Allergies, Asthma, and Pac-Man
Who knows someone with allergies and asthma? Everyone here? Most likely, its super common. In fact, hardly a tv or youtube show goes by without us constantly being bombarded with drug commercials for allergy meds. It seems like we keep coming up with remedies but more and more people are still developing them every year, yet nobody seems to ask what is causing them to become so prevalent. We all breath the same air with the same pollen but some people react to it. Our typical first response is to suppress the immune system so that you don’t react as badly, but this still does not address the cause. Allergies and asthma are on the rise in younger and younger kids, so are autoimmune diseases, and other chronic health issues.
Both allergies and asthma are considered an over-reaction by the immune system to a non-pathogenic foreign material. With allergies this can be pollen, certain foods, animal dander, whatever your body would have a reaction to. These are things our body should not be reacting to, these are naturally occurring items that the body should be able to adapt to, but for some reason it isn’t. When the immune system reacts to these foreign materials, immune cells release a chemical called histamine. Have you ever heard of this? You may have heard of anti-histamine drugs like Benadryl, Allegra, Claritin are all anti-histamines so they work by blocking the receptors for histamine. Histamine causes an inflammatory reaction by making the local blood vessels to dilate, or open up to let more blood flow, which causes redness, swelling, and itching or pain. The inflammation also causes increased mucous secretion to “trap” the foreign invader and get rid of it. That is why there is often runny nose, a build up of sinus pressure and sinus headaches, and in kids we can see ear infections, especially if there isn’t proper drainage of the ear canal, but more on that later.
Now asthma is similar to allergies in the sense that it is an inflammatory reaction occurring in the lungs, when an asthma attack occurs, histamine not only causes the inflammatory reaction in the lungs, but also causes bands of muscle around the airways to constrict, leading to difficulty breathing and the “wheezing” sound heard.
There are drugs that block histamine reaction to decrease the effects of the immune systems overreaction to these foreign materials. But what causes the immune system to over-react and release a bunch of histamine in the first place? That is due to an imbalance in the two major sides of the immune system.
Ok so there are two major sides to the immune system. The cell mediated side and the humoral side. The cell mediated side is the body’s first line of defense. These are like pac-man cells that go around and take care of all the bad cells in the body whether its foreign cells like bacteria and viruses, cancer cells, or just junk that the body needs to get rid of. This side of the immune system is responsible for the cardinal signs of sickness: fever, cough, mucous, rash, diarrhea. These are ways that the body destroys bacteria and viruses and expel them from the body. A lot of people get these symptoms confused and think that it is the bacteria and virus causing you to feel crappy, but really, it’s your body trying to fight them off. Now these things can be very uncomfortable so it is common to take fever-reducers or pain killers, anti-diarrheal drugs to block these symptoms, but what that does is it weakens this immune system reaction, allowing the bacteria or virus to grow and spread, which means you may be sick for longer, and potentially more often, because you aren’t giving your immune system the practice.
Now the other side, the humoral side. This is the body’s recognition and memory system for foreign objects. Under normal immune system balance this side gets its instructions for recognizing foreign invaders by the cell-mediated side, and it creates anti-bodies, which flag they see the foreign material again, for the cell mediated side to react. So, for the sake of continuing my pac-man reference, these flags turn the ghosts white so pac-man knows to eat them.
If there is an imbalance in these two sides, we tend to suppress the cell mediated side with a lot of our interventions today. The humoral side will try to over-compensate and flag whatever it believes is foreign to the body. This can be things like allergens and pollen, or it can be your own cells, which is the basis for autoimmune diseases. Since we are focusing on allergies, the type of antibodies or “flags” that the humeral side uses against allergens is called IgE, which is very reactive with Mast cells and basophils, which secrete histamine. Hence the histamine inflammatory reaction to allergens.
A big one that we see is toxic or deficient diet. A lot of “kid friendly” foods have little to no nutritional value so kids aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals that they need to have a well-functioning immune system. Also, a lot of manufactured and pre-packaged foods that our kids are consuming have artificial ingredients and preservatives that can interact with hormones production or are neuro-stimulants that cause neuron cell destruction.
Another common cause of immune imbalance is suppression of the immune reaction with NSAIDs like Tylenol or ibuprofen, and over antibiotic use. When we get sick it is very common to reach for the first over the counter pain-killer we can find, or often we will go to the doctor and get a round of antibiotics at the first sign of a cold. What this does is it suppresses the immune reaction, and it doesn’t allow the immune system to learn how to fight off that virus. So, the next time you catch that cold your body doesn’t know how to fight it as efficiently, especially when we do this repeatedly, which makes you even more susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections.
The other cause of immune imbalance, that I specialize in, is subluxation. It’s a misalignment of a bone that results in local tissue inflammation which affects the ability of the nerves to transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body. So, the brain sits up in the skull and it controls everything that happens in the body, every system, including the immune system, every cell, every organ is controlled by the brain via the nervous system. The brain sends messages down the spinal cord and out nerve roots to everywhere in the body and the body sends information back to the brain the same way. When there is that subluxation, that misalignment of the bone causing inflammation around the nerve roots it decreases the quality of the communication, like static in a phone line. So, when these messages go out to the body the body doesn’t know what to do with them and vice versa, this is where symptoms show up from. Chiropractors are trained at finding these subluxations and correcting them to clear up that inflammation, that static around nerve root, to allow the brain and body to communicate the way they are designed to. Chiropractors work with the function of the nervous system so that the body can heal and function the way it is supposed to.
What about ear infections? This issue is a perfect example of how that subluxation can directly impact the function of the body. The muscle that is responsible for fluid drainage through the Eustachian tube of the ear is attached to the top bone of the spine and the nerve that controls that muscle originates from that area as well. So, when there is a misalignment of this top bone it can impact the function of this muscle which can cause fluid to build up behind the ear drum, this creates an environment where bacteria can grow. That is why ear infections are so prevalent in children, when they come into the office we often will find a misalignment of the top bone, and once that is corrected the fluid will drain and the immune system can fight off the infection.
Those are things we can work on to get the immune system back to balance. Eliminating processed food and food additives from your child’s diet and making sure they are eating fruits and vegetables will ensure that they have the building blocks for a strong, balanced immune system. Thinking about colds and sicknesses a little differently and allowing the body to adapt and fight off the cold itself will help restore that balance. Getting the nervous system checked by chiropractor to ensure proper nervous system function will also ensure the other systems are functioning properly as well.