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Allergologie
 

Allergien und Intoleranzen (in english)

The following information is copyright (c) Amsterdam Clinic. You may reproduce the entire contents of this electronic brochure and pass it on as shareware. All other right reserved.


Allergies and intolerances

Introduction

Through his writings, we know that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, had already recognised the presence of allergic reactions in people as early as ancient times. However, the term "allergy" is a relatively new one, as compared to many other commonly used medical terms. In 1906, Viennese paediatrician Baron Clemens von Pirquet used the term for the first time to describe an "altered response" of his patients' bodies. Von Pirquet believed that this altered reaction manifested itself in changes of the immune system, effected by external influences on the body, such as: food intake, the air breathed or direct skin contact. The term "allergen" (the substance responsible for the altered reaction) was born. At that point in time, however, von Pirquet had no means of scientifically proving that these immunological changes actually occurred in the body. It was not until the mid-1920's, that a second significant event occurred.

Researchers found that, by injecting a minute quantity of purified allergen under the skin, certain individuals would develop a clear skin response; a "wheal," with or without itching and redness, could be provoked. This positive skin test for allergies would show itself most prominently in patients with hay fever, asthma, chronic rhinitis, hives and eczema. The "prick test" became a method of demonstrating the involvement of the immune system in allergic reactions. However, the precise biological reason for the reaction continued to remain a mystery.

It was not until the Sixties, when an important discovery occurred which provided long-awaited scientific support for the classical allergy theory and removed any doubts about the relationship of the immune system with allergies. This breakthrough came about with the scientific discovery of immunoglobulin E (IgE) by a Japanese couple named Ishizaka.

 

The Classical Allergic Reaction

The following are the chain of events which happen in allergic reactions:

(1) An allergen must be present in the body. This allergen is the substance which causes us to have an abnormal immunological response. Allergens tend to be protein molecules. Interestingly enough, the immune system only detects particles of a certain size as potential troublemakers and protein molecules are just the right size. In a small number of cases, the body actually responds to molecules other than proteins. These molecules, which are generally much smaller, are called haptens. By combining with protein molecules, haptens form larger complexes which can then be detected by the immune system.

(2) The allergen is detected by the B cells. These are specialised immune cells, capable of producing antibodies. Just like allergens, antibodies are protein molecules, which have the capacity to neutralise allergens.

(3) Every B cell produces its own, specific antibody, depending on the type of intruder it needs to respond to. It is easy to understand why the body must have a ready pool of millions of antibodies, in order to combat these numerous offenders. There are five main categories of antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD and IgE) which the body releases under different circumstances (for instance to fight off various infections, etc.). In the case of allergies, the body produces the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE), first discovered by the Ishizakas.

(4) Usually, antibodies will bind directly to the appropriate damaging substance and neutralise it. However, IgE deviates from this common path. It first attaches one of its "legs" to one of the body's numerous mast cells. The other leg is used to hold on to the offending allergen. This action signals the mast cells to begin disintegrating, thereby releasing histamine.

Histamine is a chemical substance responsible for a great number of complaints which may arise during allergic reactions. It causes muscle cramps and an inflammation-like process with redness and swelling of mucous membranes.

Allergic reactions can occur under a variety of circumstances. For instance, inhaling certain substances, such as grass pollen, house dust, etc., may cause an allergic response. However, the consumption of certain foods may do the same. Allergies typically bring on complaints very rapidly upon contact with the allergen. Complaints may vary from a runny nose, sinusitis, earache or runny eyes to itching of the skin, eczema and shortness of breath.

Intolerances

Conventional medicine can easily diagnose and treat allergies for foods or inhalants. Here, the so-called RAST test plays a very important role, because this test can demonstrate the presence of IgE.

However, demonstrating the presence of intolerances is more difficult. In this situation, similar to the case of classical allergies, the body responds abnormally and, in addition, the immune system does not produce IgE. It quite often takes much longer for complaints to come on, thereby masking the possible link between the offensive substance and the complaints themselves.

These are only a few of the reasons why food intolerance is considered a fairly controversial concept in conventional medicine.

Intolerances can be responsible for a wide variety of complaints which, at first glance, seem to lack a plausible explanation.

Intolerances can manifest themselves as:

  • gastrointestinal complaints: stomach ache, irritable bowel, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis
  • skin complaints: itching, eczema, acne, hives
  • joint and muscle complaints: ranging from atypical pains to rheumatoid arthritis
  • headache and migraine
  • chronic fatigue
  • asthma, chronic rhinitis or sinusitis
  • pre-menstrual syndrome
  • hypoglycaemia
  • depression, anxiety
  • sleeping disorders

Diagnosing Intolerances

It is impossible to accurately demonstrate intolerances through conventional testing methods.

The Amsterdam Clinic currently uses two test procedures which have proven to be very reliable.

(1) In the cytotoxic test, a drop of the patient's blood is mixed with a drop of pure, liquefied food concentrate. If the body has a normal tolerance to this specific food, microscopic examination will show that certain white blood cells (granulocytes, which deal with immune response) remain intact. However, in response to lesser degrees of tolerance, these white blood cells swell and possibly granulate. In severe cases the cells will actually blow up and disintegrate. Detection of intolerances with this method can be done with an 80% reliability.

(2) Another useful test is the IgG(4) antibody test. Here, the presence of IgG(4) antibodies is determined. These antibodies are the slowly occurring variety, which do not appear in the blood until 24 to 48 hours after exposure to an offending food or substance. The reliability of this test varies between 80 and 90%.

Treatment

Diet

In the treatment of inhalant allergies (such as asthma, hay fever) and food allergies and intolerances, avoidance (elimination) of allergens plays an extremely important role. In the case of food sensitivities, either the cytotoxic test or IgG(4) test can help determine reactions to specific foods. Based on the test results, an elimination/rotation diet can be specifically tailored.

Foods causing strong reactions in these tests, should (temporarily) be excluded from the diet. More moderate reactions allow for rotation of certain food items in the diet. These may be eaten once every four days. Especially during the first week(s) of the diet, withdrawal symptoms, similar to complaints stemming from the cessation of coffee, tobacco or alcohol consumption, may occur. The body seems to crave offending food items. Generally, these withdrawal symptoms disappear after a couple of weeks. Concurrently, those complaints relating to food sensitivity also diminish.

Using this dietary approach, the reaction to food allergens may decrease in the course of time. After a three month moratorium, reintroduction of "forbidden" food items can be attempted, one at a time. In this way, food items still causing reactions can be isolated more easily. Often, at least part of existing intolerances completely disappear after an elimination/rotation diet.

With the treatment for inhalant allergies, elimination is also the first step. It is obvious that patients having an allergy for cats or dogs, should avoid any contact with these pets. The situation becomes more difficult when dealing with allergies to grass or tree pollen, since total elimination is basically impossible. The same goes for house dust mite allergy. The house dust mite lives in mattresses, pillows, carpeting, drapes, upholstery, etc. Through mite-killing pesticides, special mattress and pillow covers, non-carpeted floors, etc. reasonable results can be obtained.

Medication

Medicines for inhalant allergies, such as antihistamines (Triludan), corticosteroids (Prednisone, Pulmicort, Becotide), cromoglycates (Lomudal, Lomusol), and airway dilating medication (Ventolin, Berotec, Atrovent) do suppress symptoms, however, they do not cure the allergy! In the realm of conventional medicine, effective medications for food allergy and intolerances do not exist at all.

Desensitisation

Enzyme-potentiated desensitisation (EPD) and the provocation/neutralisation method are very effective treatments for food allergy/intolerance and inhalant allergy problems. These methods tackle allergy problems at the root.

(1) During EPD treatment, a small quantity of a food or inhalant allergen mixture is injected intradermally into the skin, in conjunction with the enzyme beta-glucuronidase. This combination causes the body to gradually adjust its exaggerated responses to food and inhalant allergens. In this way, the immune system is readjusted and reset. Initially, the injections have to be given once every two months. Gradually, however, the intervals between injections become longer and the injections can often be discontinued after a time.

According to conservative estimates, at least 80% of those patients treated with EPD show considerable improvement in the course of time.

(2) Provocation/neutralisation can be used both diagnostically and therapeutically. Here, separate extracts of food or inhalants, suspected as possibly offending, are injected intradermally. This causes a wheal to appear in the skin. After 10 minutes, the size and nature (firmness, colour, etc.) of the wheal are evaluated. A positive wheal will generally bring on symptoms (provocation). Depending on the size and nature of the wheal, as well as, the presence of symptoms, varying concentrations are injected, until a dose is found which does not cause any wheal changes or symptoms. This is the neutralising dose. Injections with the proper neutralising dose will bring on immediate protection against the symptoms caused by the offending food and/or inhalant.

 

 
   

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