There is a definite substantiated connection between allergies and asthma. Studies indicate their underlying mechanisms may even cause each other. Up to 38 percent of patients with allergies have been diagnosed with asthma, and 78 percent of those diagnosed with asthma have allergies. Both as a physician and as a former allergy and asthma sufferer myself, I’ve witnessed the tie between the two conditions.
I have believed for years they are all related to an overgrowth of a very common organism found in every one of us in our digestive tracts: Candida albicans. In my practice, I routinely and successfully guide allergy and asthma patients through a nutrition plan that dramatically reduce or completely eliminate their symptoms. I’ll touch on highlights of that plan, but first a few words on the individual conditions.
Types of Allergies
During an allergic reaction, your immune system is doing its job, but it’s overreacting. Typically, allergic individuals have developed an excess of the antibody IgE when exposed to a certain allergen. This ultimately results in the release of histamines and leukotrienes, causing the annoying allergy symptoms.
Thirty percent of all adults and 40 percent of children suffer from hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, which is characterized by nasal congestion and itchy eyes. Alternatively, or additionally, an allergic reaction can involve rashes and other skin conditions and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Reactions can occur due to allergen exposure via inhalation, injection, ingestion, or through skin contact. The symptoms can be very diverse, but usually involve the nose, eyes, lungs, and skin.
If you have a diagnosed allergy, you’ve probably heard it categorized as an inhalant, infectious (gets worse when you’re sick), insect, drug, physical agent (such as cold, heat, or exercise), contact, or food allergy. A food allergy is different from a food sensitivity; the allergy is usually severe and causes a very noticeable reaction. Both the allergy and the sensitivity can respond well to complementary treatments though.
Characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, asthma involves the combined effects of inflammation and muscle dysfunction in the airway. The inflammation cascade creates mucus, which worsens the obstruction, resulting in more inflammation—resulting in a vicious cycle. Asthma can be allergy-induced, but it is not always an allergic condition. Regardless, it is related to allergies in that both are the result of an over-reactive inflammation process.
Asthma can be mild (about 50 percent of cases) which may require medication only as needed, moderate (40 percent of cases) sometimes requiring daily medication, or severe which involves frequent daily symptoms that need to be controlled carefully through daily medication. Severe asthma is the most life-threatening, however, all types can result in a lifethreatening attack and ought to be taken seriously.
In the past, people usually were diagnosed with asthma as children and so understood the condition well by the time they were adults. But, increasingly, there are more cases newly diagnosed in adults.
Where is this all coming from?
Chances are your physician has discussed allergens or key irritants that you need to avoid or manage to help prevent your allergy or asthma from flaring up. Triggers are wide-ranged and can include: aerosol, pollution, dander, certain medications, estrogen, extreme temperatures, dust mites, smoke, pollens, molds, sulfites, specific foods, heartburn, chemicals and strong emotions. Other less avoidable triggers include your own heredity, viruses, and exercise.
Managing triggers can be exhausting. Ultimately, it doesn’t do anything to actually remedy your condition. The trigger isn’t really the cause either. The cause is an over-reaction in the immune response. Remember the earlier comment about gut health? Let’s come back to that concept.
There are more than 250 species of yeast—they are found in almost every baked good and we eat them all the time. More than 150 of these species are harmless parasites in our bodies. We all have Candida in our bodies; it normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract, the mouth, and the vagina as a part of the normal flora in the body.
The trouble begins when there is an overgrowth of Candida. It lacks chlorophyll and is not able to produce its own food, so it acts like a parasite. This is usually kept under control by probiotics, the friendly bacteria in the body. Probiotics use yeast as food. As long as there is a good balance of the two, there is no problem. Candida overgrowth can occur due to dietary issues, chemical exposure, stress, or antibiotic use— Candida is a fungus; antibiotics do not kill it, but they can kill probiotics.
Similar factors can also cause a condition called leaky gut. Imagine the cells of the gut, lining the interior in a honeycomb pattern. With leaky gut, there are gaps in the honeycomb where cells have broken down. Poorly digested food particles, pathogens, and yeast can now pass through into the body. Candida may wander to other parts of the body where it should not be, such as the lungs and sinuses. It causes inflammation and can result in chronic stuffy nose, sinus headaches, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and even muscle aches.
With patients who struggle with allergies and asthma, and those who test positive for more than 10 food sensitivities, I can almost always assume the presence of leaky gut and treat for it accordingly. A Healing Phase Diet, which permits the gut to totally mend itself and rules out sources of yeast and foods that feed yeast, will last three months as long as you keep to the requirements. Straying even a little can draw out the healing period to six months or more.
Similar to other cleansing diets you may know about, the basics of this nutritional approach are a little more intensive and involve:
Ruling out sugar in all its forms. These are food sources for yeast, which includes all syrups, honey, molasses, chemical sweeteners, and fruit. Tomatoes, commonly mistook as vegetables, are fruits that need to be avoided too. Sushi rice usually contains sugar to make it sticky. Skip the lunch meats and processed foods—almost all have sweeteners in them; read labels.
Ruling out all yeast and fungus sources. Refrain from consuming mushrooms and yeast-containing baked goods (if it rises, it contains yeast). Avoid vinegar and condiments containing vinegar; try using olive oil and lemon or lime juice to make your own salad dressing. Avoid all fermented foods, alcohol, dairy products (especially cheeses), and smoked and processed meats.
Opening your mind to all the things you CAN eat! Most of the foods you’re avoiding are ingredients in highly processed foods. You’ll find yourself cooking healthier wholefood meals by default once you rule out the ingredients that have been keeping you in a state of inflammation and Candida overgrowth. (See the article “What CAN I Eat?” on page 12 to learn more)
Supplementing with multivitamins, natural anti-candida herbals, and probiotics. In my practice, I recommend Alphabetic as a multi and build my patients’ vitamin program from there. Grapeseed extract, Caprylic acid, and garlic are effective anti-candida supplements. For establishing healthy probiotics, I use Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 PLUS, a vegetarian probiotic blend that has extensive research supporting it.
Sometimes, major lifestyle changes like this seem overwhelming. But when compared to juggling medications and constantly avoiding triggers, most allergy and asthma sufferers are excited at the opportunity to breathe free naturally and bring their immune system back into a state of equilibrium. After the Healing Phase Diet it is also possible to go through a four-month careful reintroduction of many of the foods you’ve been avoiding.
Dr. Fred Pescatore’s book, The Allergy and Asthma Cure provides in-depth description of the Healing Phase Diet and helpful recipes and menu plans. His book, Thin for Good, contains more cooking tips along with insight into the connection between yeast-overgrowth and weight management.
Fred Pescatore, MD
Fred Pescatore, M.D., MPH, CCN, is a traditionally trained physician who practices nutritional medicine. He is the author of the New York Times best selling book, The Hamptons Diet and the number 1 best-selling children's health book, Feed Your Kids Well, amongst others. Dr. Pescatore’s other books include: Thin For Good, The Allergy and Asthma Cure, The Hamptons Diet Cookbook and Boost Your Health with Bacteria.