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Bye, bye Allergy?

Posted by Patrizia Marani

Allergy intro6

A DETOX RECIPE TO A HEALTHIER SELF  It’s spring again and my "experiment" has nearly come to a conclusion: has my change in lifestyle cured me of a long-standing, insidious allergy, which almost killed me in 2001, when I went close to experiencing an anaphylactic shock?

The "experiment" implied the titanic effort of eliminating pollution from my life, which I hoped could bring me to a full recovery. It kicked off in 2009 after I finished researching and shooting what was then my latest documentary "Paradise Found, the Parable of the Natural Gardener", about the life of an artist-gardener who has devoted herself to grow an ecological garden without using any chemical whatsoever in order to create a blueprint for gardeners to follow worldwide.  Reading books like "Silent Spring", "Our Stolen Future", or "The Toxic Consumer", studies by the best independent research centres in Europe and the USA brought me to an appalling discovery: we are the unwilling and unaware guinea pigs in a major experiment with our health started some 60 years ago when thousands and thousands of chemicals have been allowed into the market, and, as a result, into our air, food and water, without previous safety tests and without knowing how that would impact people’s health.

What was more, I realized that my allergy had greatly improved after spending two years shooting my documentary in that unpolluted, pesticide-free place located in a remote area in the Aemilian Apennines, i.e. a “cleaner” place than most found in our highly polluted cities. A remark from my allergist had also cued me in to set out on this investigation: he said that the onset of allergy must be strictly linked to our lifestyle as a milestone study showed that  before the fall of the Berlin Wall there were no allergy cases in East Germany, but they skyrocketed in the decade after 1989. Why? What is the mysterious link between our way of life and allergies? I decided that, as the "experiment" went on I'd share my discoveries by publishing them on my blog and showing the investigation through a new documentary "Allergy, the Toxic Burden".  

THE BEGINNINGS Though improved (For a few years, I had to wear a mask to walk outdoors in springtime, it would have been to dangerous for me not to do so!), my allergy to grasses, mites and nickel allowed me to eat just few fruits and virtually only cooked vegetables and a narrow menu in general and had to inhale cortison puffs and take antihistamines for full 8 months. Allergy, according to Ruslan Medzhitov (Princeton University), exists in nature and its purpose maybe that of alerting people that they are living in a suboptimal environment and therefore should move away. We did so in prehestoric times. A volcano was erupting? Well, we'd move to another foraging and hunting area where air and the environment would be purer. This would put an end to all the very annoying allergy symtoms caused by the inhalation of toxic volcano dusts and chemicals. Sneezing or coughing, if you think of it, may just serve the purpose of ridding our body of unwanted pollutants, dusts, and poisons.  

So, allergic sufferers have always existed, but their number has lately been spiralling out of control, why? Only a century ago, allergy as we know it didn't exist. From a mild, rare condition that in the 19th century mainly struck few pampered upper class kids, allergy cases have gradually risen to epidemic levels, with a peak in the last 30 years (30% or more). Moreover, allergy has turned more and more lethal, with numbers of potentially deadly anaphylactic shocks on the rise. Many scientists believe that such a stellar increase CANNOT be due to genetics alone, doctors’ preferred scapegoat for not knowing the real cause of the symptoms. The environment must have played an important part in it, but what kind of environment? 

pesticides spraying

The environment has never been more toxic than now. According to the Chemical Industry Archives “More than 7 million recognized chemicals are in existence, and approximately 80,000 of them are in common use worldwide”. Moreover, “EPA and FDA have no idea exactly how many chemicals are used in consumer products, nor what products they are used in.” REACH, the European program born to regulate the 80,000 chemicals already in commercial use and the many more to come, is proceeding ultra-slowly and even Bisphenol A is not as yet regarded as an endocrine disruptor, after hundreds of studies have observed such an action on laboratory animals. The industry’s interests must come first! So all of these chemicals keep seeping out of consumer products and into our bodies through contact, breathing and ingestion.

Food is a huge source of toxicity: “More than 3,000 chemicals are added to our food supply” and “more than 10,000 chemicals in the form of solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives are used in food processing, packaging, wrapping, and storage.” Day after day, we ingest tiny amounts of these chemicals which, many of them being synthetic, cannot be metabolized, and get stored in the body fat where they keep accumulating. The effects on human health of this constant toxicity were not known but now, as the cancer prevalence is stealthily reaching one in two and previously virtually unknown diseases like allergy keep soaring, we’re starting to make them out. That’s why I think that my new lifestyle can, not only help treat or improve allergies, but also contribute to preventing or improving quite a number of rapidly increasing chronic diseases, including cancer, all originating – according to several independent researchers and scientists - from our sick environment.

"If a highly polluted environment is the cause of allergy and I manage to minimize pollution in my life, I will recover or, as I cannot move away from the place I live - which is what our immune system tries to push us to do by making our lives difficult through all the notorious allergy symptoms -, my health will greatly improve," I reasoned. But how to do it? I did it by making many small different choices everyday of what I bought, touched, ate or breathed for several years on end, which eventually made a big difference in how I feel. I began by getting rid of what is arguably the largest source of toxicity, toxic food and by eating increasingly more often organic fresh food.

This is how I did it in detail:

STEP 1: I DETOXIFIED MYSELF BY

the perfect meal- GOING ORGANIC. From a very limited menu, I started eating everything again, but tried eating mostly FRESH organic food GROWN LOCALLY not only to eliminate toxins, but also to improve the nutritional quality of what I ate, as allergy seems to spring also from a lack of crucial nutrients that should be there to keep histamines from spiralling out of control, such as vitamin C and zinc.

The industrial foodstuffs that end up on our plates have been artificially grown, have gone around for a long while and undergone intense processing, all factors leading to a huge loss of essential nutrients. I also started including wild vegetables (nettle, arugula, charlock, asparagine, mauve etc..) in my diet because they’re much more nutritious than anything we may grow, let alone industrially grown fruit and vegetables.

I’ve always eaten lots of fruit and vegetables, but, alas, beforehand that meant ingesting LOADS of pesticides which, besides altering hormone levels, affecting the immune system in multiple ways, and doing a host of nasty things to our health, MAY EVEN KILL THE GOOD MICROBES IN OUR GUTS THAT SEEM TO PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE IN ALLERGIES.

- STOPPING BUYING ALL CANNED (Bispenol A!) AND SUPERMARKET PRECOOKED FOOD and I even opted for taking up COOKING AGAIN, to have most meals at home, where I can supervise and control food quality and freshness.

- EATING ORGANIC WHOLE-GRAIN BREAD and PASTA FOR HEALTHY BOWELS. Healthy bowels, I’ve discovered, are crucial to recovering from allergy and it must be no accident that whole-grain pastathe condition worsened as my gut troubles got worse. But why did they, in the first place? I noticed that my habitual constipation turned up any time I ate pasta or baked products. Modern white flours make for light, well-leavened bread and cakes, but are most toxic because of their very high gluten content (which makes them leaven so well) that is responsible for causing so many intolerances and allergies. Refined flour (and sugar) is toxic in many other ways: besides having been deprived of nutrients, it’s been left with no fibre, the very substance that makes our gut tick. So I started eating ONLY whole-grain bread and pasta and enlarging the number of grain varieties to include low gluten or gluten-free ones, such as spelt, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, and old wheat varieties. It goes without saying that the whole-meal flour, bread and pasta we consume should also be organic, otherwise the loads of glyphosate and pesticides the crops get sprayed with would hurt our good intestinal bacteria and we would get back to the starting point. Another discovery made the matter even thornier: so-called whole-grain bread and pasta aren’t usually what we mean them to be – the nutritious end result of grinding whole wheat seeds – but produce made of REFINED with some bran thrown in. They do this because modern steel cylinder mills can only turn out refined flour. So I looked for pasta and baked products made of real whole flour (it must be ground by old stone mills), better if leavened with sourdough because its microbes are a better match to those crowding our gut, which again make for a healthier intestine. Why is a healthy intestine so central to recovering from or alleviating allergy? Because close to 80% of our immune system seem to "reside" there.

- ELIMINATING COW MILK AND DAIRY PRODUCTS that, according to Dr Rau, a holistic practitioner and the director of the Swiss Paracelsus Clinic, produce many hidden food allergies as a consequence of modern livestock farming methods (toxins, toxins, toxins and inadequate feed: herbiverous animals should be grass-fed). On the contrary, besides feeding the good bacteria in my gut with fibre-rich food, I regularly eat small quantities of goat/sheep probiotic yogurth and cheese (sheep and goats are still bred more naturally and therefore their products should be healthier and more nutritious).

sheep grazing in the Dolomites

-  ELIMINATING ALL TOXIC DISINFECTANTS TO FURTHER STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM AND BOWEL FUNCTIONS The Hygiene Hypothesis of allergy does have a point, but - according to my research - it must be expanded to include our "internal environment", our bodies. Let's consider that pesticides, bactericides, Detergentssterilizers contained in body products and cleaning agents like household bleach, also kill the bacteria in our gut, so that our body is less able to detoxify itself, our immune system gets damaged, making us more prone to allergies. I wondered why I was so prone to constipation...and I discovered that 80% of the immune system is located in the gut where histamines, an allergic sufferer’s number one enemy, are released! Well-functioning bowels equal to a well-functioning immune system (Histamines can be kept in check by foods rich in zinc and Vitamin C, nutrients that we generally lack as our industrial food is similarly wanting!). It seems that antibiotics (my bowels get damaged by paracetamol too) and all the disinfectants the industry puts in personal care and household products, but primarily in our food (pesticides, preservers, and antibiotics), toothpaste and soaps (triclosan etc.), water (chlorine and aquifer pollutants) destroy the good bacteria in our gut, endangering its outstanding role as a body detoxifier, immune system enhancer and promoter of correct nutrients assimilation.

Therefore I eliminated toothpastes that were not made up of natural ingredients, parabens-containing face and body creams (or other toxic substances, checked on the American cosmetics database of the environmental working group, EWG) and soaps, shampoos and bath foams containing synthetic chemicals. Now I exclusively use natural soaps (no fragrance or perfume unless they are specified on the label as “natural fragrance”). I only use natural cleaners for household cleaning, washing dishes, clothes, and bedware (all strictly made from natural textiles) and microorganism-based hosehold cleaning products, that even replenish our environment with good microbes!

I DONT'T DRINK TAP WATER ANY MORE I only drink or cook with chlorine free water, to keep the good bacteria in my bowels safe and get rid of a dangerous pollutant.

- GETTING RID OF PLASTIC.

I replaced all plastic food containers and tableware with glass, in order to get rid of food contaminated by toxic substances, like phtalates and bisphenol A. It’s impossible to dispose of all plastic objects in our lives, but my motto became “the less the better”.

I ELIMINATED MINERAL WATER BOTTLED IN PLASTIC I started drinking a high PH mineral water springing at 1,500 m of altitude, far from manmade environmental pollutants, and packed in bioplastic bottles made from maize that take only 80 days to biodegrade and, hopefully, should not release any phthalates!! Or, alternatively, I buy mineral water in glass bottles. The best solution here may be to install powerful tap water filters.

STEP 2: OMEGA 3s

Cows grazing in the AlpsThen I opted out of my usual meals consisting in pasta seasoned with vegetable sauce for lunch and meat or fish and vegetables at dinner, to adopt meals based on vegetables as main dish, while pasta, meat or fish became just side dishes. This menu increases the presence of Omega 3 fatty acids in the food to balance Omega 6 fatty acids, scientifically proven to trigger inflammation processes. Actually too much Omega 6 in our diet at the expense of Omega 3 is thought to play a pivotal role in all major diseases of our times. I eat Omega-3-rich foodstuffs: 3-4 walnuts daily, grass-fed beef meat and wild fish twice a week or even less. This choice also keeps down the risk of toxins accumulating in the meat of cows or in fish (mercury and PCB). I avoid farmed fish altogether as it has a very poor content of Omega 3, if any.

STEP 3: STRENGTHENING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WITH THE HELP OF NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS AND SUPERFOODS.

Over the last winter, I took and I am still taking Vitamin C, that naturally checks histamine surplus, together with Omega 3 and Vitamin D that I was lacking,  like most people nowadays, because we live indoors most of the time. I started eating ginger on a regular basis, which has outstanding antinflammatory and immunostimulating properties. What a pleasure is to drink a cup of tea made of fresh ginger and lemon squash, or to grate ginger on salads, soups or meat together with garlic or onion! And finally, I included several highly nutritious foods in my diet, such as black millet.

STEP 4: AIR  I couldn’t do much about AIR. Indeed, according to environmental toxicologist Giuliano Bressa, whom I interviewed for my latest documentary "Allergy, the Toxic Burden", indoor air is frequently more polluted than a busy road in rush hour....So, indoors, I got rid of all the dust-gathering textile furniture (which I replaced with easy-to-dust leather sofa and armchairs), rags, and fitted carpet, which are just mites’ idea of paradise, and I dust frequently with a wet cloth and clean floors by a HEPA vacuum cleaner. I also grow loads of leafy plants to purify air from pollutants and, finally, keep most windows open - or half close in winter -to keep my apartment ventilated all the time and let out all indoor toxins coming from plywood or textile furniture, wall varnishes, plasterboards, etc. 

Could do nothing about outdoor air but trying to minimize pollution by going to live in a green area, close to big city parks and keep the windows overlooking a busy street closed. To solve that problem you’d need to resort to more radical solutions. But that’s an altogether different story.Sunset in Gharb, Gozo

All these steps contributed to lessen my body toxins while strengthening my immune system. All information that have brought to the above changes are not just a fancy of mine, but they are backed up by cutting edge research in the field of environmental toxicity and allergy, and by interviews that I had with leading experts in these fields for my latest documentary “Allergy, the Toxic Body Burden”.

An interview with a world famous allergist, who is successfully using immunotherapy by multiple food allergens to treat potentially lethal food allergies, further confirmed the validity of my changes. Actually, she not only stressed the toxicity of disinfectants in general and condemned the excessive use of antibiotics, but also confirmed that in quite a few centres in Europe and USA, tests are ongoing regarding the adoption of a toxin-free lifestyle and a healthy diet, to check whether it is possible to reverse the damage done to the immune system by environmental toxicity, and therefore to recover from allergy.

How do I feel? Well, I just took antihistamines for 15 days last year (none of the other drugs, though), at the peak of the pollen season, and this year, very close to peak, I've just started to take them again….Allergy is still with me, like polluted air, but it's nothing compared to what it was before my change in lifestyle and way of eating. The bond between allergy, pollution and our society is so closely knit that it can hardly be disentangled. SO, do we have to accept living a perilous life side by side with this unwelcome companion? I cannot move to "an optimal environment", but I did the best I could to improve the "suboptimal environment" I live in. And it did make a big difference to my immune system. We all can do a lot to improve things. 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES:

"Allergy, the Toxic Burden", by Patrizia Marani

Allergy, the History of a Modern Malady, by Mark Jackson

Allergy Host Defenses, Ruslan Medzitov et al., Yale University School of Medicine

The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health, Dr Thomas Rau, Paracelsus Clinic

Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn

In Defence of Food, by Michael Pollan

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson

The Toxic Consumer, by Elizabeth Salter Green

 

To know more about the toxicity of our everyday life read "Table of Consumer Products' Most Toxic Compounds"

Here is the trailer in English of "Allergy, the Toxic Burden"

And my series of articles about eating organic, this is one of them "Why is Going Organic Worthwhile"

For those who can read Italian, the follow up on this post: a big step I took to improve on my air quality and lifestyleCambio vita, la mia ecoutopia

 

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