Allergies, sensitivities and intolerances with Kaytee Boyd
We caught up with the wonderful Kaytee Boyd this month to talk about allergies, and ask her what we can do to reduce our exposure to everyday products and substances that may cause reactions. As always, we found her advice incredibly practical and informative. We hope it helps you too.
What is an allergic reaction, and what causes one?
“Your incredible immune system has a very important job: defend your insides from invaders such as bacteria and viruses that can harm you. But when it decides to go to war on substances it shouldn’t, that’s an allergy. ‘Allergens’ are things like dust mites, eggs, peanuts, fragrances, animal dander, or pollen, that can trigger reactions.
Your immune system releases antibodies (your immune soldiers) in reaction to an allergen, delivering a message to cells: stop that substance! This triggers allergy symptoms, which could range from mild and frustrating to more severe or even life-threatening. It all depends on the way your body reacts and how much of the allergen got into your system.
And what’s the difference between an allergy and a sensitivity?
- An allergy is characterised by an immune system reaction to a substance and occurs almost immediately (within an hour of exposure). Symptoms are flushed skin, difficulty swallowing, nausea, hives, watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath etc.
- A sensitivity involves no immune response, but can still yield a multiplicity of debilitating symptoms, from issues in the digestive tract to neurological problems. These may become life threatening, especially if someone is exposed to a substance repeatedly, which is why it is important to be aware of sensitivities. Symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, a constantly runny nose, and a general feeling of being unwell, can make it challenging to track down the offending substance.
- An intolerance means the body lacks a chemical or enzyme needed to digest certain food. For example, ‘lactose intolerance’ is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase needed to digest milk. When someone with lactose intolerance consumes dairy products, the results can be quite uncomfortable and unpleasant, as his or her digestive system struggles to cope.
All of the above can be quite serious. For this reason, it’s a good idea to see an integrative practitioner or your doctor about symptoms which appear to be linked to exposure to certain substances and figure out precisely what is going on.”
Are allergies more prevalent generally than they were, say 100 years ago? Why do you think that is?
“It’s no surprise really. Yes. There are literally thousands of new chemicals being produced every year, we unknowingly put them on our skin in moisturisers with amazing smells (usually made in the lab), fragrances in the perfume sprayed on necks and clothing, to the household cleaning products we use to wash our clothes and keep our homes beautiful.
We eat these chemicals too, in our food. Pesticides, herbicides, food additives, antibiotics and hormones are designed to increase crop yields, preserve shelf life and pad the pockets of food producers at the expense of consumer health.
Our grandparents didn’t have the choice to stay inside and play on their phones, computers and gaming systems. They played on the original PlayStation, the great outdoors: bikes, swing-sets and good ol’ mother nature meant more vitamin D and less chemical exposure. Today we have sanitisation overkill with antibacterial soaps and handwash and wipes everywhere. We are literally sanitising our gut bacteria – 80% of our immune function – into oblivion.”
What are the key things people can do to reduce allergic reactions?
Look after your gut health. You can now have stool analysis performed to establish what you are missing gut-bacteria wise. We routinely do this now and it’s becoming common to see species almost if not extinct in the digestive system which should be thriving. Other useful strategies to reduce potential reactions:
- Don’t use antibacterial soaps and hand sanitisers unless absolutely necessary
- Use toiletries and household cleaners that are free from ‘extras’
- Vacuum the carpets with a HEPA filter and ensure it’s done at least twice a week to reduce dust allergies (even better would be no carpet for those badly affected)
- Avoid artificially fragranced products and perfumes (that’s MOST on the market!)
- Aim for spray free and organic food as much as possible. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 60% of herbicides, 90% of fungicides and 30% of insecticides are known to be carcinogenic – and they increase the chemical load which our bodies have to regularly deal with.
- Ventilate your home regularly, especially during winter. If you have a new home or a newly renovated house this is ESSENTIAL for at least the first 4-6 months.
- Store items like newspapers and cardboard in dry areas if there’s a risk of mould. Mycotoxins (fungal toxins) can cause a range of health problems with exposure to only a small amount, and around 25% of people cannot build up an immune response to defend the body against mould spores
- Use safe and effective, fragrance free cleaning products - ecostore is my brand of choice – the Ultra Sensitive range is amazing!
Anything you rub on your skin gets absorbed. I suggest swapping out plastic wrap for beeswax wraps you can use over and over, and slowly swap out plastics in general for glass containers and non-plastic alternatives. Never let babies and toddlers have plastic dummies and teethers, and avoid PVC and Styrene products. Even though PBA free plastic bottles are ‘better’, I don’t recommend them. When possible, opt for natural fibre clothing, bedding, and furniture, and avoid using chemical-based pest control products.”
How should people with allergies/sensitivities approach fragrance?
“Fragrance allergies appear to be increasing due to the fragrances themselves being so prevalent. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some 5,000 different fragrances – and countless combinations – are used in products today. And they can be a powerful, toxic brew. The less on the ingredient list the better when it comes to fragrances! For cleaning products, I recommend plant and mineral-based ingredients that don’t leave residues on surfaces. And fragrance free cleaning products can be better than a fragrance made in the lab that causes health issues.
We do have some control over what we allow into our homes and other personal spaces. We can choose to toss the cheap perfume, and move to fragrance free shampoo and conditioner, washing powder and general cleaning products. Look for companies who use resources like the Environmental Working Group and display the Sensitive Choice® blue butterfly. The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning allows you to enter a cleaning product and access a rating of toxicity, as well as recommendations for less toxic alternatives.”
Useful reading and references
British Allergy Foundation
The Australia Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 2013, Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI)
When it comes to reducing your exposure to potential allergens, don’t forget your home and personal care. ecostore Ultra Sensitive is a complete range for the home and body that’s fragrance free and approved by Sensitive Choice. So you can rest assured it’s safer for you and your family.
Kaytee Boyd has been involved in the Health and Wellness industry for more than 25 years. With a double degree from Otago University in Human Nutrition and Sports Science, Kaytee is a member of the Nutrition Society of NZ and an MINND foundation practitioner (specialising in Autism), as well as a previous advisor on the Breast Cancer Network Foundation board. Kaytee splits her time across two busy Auckland clinics, as well as heading weekend cancer masterclass workshops.