Its April and allergy season is in full swing here in San Jose and around the world. Plenty of people are stocking up on antihistamines like Claritin, Benedryl, and Zyrtec to combat their sneezing, sniffles, stuffy noses, itching, and watering eyes.
Environmental changes have propelled allergy levels to epidemic proportions with reduced quality of life for patients, lower productivity, and increased medical costs. More than 50 million Americans have experienced various types of allergies each year and it is the 6th leading cause of chronic illnesses in the US. The annual cost of allergies exceeds $18 billion with people in America spending more than $8 billion a year on allergy drugs alone (1)
There are other ways to combat allergies rather than relying on medications for short term relief.
How do allergies work?
Put simply, allergies are the body’s reaction to a stimulus or substance that it has labeled as an invader. Watering eyes, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose are all the body’s attempt to flush out what it has identified as hostile. The only thing is, the stimulus or substance in the case of allergies is not necessarily dangerous to a person in of itself. It is actually the body’s exaggerated response that can be an annoying hinderance in most cases and potentially deadly in severe cases, like anaphylactic shock. Pollen, animal hair, peanuts and shellfish are among some of the most common allergens and none are inherently harmful to humans.
Its not the body’s immune response that in inherently bad either. The body is a brilliant organism armed with an immune system in order to defend itself. A fully functional immune system is more than capable of identifying intruders and mounting a response, often before we experience a single symptom of the battle going inside the body. In perfect health, a person is not susceptible to disease or infection, because the immune system is up to the challenge. Ever wonder why in many cases, the very young children or the elderly community are most affected by infectious strains or seasonal illness? Children’s immune systems are still developing and gaining strength, while the elderly often have immune systems less capable and possibly other health considerations, leaving these populations vulnerable.
Our bodies are designed to have a specific response to stress, overcome the stressor, then rest and recover. When the body is exposed to constant stress and cannot recover, the immune system can get fatigued and overworked. An exhausted and confused immune system is less able to properly identify invaders to make the appropriate response. Imagine a week where the stress at work is overwhelming. You get home after long days and there’s even more to do there. Your sleep suffers as you drag yourself through the week. How long could you keep it up? One week? One month? Probably longer if you are eating well, exercising and drinking water, but eventually the body needs to take time to recover. If you don’t give your body the time it needs to recover, often times this is when we get sick, literally forcing us to slow down and take care of ourselves. Our immune systems is one of the most affected systems when we are confronted with chronic stress.
It is an exhausted and confused immune system that identifies inert stimuli as hostile invaders. In more extreme cases, the body may even identify its own tissues as foreign, called auto immunity. The class of conditions referred to as auto immune are rapidly on the rise in no small way related to our current lifestyles and health practices.
It is the responsibility of the nervous system to direct the body in the stress response, and also the rest, digest and heal response. It is also the nervous system’s responsibility to mobilize immune cells to mount a defense and, just as importantly, to help them identify what they should be attacking. The nervous system uses chemical messengers released by nerves, glands, and immune cells to communicate with the immune system in order to have a coordinated and appropriate response. The autonomic nervous system and the HPA axis are the major connections between the two systems we have been discussing. Certain immune tissues are directly innervated by nerves originating in the brain and spinal cord, further cementing the nervous system’s role in a properly functioning immune system.
If you’ve gotten this far, the importance of a properly functioning nervous system in relation to immunity and allergies should be obvious. The nervous system regulates, modifies and controls all functions in the body, including those of the immune system. The nervous system does this through constant communication between the brain and peripheral tissues via impulses carried over nerves. Peripheral tissues send information to the brain about what is happening in the body and the environment. The brain interprets this information, decides the appropriate response, then delivers the commands back to the target peripheral tissues. This happens constantly between the trillions of cells in our body. Proper communication is vital for proper function. If the brain receives altered messages about its environment, it cannot produce the proper commands and the adaptation will not be appropriate for the situation.
Postural distortions and spinal misalignments place stress on the nervous system and alter those messages between the brain and body. This is referred to in chiropractic as a vertebral subluxation. Chiropractors are trained to locate, analyze, and correct vertebral subluxation in order to restore proper communication to the nervous system and therefore proper function to the body.
Have you or loved ones been suffering from allergies and are tired of popping pills with long lists of side-effects? Why not try chiropractic? Chiropractic works!
Thanks for reading along and engaging. If you’d like a more detailed explanation of the role of the nervous system in immune system function, or you’d like to see studies describing improved immune function after a chiropractic adjustment, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can send it over.