to a substantial level and where that fish is swimming around, for example, an oil drilling rig in the Gulf that uses mercury to extract oil, then it’s going to have it even more. You can have one fish that’s extremely higher in mercury than all of its cousins. It’s been well shown, and this is also true for the other heavy metals, but I like to focus on mercury cause a lot of research has been done.
Mercury irritates our immune system. It does a lot of bad things to us. But one of the things it does is it confuses and irritates our immune system. It’s been shown to dramatically increase our allergies. This is even true in heart disease. So if you’re higher in mercury, not only do you oxidize your cholesterol more, and cholesterol is bad for heart disease, but you become more likely to make antibodies against your own oxidized cholesterol. And that increases the inflammatory reaction in the artery wall that causes the plaque formation of heart disease. So heavy metals are one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease. In some ways it’s almost an autoimmune phenomenon of a having this reaction going on in your own blood vessels. And that same sort of irritation to our immune systems then makes us allergic to other things.
Allergy rates have been going up at about 5% per year. That’s a lot…for decades! So, I mean, it’s great for business if you’re an allergist. Sure. But it’s horrible for the community. And you know, when we were kids, you’d never heard much about peanut allergy, right!? And when you went on planes they gave you peanuts, right? But now you have all these peanut free, nut free snacks…and that’s just one thing. Then there’s the growing rate of gluten sensitivity. And our theory about that is the glyphosate in RoundUp (weed killer) that get’s into the foods we eat and the water we drink, is causing gut irritation and leaky gut syndrome.
Our immune system starts to see these molecules that they don’t usually see and starts to attack them. So there’s this relationship between inhalant allergies, like mold and pollen, dog and cat hair…and then the food allergies. They’re all going up and they drive each other.
Joy> Getting back to focusing on the inhalant allergies, since all the flowers are starting to bloom now, do you have any thoughts as to why environmental allergies seem to manifest with the stuffy, congested, snotty kind of head cold symptoms as opposed to things like the hives or the throat swelling that one may experience, say with a peanut allergy or something like that?
Dr. B> Just the route of exposure. I mean, they’re right up your nose and your sinuses, they’re in your mouth from breathing the air, but you’re not swallowing it so much. You’re not eating pine pollen. You sneeze it out.
So with inhalant or seasonal allergies, are they just annoying in general and not something to be concerned about or is there something going on, on a deeper level that is potentially hurting us?
Dr. B> Now, that’s a great question. It’s just annoying for the individual, for most people. However, if you go on to develop asthma, which has a strong correlation with allergies, that can be life threatening or at least take you out of the game, literally, like if you’re playing soccer and your asthma comes on, you pull out of the game.
You know, my four year old girl has had a type of asthma called reactive airways disease where she gets asthma only when she’s sick with a virus or something. So normally she doesn’t have asthma. But when she’s sick she does. And this is really common. I had that when I was a young child also, and I grew out of it. But it’s really scary when you’re up in the middle of the night with a kid wheezing and you have to give them a nebulizer and the question, should I take this kid to the ER or not?
It’s a scary thing. People die from it. When I was in the ER doctor, one of our nurses had an asthma attack and died right there in the ER, even though they had all the help right there. So I take asthma extremely seriously. When I see my own kid wheezing, I get pretty darn nervous.
With food allergies, they can show up as a wider variety of things. So like you said, it could show up as gut irritation. It can show up as eczema. It could show up as inhalant allergies. It could look like you got stuffy nose after you eat food you’re allergic to, it can show up as an autoimmune disease. We think food allergies are a big trigger for things like lupus and thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s, you know, things like that.
And there’s a lot of evidence to support this, so I would say the food allergies have a much more diverse presentation and it can be almost anything…like a great mimicker. And then inhalant allergies are usually a much more straight forward, with the upper respiratory symptoms.
Joy> And so what can we do about it?
Dr. B> What can we do with the inhaled allergies? You certainly want to restrict your exposure, but you have to go outside sometimes. Sure. You want to live in a clean space. You know, it’s nice to run air filters. It’s nice to make sure you don’t have mold. Here in Western North Carolina, we live in a temperate rainforest. There is a lot of mold…a lot of houses that are over 20 years old have pretty bad mold problems.
I see plenty of patients who are living in houses that are a hundred years old and then they come in with both mold and lead from all the leaded paint…they never got cleaned up all the way. Cleaning up your environment is just one thing. There are other simple things. For example, vitamin C at a thousand milligrams twice a day will decrease the histamine response by 38%. So that gets you to a third of the way there. Just with something really simple it has really significant. And then we use other natural anti-histamines like quercetin and butterbur. There’s a whole list of nutrients that we give people to help with their allergies. But the best thing we can do is to desensitize… to train the body to say, “Hey, these are good fellows, don’t attack them.”
In conventional medicine they do skin testing. They take extracts of the different pollens and dust mites, and cat and dog and horse hair, and put it in a little injection under your skin and see if you react. Sometimes people call that a scratch test. And we used to do that. It works pretty well. Every once in a while somebody has a reaction and can go into anaphylaxis where they start to shut down in the airway, and their lips swell up and they can’t breathe. And so that’s very scary just from the testing.
So a few people a year across the country die from the testing. And the way that conventional allergists treat the allergies is take the extracts that you reacted to and put them into a shot in your arm usually once a week, sometimes twice a week. And then over time, they stretch it out to every other week and then even once a month. But that’s usually a three to five year process, maybe seven years. And it is also risky because whenever they raise the dosage to get to the next treatment level, you can again react with the antibiotic reaction.
You have to go to the doctor’s office for the shots just in case you react. It’s relatively expensive. Something like $50 a week. But who wants to get a shot with a needle every week, every month? Especially if you treat young kids…that’s not attractive, and even the skin testing is not attractive. So we switched to blood testing for the inhalant allergies, and also for the food allergies.
I can use myself as an example. I’ve struggled with allergies. I’ve been through the protocol several times and it’s helped. And then I’m good for a few years, until I had to go through it again. I’ve tested myself both ways and I found that the blood tests I thought were more accurate in two different ways. They’re more sensitive and they’re more specific. When you’re doing a skin test, you look at the little wheel of reactive size, and you use a judgment call about like how big the reaction is. Is that three millimeters or five millimeters or seven millimeters? You’re measuring it, but you know, is it just the fact that you stuck a needle in your arm, you can swell up.
So with the blood test, we found that it actually really nailed down what I was really allergic to and how allergic I was, and then we’d take those same proteins of the inhalants. And of course, my big one is ragweed. So I’m not having that much of a problem in the spring. I have a terrible problem in the fall. And we put them into a little bottle and you squirt it under your tongue two or three times a day. It’s what they call a serum of the proteins of the pollens and such or pet dander or things like that. And then you squirt it under your tongue to desensitize yourself.
There’s cells under your tongue called antigen presenting cells and they present the serum to your immune system and say, “these are good guys, leave them alone. They’re part of the family. It’s okay. You don’t have to react to them and not dangerous.” We’re basically inducing tolerance and nobody really knows exactly how that happens at the molecular level. It has to do with the cytokines and leukotriene, and turning some on and turning some off. But the fact is it works, and people have been using drops for at least 50 years now. The company we use is Allergy Choices up in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Sometimes oral drop desensitization is called the Lacrosse technique, which has been going for over 40 years. It’s a long time. They’ve been figuring out how to do it right, both on the testing and on the treatment side.
My four year old, she not only has asthma, but she also has had terrible eczema, which is more related to foods like eggs, wheat, and dairy but her big obvious culprit is fish. She’s been on both the inhalant drops and the food drops now. And not only are her lungs a lot better, but her skin is no longer rashing-up. And that’s wonderful. Sometimes we restrict the most allergic foods for a while, but now we’re able to add them back in and with food allergies, I’ve never been a big fan of food allergy avoidance because what I’ve learned is just avoiding the foods you’re allergic to gets rid of your symptoms, but it does not get rid of the food allergy.
The way to make a food allergy worse is you avoid it for three weeks and then get a little exposure, then you avoid it for three weeks and then get a little exposure…and that actually cranks up your allergy. It makes it worse. And of course the way to make it less reactive is to squirt it under your tongue two or three times a day. So you have this low level tolerance building exposure, just like getting the shot in the arm once a week.
They’re about equally effective, but the drops into the tongue are always safe. Nobody’s ever had an anaphylactic response from them. I mean, sometimes you can get a little itchy in the back of your throat or something like that, but nobody’s ever died from it. It’s much less expensive too. It’s more like $70 a month rather than $50 a week. That’s a significant perk. There’s a blood draw, yes, but there’s no skin testing and there’s no shots and it’s convenient not to drive to the doctor’s office all the time. You can do it from your home.
Oral drops are regional, so I don’t try to test people who are living in Florida or Louisiana. They need to go to a doctor who’s local to them. We have a bioregional panel for the Southern Appalachia here for all the things that are in this region. And since the drops are made into a glycerin base, even children don’t mind the taste of it because it’s a little sweet. They actually look forward to it. My daughter does her own drops. That way she proves she’s a big girl. So I’m really happy with the drops. I can hardly imagine practicing medicine now without that as a tool because it’s been such a great tool for both the inhalants and the foods. And for myself, I’ve had really positive results with the inhaled allergy drops.
Joy> So with the drops, how long would one expect to be on them?
Dr. B> Three to five years generally. But, just like with the shots, about 20% of people you don’t see a great response with. There’s always non-responders in any program. And it’s about the same…not everybody gets a response. But 80% of people get a response…in our experience, about a fourth to a third of people get great responses, and after about three years they’re done and happily go on their way. The middle group of people, they get to five years and then they’re better, but then when they try to stop the drops, maybe they relapse and so we might retest and do another round.
Joy> And for those where it is effective to some level, how long should they expect to wait before they notice a difference?
Dr. B> Well, that varies too. I’ve seen people have responses within a few weeks, but in general, I tell them to expect something like six to nine months before we can really expect results. So it’s a process, but a process worth starting. You’re really calming down the immune system. And again, when we talk about autoimmune diseases, the three big things we look at, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about autoimmune diseases in a whole other podcast sometime, are toxins like heavy metals, we look at chronic infections like Epstein BARR virus, (which is mono or walking pneumonia or things like that that had been shown to cause autoimmune diseases including things like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), and then we look at the allergy reactions. Because if your immune system is re-attacking a lot of foods or inhalants, it’s now over-reactive and that over-reactivity tends to bleed over into also attacking your own cells.
And so the autoimmunity, where you can attack any part of your body….it’s where your immune system can get confused and attack anything…and it’s really pretty amazing that it doesn’t happen more often. The immune system is smart, it knows what to attack and what not to attack generally. So what the drops do is give the immune system more intelligence and you can calm an over active immune system down by giving steroids like prednisone, right? But then you’re also taking away your ability to fight off infections or your ability to fight off cancer.
If you think about the immune system, and we’re just doing a podcast so we don’t have a visual aid, but if you make a graph and make it into four quadrants, and on the top is your immune systems too reactive and the bottom is not reactive enough and on one side it’s reactive against yourself in those sites you’re active against other things.
Then if you’re too reactive against yourself, you have autoimmune disease. If you’re too reactive against other things, you have allergies. If you’re not reactive enough against yourself, you get infections, you get cancer. And if you’re not reactive enough against other things, you get infections. And all that conventional medicine knows how to do is basically turn that down by suppressing the immune system with steroids. And what we want to do is slide it all towards the center. So it’s just the right amount of reactive, but it’s intelligent enough to attack what it needs to and leave alone the rest.
It is not dangerous. It’s a really delicate balancing act, right? And so in doing that, we’re also looking at cleaning up the toxicities, cleaning up the diet, cleaning up the lifestyle, cutting up the stinking thinking, right? Because our thought patterns and our stress management play a role in inflammation too. So now we’re back to the five pillars of health, of balancing the hormones, the nutrition, the exercise and stress management….all those things to get people into a good state of health so they’re not having either allergies or autoimmune attacks and it makes a difference, a huge difference. It’s a really rewarding way to practice versus just throwing medications at people that are just band-aid’s. The band-aid on the problem will inhibit their immune system so down the stream they have worsening problems rather than gradually getting better. And that’s what I love to see is people gradually getting better.