Natural Treatments for Childhood Allergies

by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, M.D., M.Sc.

Inhalant, food and chemical allergies in children are escalating. They may be at the root of many chronic health problems including asthma, recurrent respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, middle ear infections, chronic fatigue, eczema, headaches and digestive problems. Conventional medical practitioners treat the effects of childhood allergies with periodic "allergy" injections and an arsenal of drugs which may sometimes do more harm than good. For example, the May, 1993 issue of the Townsend Letter for Doctors reports that in the year 1991, there were 2669 poisonings associated with the use of prescriptionanalgesics, 412 with antihistamines, 953 with antimicrobials, 257 with asthma therapies, 1526 with cough and cold preparations and 619 with gastrointestinal drugs. In the same year, on the other hand, there were no poisonings reported with any vitamin, mineral, herb or homeopathic remedy.

For each drug used to treat allergies, there is a corresponding natural remedy which often works better and with fewer side effects. Let's take a closer look at some of these safe and effective drug alternatives. First of all, nutritional excesses and deficiencies can have a remarkable impact on allergies. We know that starvation (particularly protein deprivation) causes a lower production of antibodies and a greater risk of developing infections. In order for the immune system to function optimally, the body requires adequate (at least RDA levels) amounts of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, copper, folic acid, vitamin B 12 and all the essential amino acids. Two worry-free supplements which have more than adequate levels of all these nutrients are bee pollen and blue green algae. If a child takes both of these natural supplements, he or she will be provided with a perfect mixture of the richest, maximum spectrum antioxidants available in granular, tablet or capsule form. Studies from around the world indicate that blue green algae and bee pollen are effective treatments for allergies and help prevent recurrent infections and other allergy-associated conditions. Some scientists have called these supplements nature's most perfect foods. In addition, blue green algae is one of the few palatable vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.

The ideal situation would be to have a preventive health care system that tested children for vitamin, mineral and amino acid deficiencies. Specific nutrient sup­plements could then be prescribed to promote wellness on the basis of biochem­ical individuality testing. Unfortunately, we have a disease care system that ignores and attacks the value and importance of prevention, natural treatments and nutrient supplementation.

Many doctors and dietitians even claim that supplementation is unnecessary and that a child can get all the essential nutrients from food alone. Some critics go so far as to say that all one is doing by supplementing the child's diet is creating "expensive urine." I disagree. The quality of our food grown in mineral depleted soils is the opposite of what the majority of the medical/dietitian system preaches. With over 70,000 new chemicals added to our environments since the 1940's, our food supply is not what it used to be. Hundreds of studies indicate that our daily vitamin and mineral needs are not met by food alone.

"On its way from the garden to the gullet," as Dr. Emmanuel Cheraskin of the University of Alabama School of Medicine puts it, "the food on your table has had 50% of its nutrients removed." Countless others echo this leading nutrition researcher's findings: up to 80% of the food's value is lost through processing, transportation, freezing, storage, cooking, spraying and chemical additives. This also refers to organic food. In order to get the same amounts of vitamins and minerals your grandparents did from food alone in the early part of the 20th Century, you would have to consume six large meals per day. Since this would overload you with calories, it is far better to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Some have argued that one of the reasons for the epidemic of obesity, fatigue, immune system disorders and mental illness in the population is micro-nutrient deficiency.

Another good reason for taking supple-mental vitamins and minerals is to protein our bodies against the toxic effects of polluted environment. Over the past decade, extensive research has been done on the subject of "free radical pathology." Many reputable scientists and medical doctors believe that "free radical pathology" is at the root of immune system disorders, allergies, cancer, heart disease and a long list of degenerative diseases, including aging. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules (containing an unpaired electron) which can cause damage to the body. They can be offset by antioxidants (vitamins, minerals, enzymes). Free radicals come from radiation, hydrocarbons from car exhausts, cigarette smoke, drugs, pesticides, herbi­cides, food additives, industrial waste products and many other sources. The gradual deterioration of the ozone layer plays a part. All of this necessitates even greater protection with antioxidant nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin A, B vitamins (especially B3 and B6), vitamins C and E, bioflavonoids, selenium, zinc, silicon, amino acids, enzymes like S.O.D. (superoxide dismutase), coenzymes and essential fatty acids. These antioxidants are found in the combination of bee pollen and blue green algae. Side effects and toxicity from overdoses, even in children, have never been reported in over thirty years of broad scale use.

Studies have also shown that refined carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and sucrose) have a depressant effect on the immune system as early as an hour after eating them. Removing sugar and white flour products from the diet is often helpful with most of the signs and symptoms of allergies. A diet high in saturated animal fats impairs immune function. A higher intake of the omega-3 EPA oils (found in halibut, cod, mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna and many others) and gamma linolenic acid (flax seed oil or edible linseed oil, evening primrose oil, oil of borage, black currant oil, etc.) enhances immune function. More often than not, essential fatty acid supplementation alone, reverses the symptoms of many chronic allergy conditions.

Although there are dozens of herbs and natural food supplements that help the immune system fight viral infections, allergies and cancer, four stand out for special attention: burdock, Turkish rhubarb, sorrel and slippery elm. This is because they are safe and effective even in massive dosages. They have also traditionally been advocated by many herbalists and natural healers as immune system boosters.

Several scientific studies have demonstrated the antitumor activity of burdock in animals. The term, "the burdock factor" was coined by scientists at the Kawasaki School of Medicine in Okayama, Japan. In test tube studies, this "burdock factor" was found to be active against HIV(the AIDS virus). Burdock root contains the essential oil, inulin - a very powerful immune modulator. It attaches to the surface of white cells and makes them work better. Burdock also contains benzaldehyde, a substance which has significant anticancer effects in humans.

Turkish rhubarb and sorrel both contain certain chemicals (aloe emodin, catechin and rhein) which, according to the American Office of Technology Assessment, "have shown antitumor activity in some animal test systems." Slippery elm contains two other compounds (betasitosterol and a polysaccharide) with demonstrated anti-tumor activity. It has soothing effects for sore throats, ulcers anywhere in the body and is a good digestive system anti-inflammatory herb.

Essiac is a herbal tonic which has been in the news a great deal in the past year. It is made up of burdock, Turkish rhubarb, sorrel and slippery elm. It was taken from the Ojibway Indians by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse (Essiac spelled backwards - 1888 - 1978). Media reports in the past half century credit Essiac for successfully healing thousands of cancer patients who were pronounced "hopeless" or "terminal" by conventional medical doctors. For a full explanation of how and why Essiac works, testimonials, history of its development and all the other controversies surrounding its use, see the book, Calling of an Angel by Gary Glum.

The combination of the four herbs that make up Essiac has been marketed by several companies in health food stores (i.e. Essiac by Mankind Research, Flor-Essence by Flora, Native Legend Tea by Enrich International and others). There is a great deal of controversy about which formula is the best or "the one true formula" but all have been blessed with rave reports and testimonials. Aside from its many beneficial uses for the immune system, the formula enhances the functioning of the digestive system. In my practice, I have found this combination of herbs to be helpful in the treatment of hemorrhoids, constipation, ulcers, diverticulitis and different types of inflammations in the gastrointestinal tract. Several cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma and candidiasis have responded favorably. Many naturopaths and health care practitioners are recommending it as a general immune system tonic, something that is very much needed in our very high stress environments. It is also perfectly safe as both a preventive and treatment for childhood allergies.

Other natural supplements that have been documented to help allergies in children include the very potent bioflavonoid pycnogenol, common herbs such as echinacea, golden seal, elderberry, capsicum, horehound, chamomille, taheebo (pau d'arco), garlic, astragalus, hypericum and lomatium. According to Dr. William Crook, author of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and The Yeast Connection, some children with severe allergies may benefit from anti­candida treatments such as lactobacillus acidophilus, garlic, tee tree oil, olive oil, caprylic acid, castor bean oil, evening primrose oil, digestive enzymes and others.

We all have various bacteria and fungi living in our large bowels as part of what's called our "normal flora". Ideally, there should be a balance between the yeast, the fungi, the beneficial bacteria and the more harmful ones. These micro-organisms are helpful in digestion, in the synthesis of vitamins and enzymes and in the prevention of both infections and cancer. Ordinarily, candida is benign and lives in balance with the other microbes in the bowel. There is no debate about these facts.

When we disrupt this flora balance with such things as antibiotics (penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, sulfa drugs and many others), steroid drugs such as estrogens, the birth control pill, progesterone and cortisone, this creates an imbalance in the bowel favoring the growth of yeast. If we consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates (candies, chocolates, cakes, cookies, chips, soft drinks, white breads, donuts, etc.), alcohol and caffeine, this also leads to excessive growth of yeast in the bowel. Diabetics frequently suffer from the effects of an overgrowth of yeast, partic­ularly when blood sugar levels are not under control. Many diseases where the immune system is compromised, are associated with yeast infections. Candida seems to thrive whenever the immune system has been weakened by drugs, disease or a poor diet.

These and other factors such as stress, chemical additives and nutritional deficiencies create an overpopulation of yeast in the colon which spread up the digestive tract into the small intestine, stomach, esophagus and oral cavity. Over-colonization in the digestive tract with candida causes changes in the permeability (degree of penetrability of substances from the gut to the bloodstream) of the bowel allowing undigested or partially digested proteins to enter the circulation. Normally this would not happen. When it does, many foods start to behave as if they were food allergies. It stands to reason, therefore, that successful reduction of the candida population in the digestive system reduces allergic symptoms.

The same sort of thing can happen with parasites like giardia, blastocystis hominis, entamoeba histolytica and others. Allergy symptoms may respond poorly to natural remedies until the parasites are successfully treated with herbs like black walnut, artemisia annua and grapefruit seed extract. Other natural treatment for parasites are psyllium seed powder, garlic, betaine and pepsin HCL, berberine, acidophilus, Swedish bitters and pumpkin seeds. In complex cases, the guidance of a health care practitioner is recommended. For example there are specialized laboratory tests which can be very helpful for both diagnosis and to guide treatment. These include the comprehensive digestive and stool analysis (CDSA) for detection of parasites, candida and digestive function impairments and the ELISA/Act blood test for the detection of food and chemical allergies. For more information on these tests, test kits and literature on immune system tests and natural treatments, you or your doctor can contact the following:

Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory (CDSA, Parasite testing, etc.)
18A Regent Park Blvd.
Asheville, NC 28806

Serammune Physicians Laboratories (ELISA/Act testing for food/chemical allergies, toxic heavy metals and candida) 1890 Preston White Dr., Suite 201 Reston, VA 22091-800-553-5472

Dr. Zoltan P. Rona is a practising medical doctor in Toronto and is the author of the best selling book, The Joy of Health (Hounslow Press). He also has regular monthly columns in both Alive magazine and Health Naturally. He is a consultant on nutrition and preventive medicine for the Motherisk program (division of Pharmacology) at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.


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