Sunday, 8 April 2012

Beating Hayfever

I’ve written on this blog about how honey cappings are a helpful remedy for hayfever as well as honey and honeycomb.  I’ve also written an article warning against commercial preparations to treat hayfever.  Just recently, I read a handy little book called How to Beat Hayfever by Dr Mark Payne (1993) and would like to add some further information that may help one dealing with this condition.  I would also highly recommend this book.
Hayfever is a common problem.  In 1993 Payne stated that about 10 per cent or 6 million people in Britain and 25 million in the US suffer from it.  It’s undoubtedly more now.  Most people suffer in June and July when the grass pollen count is highest, but some, like me would suffer earlier due to special sensitivities to tree pollen or later when weed pollens are at a peak.

I think it helps to understand what’s going on with hayfever and Payne gives a good bit of information.  First of all ‘hayfever’ is not caused by hay (which has no pollen); nor is there a fever, but rather, it is an allergy (from the Greek allos meaning other, ergon meaning work or reaction) or in other words, an abnormal reaction to a ‘foreign’ substance.

He says that “the grass pollen becomes airborne and lands on the mucous membrane of the eyes, nose, throat or lungs.  These mucous membranes are moist and contain enzymes which strip off the outer protective coat of the pollen.  Consequently the water soluble proteins in the pollen dissolve and interact with the immune system of the body.” (p. 21)

So if the immune system is not strong, this interaction can go haywire (again, no connection with hay).  The mucous membranes contain mast cells that are part of the body’s defence system.  A hayfever sufferer may have 8 times the number of mast cells.

Dr Payne reiterates the common claim that allergic responses occur when the immune system becomes confused and reacts inappropriately.  I would question this though.  I think it is unlikely that the body becomes confused and more likely that it becomes deficient and has to make do with what it has.  The enzymes don’t just strip off the outer layer of the pollen proteins, they are supposed to aid in the elimination of them.  So not only is the immune system acting inappropriately but so is the detoxification system.  Why the immune system takes on a role that seems to be causing more damage than good may in fact be the road of the lesser evil.

Dr Payne puts forward a description of how mast cells get ‘primed’ and bridged with pollen protein attached to two Immunoglobulin E (IgE) (class of antibody) molecules as shown in the diagram from page 22.

He also states that the IgE antibody was developed by the body to combat invasion by intestinal parasites and worms in conjunction with the white blood cells called eosinophils.  In my view, his chapter on What Happens In Hayfever? could possibly be improved because I think there are gaps in his explanation.  What I gathered from the book and a little online research is that the mast cells which are stationary in the mucous membranes and the eosinophils which are in the blood stream take on the pollen proteins as invaders that need zapping.  They use histamines and other substances to do the job.  This causes the hayfever symptoms of irritation to the mucous membrane cells and the secretion of mucus and other fluids from the tiny blood vessels in the mucous membranes that have become leaky thereby letting out serum from the blood.

We all know that not everyone suffers from hayfever and what I’m not sure about is why some do not have these problems.  In other words, how does a healthy body deal with the invasion of the pollen proteins?   Factors such as mental stress, drugs and a cold environment contribute to the allergic reaction as shown in Dr Payne’s diagram on page 67, but how they affect the mechanisms that keep the body healthy is not clearly explained.

However, why the immune system fails to keep the body in optimal health is a complex issue.  Dr Payne focuses on the concept of the total load of neotoxins and how this affects one’s likelihood of suffering from hayfever or other allergy.  A neotoxin is any substance that can cause harm to the body which can be biological as in food or chemical.

Payne explains matters a little more fully in his chapter call Hayfever and the Total Load Concept when he brings in the detoxification system.  He says that “the detoxification system is composed of enzymes which occur in every cell of the body, but especially in the liver.”  He also mentions that “the immune system is controlled by hormones like adrenaline and hydrocortisone...” (p 69).  If we put it all together, the picture starts to take shape.  Stress is what causes hayfever.  Stress in the broad sense to include when there is a deficiency in nutritional requirements, when there is a toxic overload of chemicals, if there is not enough rest, or too much work or shock to the system.  Or to put it simply, when the body is out of balance, hayfever will be a likely result when exposed to lots of pollen.  Why one pollen over another, or one allergen and not another will cause problems is likely due to individual sensitivities. 

Dr Payne gives lots of details in his book to help those wanting to determine just what it is that is causing allergic reactions in order to avoid them as well as lots of treatments.